Student Grant Writers Gain Hands-on Experience
Alma College’s grant writing course gives students hands-on experience while making a difference in the world.
Sheryle Dixon, who teaches the course, is Alma’s grant writer. Her background, however, is in philosophy, and she has taught philosophy courses at the college for several years.
“I used to be a diehard philosopher who didn’t know what a test tube was!” she says, laughing. “Grant writing crosses boundaries in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. Many of the students are English majors, but in order to be successful at grant writing, they have to work with people from varying backgrounds.”
Dixon writes community or college funding needs on a whiteboard, and students in the course choose one that they find interesting. While working through the process of writing grant proposals, they learn about methodology, data collection and budgets, she says.
“One student wrote a proposal for funding for the newly formed Presidential Honors Program at Alma while another chose to focus on funding for a tuba for a high school band program,” she says. “Because the course is limited to six students, I get to see them really develop over the term, and we are able to work closely as a group.”
Christina Rann, a Harrietta junior, worked on a grant concerning an adult respite program for in-home caregivers who have drastically altered their lives to take care of their loved ones suffering from dementia. Before her proposal received funding, the program had no committed funds for 2013 and faced the possibility of having to close, she says.
“When I learned that my proposal received funding, I was ecstatic,” she says. “The Gratiot County Community Foundation awarded the program $7,200, which was matched by Garr Tool. I couldn't believe that I was able to make a real-world difference in such a short time.”
There is a fair amount of luck in getting funding. Less than 10 percent of grant proposals receive funding, so the chances of not getting a grant is more likely, even if it’s a good proposal, says Dixon.
“Grant writers must be good writers, but they also must have good ideas because there are a lot of needs in the world,” she says. “No matter what career path you take, though, knowing how to access funds is a useful skill.”
Rann says the course allowed her to engage in professional relationships and help people in the community, a unique opportunity that most colleges don’t offer.
“Since the class was small, we were able to learn the material and help each other with our individual projects,” she says. “Dr. Dixon was perfect as well. She provided a balance of expertise and space for working at our own paces. I’ve become more autonomous and confident in my skills as a writer.”
As a result of the course’s success, Dixon has established an internship for students who want to continue grant writing. Rann will be one of the first interns, which will give her experience in foundation, government agency and corporate grants.
“It’s exciting to see my students become passionate about grant writing,” says Dixon. “After a couple of successful grant proposals, I've realized the true power of words and come to love grant work, so I hope to keep doing this. It’s a great way to strengthen the college’s connection to the community.”
Posted: Wed, March 13th, 2013 at 8:37AM