Forming partnerships is a goal of the Office for Proposal Development


Office of Proposal Development staff are, from left, Dr. Kathrynn Seidler Engberg, Susan Phelan, Director Dr. Suzy Young, Janice Temmen and Michelle Massey.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Forming partnerships is what Dr. Virginia "Suzy" Young's relatively new Office for Proposal Development (OPD) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is all about.

Dr. Young and her team are responsible for proposals that join together government agencies, colleges, universities, academic disciplines and industries into partnerships to solve problems or answer important questions.

The OPD staff consists of grant writers Dr. Katherine Engbert and Susan Phelan, assistant grant researcher Michelle Massey and administrative assistant Janice Temmen.

As director of OPD, Dr. Young says even though proposal writing is not her background, she has an extensive network of contacts in federal agencies that come in handy when connecting partners for proposals. There's never been a dull moment at OPD.

"It's been in demand since we started," she says. "We've had more than 240 requests for assistance since we started it from scratch almost two years ago."

Of the 240-plus requests for assistance, not all have been from UAH. She says a lot are from government or industry workers who are looking to partner with a specific expert at the university.

OPD is the connector.

"We try to pull in industries small or large," she says, adding that networking is important.

"We usually focus on larger dollar values," Dr. Young says. "But we do help individuals when they need help on a lower dollar amount or singular focus proposal."

One of the largest proposals the team is helping put together includes a science mission space payload for UAH.

"The UAH portion of the project is to manage the science mission and the science mission payload," Dr. Young says. "We support everything from very technical proposals, like the space mission, to facilities and equipment."

Another proposal the team is working on is for a National Robotics Initiative at UAH to develop and support a Robotics Camp for deaf students at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

Still another one involves a proposal to the National Science Foundation to provide funds for institutional transformation in gender equality for faculty recruitment and retention in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

"We're still learning what works and what doesn't," Dr. Young says. "Someone will call and say, 'I just finished writing a proposal. Will you take a look at it?' and we will. We look at formatting, grammatical errors, and because of my background, I look at it for technical content. Then we look at alignment of the proposal with the solicitation."

Her background is extensive. Dr. Young worked 30 years as an engineer and researcher with the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center on Redstone Arsenal. She retired in 2011 and went to work for the University of Alabama. She then was vice chancellor for research for the UA System for 2½ years before starting the new proposal office at UAH in 2013.

Proposal development requires daily research on multiple topics and often requires working nights and weekends to meet deadlines. It's not easy, Dr. Young says. An application can be 20 or more pages with multiple attachments. One recent proposal included a 27-page narrative for the application, with 15 attachments.

Since the office was opened the staff has worked on 49 proposals, of which 30 have been submitted to the agencies for review.

To help others with their proposals, a new web page provides boilerplate information about the university and its capabilities. "You can also find best practices and good insider grant writing tips for the UAH research community," she says.

Dr. Young also encourages UAH faculty and researchers to utilize the Kwest Funding Opportunity Search Engine. She says it helps locate the most current funding opportunities, which align with a specific area of research and teaching.

The proposal office also posts a weekly funding bulletin each Tuesday around noon. It's available on the website and is distributed to all faculty and researchers.