When I was first approached to develop an article involving grant writing and how staff might benefit from getting involved, one of my first reactions was “another boring article for someone to read?” However, once I regained focus, I could actually envision how I might have benefited when I first began my career in residential life, if I had some direction and/or pointers on this topic.
A second reaction I had involved my memory recall process and going back to one of my first personnel evaluations with my supervisor during those early years. After the litany of “at-a-boy’s” she was able to work into our conversation that I might benefit from some professional writing, and particularly writing to obtain some grants for the department. Let’s face it, working in residential life is pretty consuming, especially when you’re in a live-in position. Yet, I realized that if my career was going to advance, I would need to get involved in professional activities that would benefit my department, as well as my own growth. So why not grant writing?
So what can I possibly share with you regarding this process? Well, rather than go into the intricacies of the grant writing process (you can get that in any course or article on line dealing with this topic), let me highlight a few of the lessons I learned over the years. My “litany of thought” is organized around some key questions, as follows:
Why should I do this? Well, to begin with, we work in a field that changes simultaneously with the click of a mouse button. Did you ever regret submitting that email or report on line because the minute you hit the “send” button, you realized you needed to correct something in the correspondence/report? In order to be successful in this environment, Student Affairs professionals are sometimes conditioned to develop and refine specific skills that help distinguish us (in a positive sense) from others. These skills include being thorough, critical, and investigative in our roles. At the same time we are expected to be “focused” in our thinking and writing, we are also encouraged to be “multi-faceted” and global in our approach, vision, and/or philosophy of education, particularly in the student developmental realm. The grant writing process is a great opportunity to demonstrate your critical thinking and investigative abilities, refine your writing skills, espouse your inclusive approach to student development (learning doesn’t occur only in a classroom), and possibly attract monies for your department.
Where do I begin? An important aspect of grantsmanship involves the concept of “Resource Sharing.” It goes without saying (so why am I saying it?) that the grants process, by its very nature, is competitive. Yet, in order to be successful, you need to “line up your resources” in order to insure that the process moves forward while keeping “surprises” to a minimum. In the early stages of writing, it’s particularly important to have key offices and/or individuals involved. The mere fact that you’re reaching out to others demonstrates your willingness to become more involved with the larger organization and that you’re willing to take a lead role in this process. Obviously there is risk in this course of action, but professional advancement generally involves a level of risk-taking. Having a “can do” attitude will also assist you as you gather the resources to help with your project. You might want to even consider the idea of “co-chairs” and spread the success (and responsibility) around a little.
But how does this relate to my immediate job or career? Don’t be concerned if you’re asking or even thinking about this question. You should be! How many times have you felt like your current duties and responsibilities were keeping you stagnant? What better way to venture into new areas than becoming involved with a project that involves some risk and demonstrates your willingness to accept responsibility? Pick an area that interests you, there are so many timely issues for which grant monies are available. Many campuses have offices dedicated to grant writing…they are usually located somewhere in the Academic Affairs labyrinth. Before going in this direction, one word of advice…make sure your supervisor knows (and supports!) you venturing into this area. It just helps should questions arise about your project or what you are trying to do.
Make an appointment to talk with someone in the Grants Office and tell them you’re interested in joining a grant writing team, or that you want to explore some ideas regarding potential grants. It’s amazing how helpful others can be once they know you are motivated. Once you’ve latched on to an idea, it’s always helpful to enlist a few of your own staff, including para-professional student staff, to help out.
Which way is the wind blowing? By now, you should be aware that we work in political climates, and you’re probably in denial if you don’t agree. Hopefully, you’ve conducted some form of preliminary assessment regarding the priorities of your department. Let this drive your thoughts on a grant request topic.
You need to determine what would be particularly useful to your department, and something you have interest in as well. After all, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with the topic so it should be something that interests you. This also provides excellent opportunities to network with other departments of the university, particularly academic affairs and faculty. Depending on what you’re interested in, find a teaching/learning opportunity that excites you and others, and then seek out ways to fund that idea.
Some final pointers? Let me provide you with some “bullet” items that kind of summarize what I’ve been addressing:
• Find a niche, but watch territoriality
• Research the issue
• Seek out offices on campus that have been successful
• Involve “skills” people on your team, i.e. writers, creative thinkers, producers
• Pay attention to the small details, i.e. deadlines, number of copies, formatting, etc.
• Allow time to get approvals through your bureaucracy
• Keep supervisor(s) informed of progress
• Build constituencies and include those who will benefit directly from the grant
• Utilize technology from beginning to end
• Conduct on-line web searches for ideas/resources
• Consider various financial models and sources of funding
• Can you find a way to conduct the project even without the grant funds?
• Give credit where credit is due
Finally, update your resume! You just completed another skills acquisition step in your professional career, even if you didn’t get the grant! Just the fact that you took a leadership role and worked on this project speaks volumes about your personal ambition and professional determination.
Submitted by Dr. Joe Marchetti, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey