Grant writing advice for early career faculty at MSIs
Melissa Harrington

Becoming successful at getting grants funded is like building a house. First, you need to build a foundation, then you frame out the rooms, and then you put on the roof. Successful grant proposals are built on the foundation of a successful research program. That means that the principal investigator (PI) needs to have expertise in the area (documented by at least a couple of publications). For most research grant mechanisms reviewers will also expect to see some preliminary data supporting the hypothesis and experimental approach. If the PI does not have this foundation, a proposal is not likely to get funded no matter how well it is written.

The second part of your grant proposal house is having a good research plan. The project needs to investigate important scientific questions and address a gap in knowledge that is holding back advancement in that area of science. You need to develop interesting hypotheses and a strong experimental plan that fits your repertoire of techniques. At small institutions the techniques and methodologies that are available are limited. You need to design your hypotheses so that the techniques you have provide strong experimental approaches to test them. You also need to design your experiments so that the results will distinguish between different hypotheses. Propose experiments in which one of the possible results is incompatible with your hypothesis, while getting the opposite result is incompatible with the alternative hypothesis. Designing this kind of definitive experiment is not easy and requires a lot of time and thought, but it is one of the secrets to a successful research grant proposal.

The roof of your grant house is the proposal itself. While a beautiful proposal usually won’t get bad science funded, a confusingly written, poorly-designed grant proposal will keep good science from getting funded. When you are writing a grant proposal, your audience is the reviewers – usually only three people. Your proposal has to appeal to them. It is very important that you talk to the program officer at the agency. Program officers know what their reviewers will like. Email the officer a one-page summary of your proposal and ask for a time when you can call them to discuss it. When you have the program officer on the phone ask them: Does our project sound like a good fit for your program? Do you see anything problematic? Can you suggest anything to make it more competitive? What are common mistakes that PIs make that reduce the competitiveness of their proposal?

To appeal to reviewers your proposal must present your science clearly and attractively. Use all of the space that you are allowed to describe your plan, but design your documents carefully so that they are attractive and easy to read. Include a mix of figures and text – newspapers make a good model. Make sure that your figures can be understood at a glance. Reviewers will not like it if they have to pore over your figures and legends in order to understand them. Make everything as simple and clear as possible. If reviewers have to struggle to understand your proposal they will not like it.

Start early. Give yourself plenty of time to develop your research plan and write your proposal. If your proposal is rejected, keep trying. Strengthening your foundation with preliminary data or another publication, incorporating the feedback from reviewers, and refining your presentation will make your resubmission much stronger.

Jumpstart Grantsmanship Alumni include over 125 faculty from HSIs. Trainings prioritize early-career faculty currently working at HSIs and MSIs across the country looking to collaborate with colleagues. The program targets training and support for faculty within the first 10 years of their academic appointments. Faculty from 2-year and 4-year HSIs that have been awarded limited prior NSF support are given precedence for grantsmanship training. The HSI STEM Resource Hub prioritizes training for faculty looking to collaborate on applications, and facilitates collaboration through the HSI STEM Professionals Network. Jumpstart Grantsmanship training is free of charge for participants from HSIs and is supported by the National Science Foundation Grant Awards 1832338 and 1832345.

Workshops are offered across the country. In 2020, the Hub will offer eight Jumpstart Grantsmanship Workshops in eight locations throughout the U.S. This year trainings will be hosted in: San Diego, CA; Clovis, CA, Miami, FL; New York, NY; Hato Rey, PR; Chicago, IL; Austin, TX; Taos, NM. In 2020 workshops are offered from January through May, and structured to accommodate busy faculty schedules by offering half-day, 1-day, and 2-day formats.

Photo of Melissa A Harrington, PhD. Assoc. VP for Research; Director, Delaware Center for Neuroscience Research; Director, Delaware Institute for Science and Technology.

