CHES Grant Writing Institute Boosts Research

  • February 1st, 2021

The College of Human Environmental Sciences has taken UA’s strategic goal to increase the University’s productivity and innovation in research, scholarship and creative activities to heart and created an environment to encourage and support faculty in their scholarly pursuits.

A Zoom videoconference with the 2020 Grant Writing Institute cohort
Members of the 2019-20 GWI cohort meet via Zoom.

One of the initiatives the college undertook to boost research was the establishment of the CHES Grant Writing Institute. Created in 2017, the GWI helps faculty members secure external funding to support a specific program of research. The institute is an effort to provide mentorship and training opportunities for research faculty and accelerate progress in establishing a nationally recognized research program within the College of Human Environmental Sciences.

The training includes group seminars as well as individual mentoring sessions, with opportunities to meet with program officers from various funding agencies. Faculty selected for the GWI are expected to finish the institute with a grant proposal ready for submission.

Participation is competitive and the application process requires submission of a concept paper that states the need for and specific aims of a proposed project; identification of a funding opportunity providing at least $100,000; and a specific plan for completing an application in the required timeframe.

Dr. Jeannine Lawrence, senior associate dean, serves the GWI as a mentor and facilitator. She says, “The group really works on peer support and peer evaluation. Participants bring their grant ideas to the group at the very beginning. Through the process of participating in GWI sessions, they develop their grant sections and members review and give feedback. It’s particularly effective because their areas are so different that the perspectives they bring to reviewing grants in other fields seem to strengthen the proposals overall.”

In addition to peer support, research experts play a vital role by sharing their insights into various parts of the grant proposal process. Senior Associate Vice President for Research & Economic Development Dr. John Higginbotham spoke with the group about meeting with NIH program officers. Michelle Beck, a senior grant and contract specialist from the Office of Sponsored Programs, shared information about preparing a grant budget.

The 2019-2020 GWI cohort was made up of faculty members Drs. Blake Berryhill, Joy Douglas, Jessica Jaiswal, Ryan Moran and Libo Tan. Their research projects include an interesting mix of topics.

Headshots of Blake Berryhill, Joy Douglas and Ryan Moran
Drs. Blake Berryhill, Joy Douglas and Ryan Moran

Berryhill’s project explores the implementation of a school-based, evidence-based treatment delivered via online psychotherapy for adolescent depression in rural areas. Berryhill explains the motivation for his research, “Adolescent depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. Access to providers and evidence-based treatment in rural areas is scarce, as rural areas have approximately eight-times fewer providers than urban and suburban areas. Online psychotherapy can increase accessibility to providers and treatment.”

Moran will be exploring neuromechanical baseline and post-concussion assessment in wheelchair sport athletes. He recently conducted a pilot at UA that found wheelchair sport athletes who live with spinal cord injury present differently than varsity collegiate athletes on baseline concussion assessment.

“A common measurement that we use to diagnose and manage concussions is balance and postural stability, but with most wheelchair sport athletes using a wheelchair for both sport and daily living, we are not able to use the standardized balance and postural stability tools that we typically would with varsity athletes,” said Moran. “This project is requesting funding for a device that uses over 2,000 sensing elements to provide real-time information on pressure distribution and center of force trajectory when an individual is seated in a wheelchair, to better understand their neuromechanics.”

Douglas explains her research proposal, “My project will use data collected by the National Institutes of Health to investigate nutrition-related factors that can protect against dementia in older adults. From this project, we hope to be able to suggest some lifestyle choices that people can use to reduce their risk of dementia later in life.”

All of the members of the cohort agreed that the CHES Grant Writing Workshop has benefitted them.

“The GWI workshops have created a convenient avenue to meet with peers from different disciplines within the College, who are also at very similar stages of their careers and grant proposal submissions, to get feedback and insight to create a better proposal and research agenda,” says Moran. “The workshops helped us understand the different grant mechanisms and how to craft the different sections of the grant proposal,” added Berryhill.

Douglas added, “The Grant Writing Institute has been so helpful in maintaining momentum for this project, especially amidst COVID-19.”

Increasing CHES grant productivity this last academic year, with external grant submissions currently at $3.5 million higher than the previous year, took hard work and determination from talented, dedicated faculty and administrators. But, between the seasoned research faculty and the motivated, up-and-coming junior researchers, the future at CHES looks bright.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.