UI’s grant money increasing

BY MORGAN OLSEN | MARCH 04, 2010 7:30 AM

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Ronald Mirr asks for money for a living. Since he started in 1987, he’s made $106 million.

But he doesn’t keep the money; he writes grants for Iowa City schools and human-service agencies.

Mirr passes on his success to University of Iowa students in a grant-writing class taught through the School of Social Work and the urban and regional planning department.

While some may think poor economic times wouldn’t offer much award money, Mirr disagrees.

“There’s lots of money to be had,” he said. “With the right skill set and a knack for writing, funds are attainable.”

In fiscal 2009, 12 colleges in the UI were awarded $429.5 million in sponsored funding through grants and contracts. The top earner was the College of Medicine, bringing in $212.5 million.

Over the last five years, the UI has steadily received increased funding. From fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2009, the UI made 10.3 percent more in research awards.

As the UI’s state funding dips, officials say grants will be a key to creating a self-sufficient university.

State funding dipped to 41 percent for fiscal 2010, according to state Board of Regents documents.

With this increase in needs, grant-writing has become a more valuable skill. Mirr’s class was offered twice this school year instead of once due to demand.

In his class, he preaches that getting a grant is in the writing and the ability to communicate ideas to strangers.

“The class doesn’t make students experts, but they will learn to understand concepts of grant-writing,” he said. “If they go into an agency they know all the pieces and can be successful.”

His course draws large crowds. Last year, Mirr estimated he had 30 students, most of whom were graduate students.

Graduate student Sheila Knoploh-Odole took the class this semester after working as the development director for food safety in Washington, D.C., where she tracked grants and monitored deadlines.

“The skill is a big part of the job for anyone who might be headed into public administration or the nonprofit area,” she said.

Mirr works on a project basis, meaning he is not steadily employed with any one company. Although some companies do hire on staff grant-writers, he said it almost always costs the company less to pay per project.

Colleges and departments at the UI use several different types of grant-writers, said Ann Ricketts, the director of research development office in the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Ricketts cited President Obama’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act as a sign of flourishing research funds.

“It shows that the federal government will stay committed to research in higher education,” she said.

“We’re pleased that although these are tough times, the government is planning to maintain this commitment.”

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