Melissa Harrington received a bachelor’s degree, with honors, in molecular biology from Purdue University and a PhD in Neuroscience from Stanford University. She began her faculty career at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and was there for four years before relocating to Delaware to join the faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences at Delaware State University. At DSU she moved up through the faculty ranks and became Director of Biomedical Research and then Associate Vice President for Research. In these roles she wrote grants that brought over $42 million in federal funds to her institution.
Dr. Harrington is also the director of the NIH-funded Delaware Center for Neuroscience Research, an NIH-funded, virtual center linking neuroscientists at Delaware State University and the University of Delaware. Her research program in neurophysiology has been continuously funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Defense since 1998. Find her on:

Capacity Building

How to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM*
Edward Stoker

Thanks HSI STEM Hub for the invitation to present in approximately 250 words how to increase diversity and Inclusion (D&I) in STEM. My response is one that most educators have been successfully implementing throughout their careers with significant impacts.

To promote student success in STEM requires a wide range of effort, support, and resources from individuals and institutions across all sectors. Proper policies, current curricula, research opportunities, community partnerships, and much more is required, in addition to the capacity to secure funding from public and private sources, including foundations, industry, and government.

More importantly, increasing the success of STEM students particularly from underrepresented communities requires something more basic which money can’t buy and few institutions can provide – i.e., a personal commitment and an organizational culture (found at many HSIs and HBCUs) to contribute to the growth and development of talented students, precisely because of their differences.

Achieving D&I requires recognizing, respecting, and valuing differences. To do this requires increasing awareness and knowledge of self and others in order to establish, nurture, and maintain positive personal relationships and organizational cultures. This individual approach is one that in the field of D&I is referred to as “use of self.”

Educators already know that use of self is frequently required to effectively increase student success. Similarly, industry and government are increasingly recognizing that one of the most effective and enduring ways to increase D&I in workplace is through structured mentoring programs that couple organizational leaders with underrepresented staff.

Therefore, my simplistic response of how to increase D&I in STEM is to enable educators to continue engaging themselves and diverse students in learning. Through effective use of self, students and educators have and will continue to increase D&I in STEM. Pa’lante. Ya pronto llegamos.

*Dedicated to my school and university professors and administrators, especially Dr. Merle Alexander from Baylor, who recognized and nurtured my talents and those of other diverse students.

Photo of Edward Algie Stoker Mendieta. A strong advocate for inclusion of Hispanics and other people of color in all endeavors, Mr. Stoker has raised close to $100 million dollars primarily for multicultural projects he has directed, some of which have received commendations from the Vatican, White House, Congress, and community-based organizations. He possesses a B.S. in Agronomy from Texas A&M; a M.S. in Environmental Studies from Baylor; and an executive certificate in Strategic Diversity and Inclusion from Georgetown. Find him on:

Social Distancing

A helpful tool for Researchers and Project Investigators interested in COVID-19
-Nicolas Mendez & Margie Vela

Currently we are witnessing a global pandemic that has changed our daily routines and activities. This has had a profound impact on higher education. The academic world is using tools that can maintain social distancing required to help stop spreading COVID-19. One of these tools, is the Research Gate webpage, described by Busvine as Facebook for researchers1.

This webpage allows users to access published works in all disciplines written by academicians from around the world. Research Gate provides access for reading, referencing and even downloading the article. If the option of downloading is not available, this webpage permits the researcher to directly contact the author of the paper with a description of how the paper is going to be used and with what objective.

Research Gate has created an area exclusive to Coronavirus articles, research and discussions providing access to studies related to the virus. Many studies provide insight for colleges and education centers as these institutions tackle the COVID pandemic, while providing education to millions of students across the country and planning next steps for their students, faculty and staff. Discussions also include a space for current and potential collaborative projects, connecting researchers around the world. The link to access to the webpage is

[1] Busvine, D. (2020, April 6). Science Platform ResearchGate Launches COVID-19 Community. Retrieved from New York Times:

Multicultural Awareness
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Student Belonging and Peer Mentoring
Margie Vela 

Student belonging has been a topic of interest, study, and discussion in higher education for over 20 years. Study after study shows students’ sense of belonging strongly impacts retention, persistence, matriculation and graduation rates [1], [2], [3], [4]. Some additional factors impacting sense of belonging for underrepresented students include feeling respected, feeling supported, and engaging with role models that the student feels are like them [5], [1], [6].

