December 18, 2006

Education, information access top Mellon Foundation award winners

Author: Nathan Willis

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation earlier this month announced the first winners in its planned annual Mellon Awards for Technology Collaboration (MATC), granting 10 recipients cash prizes of $50,000 to $100,000. The awards recognize contributions to open source software that benefit higher education and nonprofit organizations.

Three winners received $100,000 grants: The Internet Archive, the University of Washington, and Humboldt State University. The Internet Archive was recognized for its Heritrix Web crawler and its work archiving Internet content. The University of Washington was recognized for the ongoing development of its IMAP email server and PINE email client. Humboldt State University was recognized for its development of the Moodle course management system.

The remaining seven awards were all given at the $50,000 grant level. The Open University was recognized for its own contributions to the Moodle project. Two recipients -- the Universitat de Lleida and the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University -- were each awarded grants for their contributions to another open source courseware system, Sakai.

Two research tools were grant winners. The University of British Columbia received a grant recognizing its work on the Public Knowledge Project (PKP), an online journal and academic conference research aid. The Plymouth State University received a grant for its work on WPopac, a WordPress-based representation of bibliographic databases, such as library catalogs.

Yale University was recognized for its development of Central Authentication Service, a single-sign-on system employed by a wide number of colleges and universities. The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was awarded a grant in recognition of its work to reinvigorate the Bedework calendar server.

The Mellon Foundation provides financial support to a small set of open source projects through its Research in Information Technology (RIT) program. Most of the supported projects are educational or academic in nature -- including the Sakai course management system, development of which garnered grants for two of this year's MATC winners. Sakai is, however, independently governed and supported by the non-profit Sakai Foundation.

The Mellon Foundation intends for the grant money to be spent furthering the development of the recognized projects. Eight of the 10 institutions pledged to use the funds to finance further work. The University of British Columbia instead announced plans to direct its grant money to fostering adoption of PKP in Latin America, and Plymouth State University said it would use its grant to purchase catalog data from the US Library of Congress and make it publicly accessible.

As we first reported in May, the award grants were originally planned in the amounts of $100,000 and $25,000. According to the Mellon Foundation's Christopher J. Mackie, the Awards Committee requested the change, feeling that the distribution of three $100,000 and seven $50,000 grants "would better reflect the distribution of the finalists (lots of very high quality projects, with only a few absolute standouts) and the importance of their contributions."

The Mellon Foundation plans to maintain that prize structure for the 2007 MATC awards. Other details for the 2007 MATC awards -- including the nomination period -- have yet to be announced.

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