Granting access to STEM-grant access - RED - Relevant. Essential. Denver.
MSU Denver junior biology major Cristina Oviedo comes to the CASE Learning Center in the Science Building every day to study alone or with her classmates in the Science Building. Photo by Alyson McClaran

Granting access to STEM-grant access

With millions available in research funding, innovative consortium brings brains together for application – and student – success.

October 23, 2017

By Cory Phare

With programming such as the upcoming Women in STEM Conference, there’s a place for every MSU Denver student interested in science, technology, engineering and math to call their own.

And for many, that home is the Center for Advanced STEM Education (CASE), whose mission is promoting STEM excellence. Providing access to student research opportunities and individualized support options, the center has built a success formula that works – the Louis Stokes Colorado Wyoming Alliance for Minority Participation program housed there routinely boasts a participant retention rate ranging from 93 to 96 percent.

But like any home, it takes money to put food on the table – or, in CASE’s case, to fund research.

That’s where the STEM Grant Consortium comes in. Part clearinghouse and part relationship-building opportunity, the group is all about sharing procedural how-to’s, fostering interdisciplinary connections and creating a repository of STEM-grant best practices.

We had a chance to chat with Janelle Johnson, assistant professor of secondary teacher education and principal investigator of several grants; Hsiu-Ping Liu, director of CASE; and Linda Sivertson, interim program development manager and grant liaison with CASE. Here's how it all got started, why it’s unique to MSU Denver and how students are the ultimate beneficiaries of grant research.

MSU Denver electrical engineering technology major, Thomas Midenhall, writes out the Laplace Transform of a differential equation Oct. 23 in The CASE Learning Center in the Science Building. Midenhall studies in the learning center before classes on Monday and Wednesday mornings. Photo by Alyson McClaran

How did the grant consortium come to be?

Janelle Johnson: When we were writing the National Science Foundation Noyce capacity-building grant, we knew it required collaboration between the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the School of Education. To write it, we wanted to pick the brains of people in different departments to comprehensively structure our full proposal.

That process, which resulted in an award expected to total more than $1.4 million and established the Noyce Urban STEM program at MSU Denver (Noyce U-STEM), was really beneficial. We knew we needed to do more of that.

Linda Sivertson: It’s a natural outgrowth of the interdisciplinary work that CASE has been doing. We knew we needed more communication and information dissemination for those pursuing STEM-related grants, so we wanted to tap into those who’ve been principal investigators for a long time to bring them together.

A lot of the work we’ve done since our launch in May 2016 is covering practical and procedural matters – working with constituents like the institutional research board, other faculty, the MSU Denver Foundation and Office of Sponsored Research and Programs, for example.

Why is it an effective approach to grant application?

Hsiu-Ping Liu: As faculty members within a big University, we’re all really busy doing our own things. With so many grants being interdisciplinary, it’s an opportunity for everyone to come together and learn from each other.

For National Science Foundation and National Institute of Health applications, the funding rate is around 20 percent. And although several groups have submitted proposals that haven’t been approved, it’s the first step in learning what does work. The key is learning from others how to do it effectively and efficiently. You have to try because if you don’t, you’ll never get funded.

For the relatively short amount of time the consortium has been around, it’s already accomplished a lot – and we have a lot more to do!

Welcoming those from other institutions as well, Community College of Denver students Sasha Tekwani, Maria Perez Martinez and Estefani Peña study for their pathophysiology exam Oct. 19 at the lab in the Science Building. Photo by Alyson McClaran

This seems like a unique program, correct?

JJ: It’s absolutely unique – and the NSF now sees us that way because of it. With our access-driven mission tied to the demographics we serve and our affordability, other institutions will need to follow the lead of what we’re already doing.

Even though we face challenges in the grant-application process compared to research-driven schools with established infrastructure, we expect to see more success in the future thanks to efforts like this.

LS: The uniqueness really is in the grassroots collaboration – we’re bringing all of our different departments and faculty together so individuals aren’t just working in isolation.

How does CASE aid student success?

HL: It’s a multi-prong approach to supporting the individual student academically, financially and personally. With so many of our students employed full- or part-time, we provide support by loaning textbooks or pairing tutors based upon their availability. If you’re working 60-plus hours per week, it might not be that you’re not capable at something; often there’s just not enough time.

Another thing we strongly believe in is access to research. If you’re involved with it, you truly learn the content knowledge of your discipline. Plus, you’re building critical-thinking, problem-solving and teamwork skills, preparing you to enter the workforce or further schooling after graduation.

How does this tie into President Janine Davidson’s vision for MSU Denver?

LS: Seeking grant funding is definitely tied to recruitment and retention. Supporting faculty to do their research empowers them as experts, and students are the beneficiaries, with access to industry-leading information and knowledge-creation opportunities.

With the University’s goal to increase fundraising, mentoring and collaborating are absolutely critical. From locating grants and connecting with the Office of Sponsored Research and Programs we need to support each other to be successful. We have to share information.

JJ: It’s so exciting to hear [President Davidson’s] priorities because it’s exactly the kind of work we’re doing. These grants are community-rooted, equity-based, and represent the institutions of the future. What’s really cool is because of the intertwined opportunities – to network, research and serve – it really is about students, students, students at the center of it all.

For more information on the STEM Grant Consortium, contact Linda Sivertson.

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