Mentor-Connect has expanded its mentoring services to help faculty whose first Advanced Technological Education (ATE) proposals were declined and to assist any principal investigator of a New-to-ATE small grant who is preparing a larger ATE project proposal.
Both mentoring programs give faculty the opportunity to write proposals with guidance from educators who have years of experience developing ATE grants. All Mentor-Connect mentors “have a real sense for what should go into a proposal. We can communicate that to the people who have less experience and don’t really know the kinds of things that reviewers would be looking for,” said Osa Brand, the Mentor-Connect senior staffer who leads the two new initiatives.
Mentoring & Technical Resources
This is the first year that Mentor-Connect is formally offering project-specific services to the entire community. In the past it has responded to requests for advice from former Mentor-Connect mentees whose ATE proposals had been declined as well as those who sought guidance when they applied for larger ATE grants. These previous, less formal efforts have resulted in six colleges receiving grants after they followed Mentor-Connect advice to revise proposals and resubmit them.
Mentor-Connect’s main focus is providing two-year college teams with nine months of mentoring and technical resources to help faculty write competitive ATE proposals. Mentor-Connect is an ATE project of the South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center at Florence-Darlington Technical College. The American Association of Community Colleges is a partner of Mentor-Connect.
Mentor-Connect’s entire digital Resource Library has always been freely available to support potential, current, and former ATE grantees. Its collection includes print resources, webinars, and links to other sources of information to help STEM faculty, administrators, and grant writers develop proposals and comply with National Science Foundation expectations.
Mentor-Connect mentors work in person with mentees during a three-day workshop in January and at a one-day workshop before the HI-TEC Conference in July. Periodic conference calls and email exchanges with mentors provide the college teams with specific advice as they develop their proposals, while Mentor-Connect’s handouts and webinars provide general guidance about creating project budgets, filling out forms, building industry partnerships, and developing evaluations.
The successful mentoring practices that Mentor-Connect has refined since it began in 2012 are woven into the entirely remote-delivered Second-Chance and Moving-Up Mentoring.
For example, there are “On-Ramp” processes for both programs that compel teams who have not participated in Mentor-Connect to inform themselves before their first conversation with a mentor. Their tasks include studying the ATE solicitation, reviewing their industry and academic partnerships, checking on the work of other ATE projects to see what they can leverage, studying the budget requirements, planning for their project evaluation, and thinking about how the project will be sustained when the grant funding ends. The teams are also asked to view a Mentor-Connect webinar on the forms that are part of the funding application.
For the New-to-ATE teams to move to a larger project grant, Brand says, “Much of the success really depends on their understanding that this proposal has to aim for a more far-reaching impact than the small project they have completed. They need to work with other institutions. They need to accomplish things at a higher level than they did the first time around. So it’s not just asking for more money to do some more things. They really have to be more aggressive about what they’re doing and the kind of partnerships they develop.”
Because each team will receive 15 hours of mentoring, the faculty will be asked to prioritize the sections of their proposals where they most need the mentor’s help.
Sage Advice: “Aim for Clarity”
For all of her mentees Brand begins with the suggestion that they “aim for clarity.”
While this may seem obvious, she pointed out it is all-too-common for proposals to start with lengthy information about institutional background and student demographics before identifying the goal of the project.
“There’s a real temptation for people who aren’t used to writing proposals to pack in as much as they can into those 15 pages, resulting in full, full pages that are hard to work your way through. I always say to make it clear exactly what you want to do from the very beginning—from the first paragraph—and then structure it so there’s a logical flow that doesn’t pack in so much information that the essence of the project gets lost.”