New grant program funds innovation

Cameron Witbeck

The office of Academic Affairs is currently seeking proposals from NMU faculty and staff concerning funding for projects that could benefit the university.

Susan Koch, NMU’s provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, sent out an e-mail on Friday, Aug. 27 that contained a “call for proposals” for projects which, if selected, could receive monetary support from the Wildcat Innovation Fund (WIF).

The grants, which all full-time NMU faculty and staff are eligible for, have supported a wide variety of programs on campus like the Wildcat Market and the extension of the Freshman Fellowship program to include sophomores, juniors and seniors.

The WIF was established in December of 2009 and consists of a portion of revenues the university has generated from rental properties like Cliffs Natural Resources and spaces in the Jacobetti Center. Koch’s request for proposals this fall marks the third semester of funding since the WIF’s inception.

“I’m very pleased that the (fund) provides an opportunity to support the creative ideas of faculty and staff,” she said, “I’m very confident, as this new round of grants becomes available, that there will be even more great ideas that come forward.”

Students involved in the College Prep Medicine wheel Academy get first hand experience at Marquette General Hospital. The organization is one of the programs funded by the Wildcat Innovation Fund. // Photo courtesy of the Center for Native American Studies

Since the WIF was established, there have been 42 proposals submitted to the fund’s committee, 22 of which have received monetary support. Grants awarded from the fund vary from $2,000 to $25,000. A total of $289,121 has been paid out from the fund so far.

Koch said that the WIF was conceived in order to support priorities in the university’s Roadmap to 2015, specifically online degree development, recruitment and retention, revenue generation and quality improvement.

“A good strategic plan always has avenues built in so that people can be successful in pursuing the goals, and the (fund) provides one of those avenues,” she said.

While the rest of the university has faced budgetary concerns due to reductions in state funding, the WIF has not been drastically affected due to its independence from NMU’s general fund. The WIF’s available funds vary from year to year but it is always a substantial amount, said Koch.

“We think it’s always worth investing in great ideas because the university is in a constant state of transformation and that’s what we want,” she said.

The grants, which all full-time NMU faculty and staff are eligible for, have supported a wide variety of programs on campus like the Wildcat Market and the extension of the Freshman Fellowship program to include sophomores, juniors and seniors.

April Lindala, the director of NMU’s Center for Native American Studies, co-submitted a proposal for a project that was awarded $12,500 from the WIF. The project, the College Prep Medicine Wheel Academy, focuses on recruitment and retention for Native American high school students the sciences and in the health fields. In addition, Native American students have a lower retention rate than their non-Native peers,” Lindala said. “This program gives Native American high school students a jump start with college.”

While the program focuses primarily on prospective students, Lindala said it also affects current NMU students.

“When composing the grant, I don’t think I could have foreseen the positive effect for current students. We have been lucky that NMU students in the different health fields have been running workshops for these (prospective students).”

Cindy Paavola, NMU’s director of Communications and Marketing, submitted a proposal which was awarded $9,330 to establish a more intensive and comprehensive internship through her department.

Paavola said that the program, the Elite Six Communication Team Internship Program, offers students two-semester long internships with Communications and Marketing during which they are able to directly learn from communications professionals.

“So many of students have difficulty finding internships where trained professionals are supervising them,” she said. “One of our goals of this internship is that when (students) leave here, they will have had experiences that are similar to a full year of entry level employment.”

Without the funding from the WIF, the internship program would never have gotten off the ground due to a tight budget, said Paavola.

“It’s really tough these days on a college campus when everyone is trying to conserve resources but I think the fund has been really motivating,” she said. “There are some opportunities for students to try some new activities that otherwise wouldn’t be there for them to do.”