Seed-funding innovation

The UC Santa Cruz Foundation Board of Trustees is seeking to fund projects that might otherwise not receive support.

UC Santa Cruz students practice with speakers of Oaxacan indigenous languages.
The Board Opportunity Fund provided a grant that initated the now-flourishing project to document Oaxacan indigenous languages. Photo courtesy of UC Santa Cruz linguistics department.
In 2009, Genomics Institute director David Haussler won the first-ever grant from the UC Santa Cruz Foundation Board Opportunity Fund (BOF). The $12,500 he received is relatively small among science grants. Still the workshop it funded helped shape the ambitious effort to sequence genomes of 10,000 vertebrates. Genome 10k’s funders now include the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institutes of Health.

Since then, the BOF has awarded 58 more grants—about five or six per year—averaging about $8,500 each. Funded and independently directed by the trustees, the BOF has supported projects from students, faculty, and all the divisions.

Now, spirited fundraising has increased capacity, and trustee Richard Moss, chair of the foundation’s BOF committee, says he hopes to give more and larger grants.

“Money waiting…”

“We’re looking for unusual or orphan projects that otherwise wouldn’t qualify for funding from other sources,” Moss (Stevenson ‘85, modern society and social thought) says.

While many BOF grants have gone to faculty, Moss hopes to invite a wider variety of applicants.

“I have always wanted to get the word out to students, the student government, and student groups: there’s money waiting for you.”

“Like yeast”

The Santiago Laxopa Zapotec Language Project also began with a small BOF grant. Linguistics faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students document and analyze the endangered languages of immigrants from the area of Oaxaca, Mexico.

“These languages are valuable and worthy of study,” says Ph.D. student Andrew Hedding, who helps run the project.

The project now includes events aimed at destigmatizing Oaxacan languages. Since the BOF’s initial $12,000, much larger grants have followed, and the effort has taken on a life of its own, says trustee SB Master (Cowell ‘75, economics/history). She applauded the project for engaging community, involving undergraduates in research, and opening a new direction for inquiry.

“This is like the trifecta of what we want these grants to do,” Master says. “I like to think of BOF grants as the yeast that get really exciting things going.”

Unique projects

Early support from campus can persuade government, corporate, and foundation funders that a project holds promise, Moss says. And just the process of applying for a BOF grant can improve a proposal.

“It was a really good process,” says John Weber, director of the Institute of Arts and Sciences (IAS). “The committee is very supportive, and the dialogue has been useful.”

In 2016, the BOF contributed to artist Russell Crotty’s residency with the IAS. Crotty’s work combined sculpture with images captured by the Lick Observatory’s 36-inch telescope. The BOF funded an accompanying exhibit about the observatory and a field trip bringing art and astronomy students together at Lick Observatory to discuss the concept of knowing.

“That was very much what we hoped would happen, to open up new ideas in students’ minds about what is possible.” Weber says.

“My hope is we’ll continue to fund unique kinds of things and things nobody ever thought of,“ says trustee Loren Steck, a member of the BOF committee.

For Steck (Porter ‘73, individual major), the 2012 grant to the Mock Trial team stands out. The $5,000 award made it possible for the team to participate in a statewide competition. The BOF has also granted challenge matches for fundraisers and startup funds for Hack UCSC and the Business Plan Competition.

“We’re committed to providing a source of resources that is quick, straightforward, and cuts through the bureaucracy,” Moss says. “We’re really proud of what we’ve done. It’s grown into something that has had an impact on campus.”

Learn how to apply for a BOF grant.