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Pilot program seeks to help faculty sharpen grantsmanship

August 16, 2021

A new pilot program inspired by Professor Melani Duffrin aims to help NIU faculty to focus their research enterprises, foster interdisciplinary collaborations and sharpen their grant-writing skills.

Professor Melani Duffrin

The Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships (RIPS) will kick off its STARS Faculty Academy with informational sessions in early September. The academy is being patterned after Duffrin’s doctoral-level course on research positioning and grantsmanship (UHHS 750).

Duffrin, a professor of Interdisciplinary Health Professions, has an impressive track record in the external funding arena. Over the course of her career at NIU and other universities, she has secured more than $3.8 million in federal funding for her FoodMASTER initiative.

Duffrin and Luke Sebby, director of innovation partnerships and technology transfer for RIPS, are overseeing the academy. They’re seeking roughly 30 faculty members to participate in the pilot.

“Dr. Duffrin is experienced in grantsmanship training and has cultivated excellent relationships with federal funding agencies, and Luke Sebby leads our efforts to promote strategic innovation relationships and entrepreneurship,” RIPS Vice President Jerry Blazey said. “We think this program holds great potential for helping faculty to advance fruitful collaborations, build capacity in focused areas of research, and improve the likelihood of successful grant applications.”

Luke Sebby, director of innovation partnerships and technology transfer for RIPS

The academy will help faculty identify and develop lines of research that are likely to attract external support—and will include fun events designed to foster camaraderie and build cross-disciplinary partnerships.

The informational sessions for interested faculty will be held from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2, and from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 3, at the 71 North Partnership Studio (in the lower level of Founders Memorial Library).

Beginning in October, program participants will meet throughout the academic year from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on the first Friday of each month. Optional lunch, bowling, field trips and other social activities will follow from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on each of those dates.

Among the topics to be covered in the academy:

  • Building infrastructure and multidisciplinary research teams.
  • Writing aims, identifying funding sources and contacting program officers.
  • Developing project rationale, collecting pilot data and demonstrating expertise.
  • Program and management planning.
  • Federal review panel meetings.
  • Budgeting and finance.
  • Research design and evaluation.
  • Other aspects of strong grant proposals.

“Grantsmanship is an art,” Sebby said. “The STARS Faculty Academy is all about exploring the art, sharing lessons learned and bringing researchers together to spark ideas.

“I view innovation on a continuum,” he added. “This feeds the inception point and helps researchers get inspired. Then we go to the next level, which is making it work. We think this program will have measurable effects.”

Social aspects of the STARS Faculty Academy, such as the bowling events and other get-togethers, are important, too, Duffrin said. They will allow faculty members, particularly from different disciplines and colleges, to get to know and inspire each other.

“We want to make it a fun and engaging academic experience that will help faculty be productive and motivated,” she said.

Duffrin, who arrived at NIU three years ago, began developing her FoodMASTER program in 1999. Six years later, she received her first Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), part of the National Institutes of Health.

FoodMASTER has benefitted from three 5-year cycles of SEPA funding, totaling $3.6 million. The project also has been supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Higher Education Challenge Grants Program.

“The academy is designed to help faculty understand how to develop a focused area of research and to insert themselves into those research communities,” Duffrin said. “Our primary end goal is to have them submit successful grant applications, but the goals of the program really depend on what individuals want to take away. I think they can learn to be successful in many aspects of the research enterprise.”