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External funding elevates Augsburg’s reputation and reach

Get ready for some numbers: Since the start of the fall semester, Augsburg faculty and staff have won nearly $3 million in new grant awards, submitted more than 14 new grants, and continue work on 35 projects worth a total of $9.6 million.

This pace of external funding for the college is unprecedented, and the outcomes of this important work elevate Augsburg’s reach and reputation. Championing this effort is Erica Swift, director of Sponsored Programs, who recently received a grant to foster the development and submission of innovative grant proposals to, for instance, support student scholarships or create diverse, pioneering learning and research. The grant—Augsburg2019 Innovation Fund—was supported by the president’s office.

Get ready for some more numbers: To date, Swift’s Innovation Grant has awarded eight writing stipends to faculty investigators in five disciplines—biology, history, mathematics, physics, and STEM programs. The proposals, requesting a total of $4.3 million, have been submitted to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Minnesota Historical Society, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The best part—if funded, these projects would support 12,460 hours of paid research experience and $678,400 in scholarships for undergraduate students.

“The Innovation Grant is important because it is helping us broaden participation throughout the College as well as recognize and support faculty driven to enrich the learning environment for our students and contribute to their respective field,” said Swift, who has worked at Augsburg for three years. “Grants are intimidating. It takes about 116 hours to write a grant, and collaborating investigators spend an additional 55 hours per proposal. You send it off and likely get rejected your first and second time [the average grant proposal success rate is less than 20 percent]. You make revisions, then resubmit, likely to get another rejection. But this process builds experience until you are successful. And when that success comes, it’s amazing.”

Sponsored Program’s efforts to inspire faculty grant submissions is thriving within a verdant culture of student research, Swift said. Augsburg is investing in infrastructure to stimulate innovation and collaboration. Consider the Office of Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunity (URGO), which connects students with new and existing research and scholarship on campus and beyond, including positions at Harvard and the Mayo Clinic. And, of course, there’s the $50 million Norman and Evangeline Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion, which will further foster undergraduate research efforts and interdisciplinary experiential learning when it opens in 2018.

“The college is laying groundwork at the same time as established faculty have begun to pass the baton, of sorts, to collaborate with or advise new faculty through the grant process,” Swift said. “Instead of faculty members thinking they can’t achieve the success of those before them, they feel empowered to jump into the process.”

And when they do, Swift is there, providing one-on-one support from proposal development and submission to award set up and management. She walks investigators through closeout and assists in preparation for the next grant. Each grant, no matter the amount, receives the same level of attention.

“You might think our office pays more attention to the million-dollar grants, but $5,000 grants often take the same amount of work, and the efforts of those faculty are just as important,” Swift said. “Besides, those $5,000 grants often beget larger awards. Each submission is a success because it is one step closer to an award; and each award, no matter how small, is a success because it encourages faculty and advances Augsburg’s reputation for discovery and excellence.”

A small but mighty community

The perseverance and success of Augsburg faculty is particularly notable given competition with major research universities for a shrinking pool of federal funding. Faculty continue to develop partnerships and create solutions to submit relevant and compelling proposals.

“Our faculty have proven, time and time again, that you can be small but mighty,” Swift said. “Augsburg has secured some major grant awards, doing—sometimes—what no one else in the world is doing. And yet, those faculty would never boast about their successes. That’s why I love my job—I get to share their good, impactful work.”

Read about some of Augsburg’s latest grant awards and learn more about the process on the Sponsored Programs website.

Dimension 3, Goal 9, Strategy 9: Augsburg is a sustainable and vital force for educating future generations.

—by Kate Elliott