A recent mixed-methods study by Aish, Asare & Miskioglu [5] determined the characteristics minority students majoring in STEM seek in their role models. Student focus groups centered on non-outlier role models, which are role-models that are not celebrity-like; as students shared examples of close mentors and family members as their personal role models. The focus groups followed by surveys determined four attributes students look for in role models: (1) achieved success, (2) constant improvement and resilience, (3) moral character, and (4) empathetic and helpful. Further, students revealed they felt they were also role models and possessed the characteristics they valued in their mentors.

The results of these studies and many others can give us insight into interventions that are effective for minority students. While the pool of minority faculty in STEM is substantially smaller than the pool of minority students studying STEM, mentoring and modeling for students is imperative to their development and success. Peer mentoring is one effective way to address this need, as students who recently experienced a successful transition to college can help guide new students into the same success. Designing a program that recruits peer mentors who exhibit the characteristics mentioned above; intentionally pairs students

[1] Cooper, Robin. “Constructing belonging in a diverse campus community.” Journal of College and Character 10, no. 3 (2009).

[2] Cheng, David X. “Students’ sense of campus community: What it means, and what to do about it.” NASPA journal 41, no. 2 (2004): 216-234.

[3] Roberts, J. Scott, and George C. Rosenwald. “Ever upward and no turning back: Social mobility and identity formation among first-generation college students.” (2001).

[4] Schlossberg, Nancy K. “Marginality and mattering: Key issues in building community.” New directions for student services1989, no. 48 (1989): 5-15.

[5] Aish, Nir, Philip Asare, and Elif Eda Miskioğlu. “People like me increasing likelihood of success for underrepresented minorities in stem by providing realistic and relatable role models.” In 2017 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), pp. 1-4. IEEE, 2017.

[6] Zirkel, Sabrina. “Is there a place for me? Role models and academic identity among white students and students of color.” Teachers College Record 104, no. 2 (2002): 357-376.

High Impact Practices

The HSI STEM Hub features programs and projects that incorporate high impact practices for underrepresented students. These programs are exemplars as proposers begin to design components for their proposals. The uniqueness of institutions, student populations, and programs calls for tailoring successful programs to best meet the distinctive needs presented by the target population. We hope these projects help bring forth ideas for interventions that serve your students and institution.

The SCS Noonan Scholars Program
-Edmundo Medina & Margie Vela

This month we are featuring the SCS Noonan Scholars Program, which highlights interventions addressing the academic, emotional, career guidance and networking needs of high-achieving, low-income underrepresented students. The program is described as a multi-stage, integrated program of support. It focuses on the holistic development of students with interventions addressing academic and socio-emotional support including career guidance and networking efforts to ensure success after college.

After several years of successfully supporting students through graduation, the program realized that these scholars often entered rigorous majors, but transitioned out of them during their studies, which left graduates working in disciplines outside their passion. Reviewing college transcripts of various cohorts revealed an achievement gap. Despite strong academic performance in high school, scholars often lacked academic preparation for college in writing, math, and science. This marked the launching of Summer Academy in 2012 focused on closing this achievement gap. The results were outstanding and improved retention in STEM, resulting in 70{6f2dd636dde0cf44e28ae7754eb3e98b274a593f5f7da8d0beb33c6d61f6d4e4} graduation in STEM for students who began their studies in this discipline. Pre-freshman summer academy is one of many interventions that have proven successful for undergraduate students.

The SCS Noonan Scholars Program was founded in 2001 and has over 90{6f2dd636dde0cf44e28ae7754eb3e98b274a593f5f7da8d0beb33c6d61f6d4e4} 6-year graduation rate from 4-yr institutions. More information about SCS Noonan Scholars program can be found at:

The HSI STEM Hub prioritizes the health of our staff and the communities we serve. In an effort to maintain social distancing, the Hub is transitioning our grantsmanship trainings to online trainings, webinars, and certification programs. We are excited to be a part of the development of HSI STEM faculty all over the country. We will keep you informed as we release thesetraining materials and begin registration for our webinars.
If you have any questions, pleasecontact us at [email protected].