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Course Strengthens Proposal Writing Skills

writingGeography 581 is a seminar/workshop on grant proposal writing offered by Professor Sally Horn. Each fall term, eight to twelve graduate students meet weekly to work with each other and Professor Horn to learn to write persuasive and winning proposals to fund research and other professional activities. Students read about the process of writing and submitting grant proposals and read actual proposals and reviews; strategize about funding sources; hear from guest experts who share experiences, strategies, and insider tips; participate in a mock proposal review; learn the nuts and bolts of creating budgets and fulfilling grant requirements such as IRB approval; write and edit their own proposals; and read, critique, edit, and help improve grant proposals of other participants. Discussing and helping to improve the grant proposals of classmates gives students a window into new research areas and sharpens their own proposal writing skills. The course creates bonds between students and across departments, as most years the group includes students from the Departments of Earth and Planetary Sciences or Anthropology, as well as geography.

Taking the course also pays off for geography student and the department. Current graduate students in geography who participated last year or in previous years have together won more than $100,000 in competitive research grants and fellowships from the National Science Foundation (doctoral dissertation grants to Mathew Boehm and Mathew Kerr), the National Security Education Program (Boren award to Jordan Brasher), the American Association of American Geographers and its specialty groups (four awards to Maegen Rochner, and one each to Jacob Cecil and M. Kerr); Phi Kappa Phi (M. Kerr and M. Rochner ); The Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation (M. Rochner), the Pope & Young Club (Zachary Merrill), The Geological Society of America (M. Rochner), and Golden Key (M. Rochner).

Some students have worked on proposals to strengthen K-12 education. Former graduate student Nathan Trombley (’16) worked with a school librarian to write a grant proposal to the Laura Bush Foundation that provided $5,000 for the purchase of library books in a high-needs K-8 school. Former graduate student Sarah Jones Wayman (’15) worked with a high school chemistry teacher on a proposal that netted his school a $1,400 award from the American Chemical Society to improve classroom instruction.

Students also hone their skills on proposals for internal grant competitions, such as the Stewart McCroskey Fund in the geography department, the campus-wide McClure scholarship program, and competitive University of Tennessee awards such as the UT-SARIF Summer graduate assistantship and the Penley-Thomas-Allen Fellowship. Experience in Geography 581 has also helped students write successful proposals to fund the biennial Geosym Geography Symposium.

“The course gave me the confidence to actively seek external funding sources for my research and the tools to do so successfully,” Maegen Rochner says. “I learned things in the course that I know will help when I start writing larger and/or collaborative research proposals at my future institution.”