Insights about applying to Spencer Foundation emerge from program officer visit

Roey Ahram, Spencer Foundation Associate Program Officer, visited Miami on October 3.

At the invitation of Dean Michael Dantley, Spencer Foundation’s Associate Program Officer, Roey Ahram, spent October 3 with Miami’s College of Education, Health, and Society. Ahram gave a detailed presentation in the morning and met with individual faculty members to discuss their research throughout the afternoon.

Ahram explained that Spencer is interested in education broadly defined and wherever learning occurs from birth through adulthood. They are responsive to education researchers’ needs, and as Ahram explained it they, “fund whatever the field thinks we should fund.”

Ahram described the Foundation’s areas of interest, including creating and sustaining equitable education spaces, emphasizing the foundation’s view that “learning is a social justice process.” Another area of interest is innovative research approaches. Ahram explained that Spencer funds across the full range of educational research approaches and that the Foundation believes more research on the methods themselves is needed. Other areas of interest include learning and flourishing and high-quality teaching and leaders.

The Spencer Foundation funds three types of grants:

  • Field-building activities (including conferences and mentoring)
  • Training fellowships for dissertations and post-doctoral work
  • Tenure-track faculty, and field-initiated research

A great deal of Ahram’s presentation focused on field-initiated research, which would likely be of most interest to Miami faculty. Please refer to the Spencer website for more details.

As Ahram explained, the Spencer Foundation is deeply interested in reflecting the diversity of educational researchers, as well as learners and educators, in the proposals they fund. He indicated that, historically, Spencer has supported primarily West Coast, Northeast, and large R1 Midwestern universities and colleges. They specifically want to diversify their geographic reach, which may make this an ideal time for Miami faculty to consider applying. If you’re interested in submitting a proposal to the Spencer Foundation, contact Amy Cooper to get started. Staff from University Advancement are available to help with relationship building and even writing and editing.

Ahram offered the following four tips for grant-seekers:

  • Start with a question.
  • Know your audience. Reviewers for Spencer research grant proposals include, at minimum, a subject expert, a research method expert, and a generalist.
  • Align the sections of your proposal. Ahram suggests specifically stating in the research methods section, “I’m answering my research question by . . .”
  • Learn from feedback. For full proposals, Spencer provides detailed reviewer comments. While Spencer grants are becoming ever more competitive — with some having as low as a 5% funding rate — resubmissions are faring better and better.

What makes a Spencer application stand out? Ahram says well-done literature review and methodology sections are critical, with a research question clearly driving the research. He emphasized that the methodology should include a well-articulated analysis plan, joking that “you’ll need more than T-tests!” Applicants should also justify their choice of analysis method with citations. See the “Resources and Tools for Applicants” section of the Spencer website for details.

Spencer program officers are also education researchers themselves and Ahram’s area of interest is special education. He stated that program officers are happy to discuss project ideas with applicants, but aren’t permitted to review proposal drafts. Finally, Spencer is looking for diversity in proposal reviewers; contact a program officer to volunteer.


Written by Amy Cooper, Assistant Director of Proposal Development, Research and Innovation; Brian Furnish, Assistant Vice President, Corporate and Foundation Relations; and Carrie Powell, Director of Development for the College of Education, Health, and Society, Miami University.

Photo of Roey Ahram by the Spencer Foundation. Photo of Urban Leadership Intern Madison Cook with students by Jeff Sabo, Miami University Photo Services.

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