Summer Working Connections South Recap: Eight Tips for Developing a Grant Proposal

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Staff from the National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) recently taught a special “Leadership Academy” track at Summer Working Connections South.  This event – held at Florida State College at Jacksonville – offers free professional development training to IT faculty.  But while two of the Summer Working Connections South tracks covered technical topics like AWS cloud and Python programming, the “Leadership Academy” track provided best practices and strategies to boost an overall program, such as improving engagement with a business council or using social media to help recruit and retain students.  One of the highlights of the “Leadership Academy” track was a two-day workshop, led by the National CTC’s Principal Investigator Dr. Ann Beheler, on developing a competitive grant proposal for a National Science Foundation ATE grant.

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Below are a few of the suggestions Dr. Beheler offered attendees of the “Leadership Academy” track.

* Be realistic in your proposal’s goals.  Remember that the first audience for your proposal is a review board.  Your proposal must be clearly stated and backed up with clear evidence of need and a concrete plan of action.  If the panel believes your proposal is too ambitious, they won’t believe you can pull it off.

* Explain the local workforce need using information from your local workforce experts.  ATE grants focus on technician workforce training, which means your proposal must explain the technician need you’re addressing.  Do not rely solely on the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Market research, which focuses on big-picture national numbers.  Instead, your proposal must tap into industry experts and employers from your region.  They know best how your proposal will help their market.

* Read the solicitation more than once.  Everything you need to know about the content of your proposal is in that solicitation.  Dr. Beheler suggests you read it through once, then read it a second time to make notes and highlight important areas, then read it a third time to look for details you missed the first two times.

* Start the proposal process early.  Do not underestimate the length of time it will take to get all of the many parts completed.  In addition to the proposal itself, there are also multiple supporting documents and NSF forms to organize and complete.  You’ll be coordinating with many other people.  Also, upload the items into the NSF system as you get them done, rather than waiting to the very end to upload everything.  Plan to be done a month prior to the deadline so if you do fall behind, you still have time to get everything finished.  No extensions are given to the October submission deadline.

* Remember that the ATE program focus is workforce, not transfers to four-year universities.  Note the many times the word “technician” is used in the solicitation; use that word just as often in your proposal.

* Know what other ATE grants have previously addressed in your area of interest.  The NSF does not award grants that reinvent the wheel.  This means you should develop your proposal with an eye to adapting and adopting the work of previous grants that are relevant. If your proposal fails to suggest an awareness of previous ATE (and other) grant work in your topic, the proposal may be rejected.

* Spend time thinking about your sustainability plan.  Explain clearly how your project will endure after the grant funding ends.  This is important.

* Write with your review panel in mind.  Keep the language simple and clear; avoid technical jargon and endless acronyms.  Break up the text with bulleted lists or white spaces.  Remember also that your reviewers may not be from your discipline.  In short, do everything you can to make the proposal easy for the review panel to read and understand.

More information about developing competitive ATE grant proposals can be found at the Centers Collaborative for Technical Assistance.

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