It’s a long slippery slope. One day you wake up and think, “We could do so much more for our students if only we had a bit more funding.” Before long, you’re reading the news and noticing that Major University just received $100’s of millions in funding for a project you’d always dreamed of doing. Once the surprise wears off, you think “Why them? Why not my college?” “Why doesn’t my college ever get big grants?”
Well. As they say, 100% of percent of the people who never apply for grants, never get them.
Even for those who apply, a grant is not a gift. Preparing a strong application will take time and lots of conversations. My goal is to help improve your odds for success.
This article focuses on resources and information that will help you learn how to write grant proposals to the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program.
If you are able to attend the HI TEC conference this July, there will be a pre-conference workshop on Monday afternoon, from 1-4:30 pm on writing and reviewing NSF proposals. If you're planning to submit a proposal this fall, it would be a good idea to attend.
Who is NSF and what is the ATE program?
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent US federal agency whose purpose is "to promote the progress of science; [and] to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare by supporting research and education in all fields of science and engineering." The NSF serves that purpose by funding research, education, and training projects in over 2,000 US colleges, universities, K-12 school systems, businesses, informal science organizations and other research organizations. (1)
The NSF’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program is part of the Division of Undergraduate Education. The ATE program funds research and education initiatives related to educating the US technical workforce.
Who is eligible for ATE funding?
Most ATE grants go to 2-year institutions (community and technical colleges) that educate students in the advanced technological fields that drive the US economy. These fields include advanced manufacturing, agricultural technologies, biotechnology, information technology, security technology, environmental technology, and more.
The wording in that sentence highlights an important distinction between NIH awards and NSF grants. That is, NSF grants are awarded to institutions, not individual instructors. This means that if you want to write a grant, you need to make sure your college supports this activity. Some colleges even have grant writers who can help.
It’s also important to note the role of 2-year institutions. Your chance of receiving an ATE grant will be much higher if you are based at a college that educates technicians and offers two-year degrees (A.S. or A.A.S).
The submission dates for ATE grants are once a year:
October 3, 2019
October 1, 2020
You may think October 3rd is a long time away, but if you think you’ll submit a grant this year, it’s best to start working on it right now. Some colleges will need to have a copy of your proposal a few weeks in advance so they review the budget and project plan.
You will probably want to involve additional people as well and make them stakeholders in your project. The sooner you talk them, the more willing they will be to help you out.
Many NSF ATE grants recruit people from local companies to act as advisors. Often local companies will provide tour opportunities or internships for students. Don’t wait until September. Start talking to those people now. You will have to ask them to write letters that describe their commitment to your project and you’ll need to get biographical sketches from other people on your team. The sooner you start, the better your chance of success.
The solicitation describes the kind of work that the NSF ATE program is interested in funding. Your chances of getting funded are much better if the ideas in your proposal align with the kinds of activities that NSF wants to fund.
If your ideas don't quite match the ideas in the solicitation, you’ll want to talk with an NSF program officer to see if they think the ATE program is a good fit. If your ideas align better with other programs, like providing student scholarships, for example, the program officer will let you know.
Learn about other ATE projects
It’s a good idea to see the kinds of projects that other colleges have proposed.
Currently, there are 360 active awards from the ATE program.
Find a mentor
MentorLinks and Mentor Connect are two ATE-funded programs that help mentor colleges involved in technician training.
Apply to MentorLinks by June 7, 2019 and your college could be eligible for a $20,000 MentorLinks grant to fund your time working with a mentor and your travel for attending three project meetings. The grant emphasizes networking and opportunities for technical assistance and professional development.
Mentor-Connect helps mentor colleges that want to write NSF ATE proposals. Applications for the Mentor-Connect program are usually accepted in mid-late summer, but you can contact them anytime and get information.