Packard Fellowships: Our Commitment to Science and Engineering

It is no secret that David Packard loved everything about science and engineering – from the practical, hands-on nature of the work to the promise it held for society and our future. Toward the end of his life, he was quoted as saying, “All the progress made in the 20th century was based on science done in the 19th century.”

David understood that at the heart of science and engineering were the individuals who conducted it – the scientists and engineers. He believed that the success of the Hewlett-Packard Company was built in great part on both the advances in technology coming out of university-based science and engineering programs and the idea that if you hire extraordinary people and give them the tools and resources they needed, they may invent something that could change the world.

It was with this spirit that the Foundation launched the Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering program in 1988. The Fellowship program provides the nation’s most promising early career professors with five years of flexible funding that allows them to pursue science and engineering research early in their careers. From its inception, the Fellows program was seen as an investment in future leaders who would then have the freedom to take risks, explore new frontiers in their fields of study, and follow uncharted paths that may lead to groundbreaking discoveries.

Each year, the Foundation invites 50 universities to nominate two faculty members for consideration. The Packard Fellowships Advisory Panel, a group of 12 internationally-recognized scientists and engineers, evaluates the nominations and recommends Fellows for approval by the Packard Foundation Board of Trustees.

Last week, the Fellows program celebrated its 26th year. Since 1988, more than 500 scientists and engineers from 52 universities have received a Packard Fellowship, totaling more than $330 million in support. Packard Fellows have gone on to accomplish great things, receiving additional awards and honors, including the Nobel Prize in Physics; the Fields Medal; the Alan T. Waterman Award; MacArthur Fellowships and elections to the National Academies.

As we reflect on the Foundation’s 50th Anniversary, we have produced short videos about three Fellows – Michael Dickinson (1992), Erich Jarvis (2000), and Pardis Sabeti (2008) – that highlight the range of work supported by the program throughout the years. And if you’re interested, you can visit our Packard Fellows online directory to learn more about their research.

David attended every annual Packard Fellows meeting, from the first gathering of Fellows in 1988 until his passing in 1996. Meeting with the Fellows and watching them present their work and the advances in their fields wasn’t just a thrill for David, it also reinforced his belief that providing extraordinary people with the tools and resources they need can lead to long-lasting change.

We look forward to publicly announcing the newest class of Fellows on October 15, 2014, and to continuing the Foundation’s investment in these bright minds for years to come.