STEM Students Learn Impact through Grant-Writing

Friday, July 22, 2016
Grant Writing Group

Experience granted: Students in a new Writing Grants, Funding Ideas course got feedback from Jeff Kochvar of the Terre Haute Boys & Girls Club, one of several local community groups the class assisted with grant writing.

Students are learning how engineers and scientists can impact others beyond the application of their STEM skills-science, technology, engineering and math. A new special-interest course in Writing Grants, Funding Ideas is developing their skills of communication and persuasion through the creation of grant proposals for nonprofit organizations in the greater Terre Haute community.

The course had student teams investigating community needs, researching possible national and regional funding sources for proposed programs, and writing drafts of grant proposals for a variety of groups. Along the way the students learned to write non-technical material and communicate concisely, while improving their storytelling and research techniques.

"There's so much more involved when using your engineering skills to help others and the local community," says Austin Mroz, a 2016 mechanical engineering graduate. "Your ideas need funding sources to make a difference in people's lives."

Grant proposals have been developed to support the establishment of a Mobile Market as part of the United Way of the Wabash Valley's Healthier by 2020 initiative. The project proposes bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to people unable to access a community market, and would have a kitchen to teach residents how to prepare well-balanced meals.

Meanwhile, the Terre Haute Boys & Girls Club's Brain Gain project is a proposed six-week summer educational program that would keep children's reading and math skills primed for the next school year. The organization also wishes to start a youth football program that gives youths an after-school activity with positive adult role models and strong community values.

"Having people with expertise in grant writing is a lifesaver for us," remarks Mark Johnson, the United Way of the Wabash Valley's community impact director. "With only three full-time staff members, volunteer support from the Rose-Hulman students is essential to us meeting our community's short- and long-term goals."

Jeff Kochvar of the Terre Haute Boys & Girls Club adds, "Grants are the lifeblood of our organization. These proposed grants, if adequately funded, will allow us to keep our promises to the kids in our community…We are instilling the spirit of volunteerism in the Rose-Hulman students and, hopefully, raising future leaders for the communities they live in during their careers. We need people like these students to carry the torch for our community."

Savannah Jay, a 2016 biomedical engineering graduate, was among the 16 students who took away valuable life lessons from the course. She was a member of the team writing the Mobile Market grant proposal.

"Rose-Hulman students don't realize the great need in the Terre Haute community for the simplest of services. Having at least one nutritious meal daily is invaluable for families," she says. "Hopefully, our grant proposal will bring support for these important programs."

Development of the grant-writing course was supported by the Kern Family Foundation, which seeks to instill an entrepreneurial mindset into today's engineering students. As a member of the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network, Rose-Hulman believes engineering schools should cultivate students who are curious and take initiative to solve problems and pursue opportunities for innovation.

The course has definitely addressed those areas, according to instructor Sarah Summers, assistant professor of English. "The great thing is that grants are really about explaining a project and why it's important to an audience who may not be experts. That's a crucial skill for scientists and engineers to have, no matter what they plan to do," she says. "These students are getting a world-class education, and as a result they're good researchers, good writers, and strategic thinkers. It was really exciting to see the students apply those talents to benefit community organizations."