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Revealing the mysteries of funding for humanities

What projects get funded and why are sometimes seen as mysteries, but a Regional Grant Application Writing Workshop held at the NDSU Harry D. McGovern Alumni Center on Feb. 13 shed some light on the process. More than 120 participants from three states registered for the workshop on humanities funding, sponsored by the NDSU Office of Research and Creative Activity, the NDSU College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, Concordia College, and the North Dakota Humanities Council.

While funding for sciences is well known on many campuses, funding for other areas is available as well. “Humanities are extremely important on our campuses and in our communities,” said Kelly A. Rusch, vice president for research and creative activity at NDSU. “People may be drawn to communities by their jobs, but they stay because of what they find in the community.”

Dr. Russell Wyland, deputy director of Research Programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities, was the featured speaker at the event.

As a federal entity, NEH funds research and projects in multiple areas, including:  Education Program, Preservation and Access Program, Public Programs, Research Programs, Challenge Grants, Digital Humanities, Federal/State Partnership in conjunction with state humanities councils, as well as an initiative known as The Common Good, which focuses on the humanities in public life to illuminate challenges the nation faces.

Wyland encouraged participants to submit funding applications. “NEH applications for this region are very low. We can’t fund an application if we don’t get it,” he said.

Just what increases the chances of your project being funded by NEH? Think about the larger questions that your work will address. “Talking about your project and its wider implications is absolutely vital to do. What are the issues at stake?” said Wyland.

A mock panel review session at the workshop illustrated how NEH grant proposals might be reviewed and tips for applying. “What panelists want to do is put together a narrative about you and your project,” said Wyland.

Tips include:

  • Think about and define the larger questions that your work will address
  • Make sure reviewers understand the connection between your background and your project
  • Determine how your proposal, background, resume and letters of recommendation tie together and reinforce each other to produce a definitive narrative
  • Submit as detailed a plan as possible, discussing where you are; where you plan to be; and how it will be completed
  • Highlight your major strengths that tie into the application
  • Figure out what’s strong about your project and use it as a centerpiece in the application
  • Delineate what sets your application apart and drive home that point in the proposal
  • Submit letters of recommendation that are germane to the project, meaning recommendation writers should take the time to read your application and comment on the proposal
  • Follow grant submission guidelines exactly
  • Create a Panelist/Reviewer Information System account on the NEH web site if you wish to apply for grants or become a proposal reviewer
  • Serving as a reviewer provides valuable experience about the process, seeing first hand what types of applications are funded. NEH has 100% turnover on its reviewers every year to encourage fresh eyes on proposals.
  • Submit your proposal well in advance of the deadline
  • Contact the Research Development group in the NDSU Office of Research and Creative Activity for information or assistance

NEH staff also offer suggestions on draft proposals, according to Wyland, as long as the draft is submitted to them at least a month prior to the grant application deadline.

Workshop attendee Dina Zavala-Petherbridge who teaches Spanish at Valley City State University said it was helpful to learn about the opportunities available. “I didn’t know that there are not only institutional opportunities, but individual opportunities available,” she said. “Sometimes we lack information. We apply once for one opportunity, but sometimes we don’t look beyond that.”

Ann Braaten, assistant professor of practice in NDSU’s Apparel, Design and Hospitality Management department, said the workshop helped shed light on the delineation between what is funded by the Endowment for the Humanities versus the Endowment for the Arts. “We are a creative field, but a historic field,” she said as curator of NDSU’s Emily P. Reynolds historic costume collection. “We collect things and interpret them, so if we do that, it applies to NEH funding.”

Camilla Wilson, communication and journalism professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead, found the workshop useful. “I’m working on a non-fiction book about how long war lasts,” she said, having previously covered the Vietnam War as a correspondent. “I will probably apply for a grant having to do with that project.”

The workshop also gave participants an opportunity to meet with representatives of the Humanities Councils in their respective states. Stacey Berry, a faculty member in English at Dakota State University, Madison, South Dakota, found it beneficial. “He encouraged us to apply for a local or regional grant as well. Just in a couple of minutes, we feel like we made huge strides in where we were with our project before we came,” said Berry.

Slots were also available to meet individually with Dr. Wyland of NEH. Additional participants joined the workshop through interactive video sites at Minot State University; Bismarck State College; Lake Region State College, Devils Lake, North Dakota; Presentation College, Aberdeen, South Dakota; College of St. Benedict, St. Joseph, Minnesota; Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota; and the Logan County Courthouse, Napoleon, North Dakota, extending the outreach of the workshop to participants across several states.

The Planning Committee for the event included: Jillain Veil-Ehnert, Laurie Probst and George Connell from Concordia College; Brenna Daugherty Gerhardt of the North Dakota Humanities Council; and Bridget Burke, Elizabeth Birmingham, Ashley Baggett, Sheri Anderson, Cassie Johnson, Kay Sizer and Carol Renner from NDSU.


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