Office of Research & Sponsored Programs

Researcher Profiles

Prior Profiles: Dawn Del Carlo, William Downs, Susan Dobie, Greg Stefanich

 

Research Q&A

 

Roy R. Behrens

Dept. of Art


What are you currently researching?

I have been researching art and camouflage for 35 years and have published three books and about a dozen articles on the subject.  I became interested in camouflage while teaching students to design.  Recently, I have been working on animal camouflage with a group of European biologists, the results of which will soon come out from Cambridge University Press.  I also developed an exhibition on historic ship camouflage that opened here, at UNI, in the fall of 2009, and was later also exhibited at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. 

My students and I often take on design projects that combine research with teaching.  In one class, for example, we put together a booklet of fictional postage stamps designed by UNI students to commemorate the handwork of Iowa potters Dean and Gunnar Schwarz.  There are other aspects of my work that have to do with disciplines outside of art, such as psychology, stage design, and literature, so I often end up working with a variety of people. 

Highlight one project in your past that greatly interested you.

When I was 17 years old, I went to California and studied with a Bauhaus master potter named Marguerite Wildenhain.  After emigrating to the U.S. in the 1940s, she joined an artist cooperative known as Pond Farm, about 70 miles north of San Francisco, and opened a summer school that continued until 1980.  She taught about 25 students every summer, and I was fortunate to be one of them.  Recently, I designed a 750-page book about her life, titled Marguerite Wildenhain and the Bauhaus: An Eyewitness Anthology (edited by UNI alumnae Dean and Geraldine Schwarz), in which many of her students wrote essay-length memoirs about their experiences with her.


“The most important advice I can offer to grant-seekers is to be very clear in your own mind about what it is you plan to do—and why it is important to do—and to communicate that clearly and succinctly.” 


What collaborative efforts have you done and why?

Most of my collaborative work consists of designing book covers and illustrating short stories.  Over the years, I have illustrated the book covers or short stories of about a hundred writers, among them Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates and Jerzy Kosinski. I have always been a writer as well as an artist, and I became an illustrator because I was in contact with writers or editors who were often in need of an artist to illustrate various publications.  It was always a challenge to do this, and I still do it now and then.  Collaborating with others is always an interesting way to learn more than I might otherwise learn by working alone.

What are your top three tips for grant-seekers?

The most important advice I can offer to grant-seekers is to be very clear in your own mind about what it is you plan to do—and why it is important to do—and to communicate that clearly and succinctly. I think I have also succeeded because nearly all my research is innovative and cross-disciplinary. 

 


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Prior Profile:

Research Q&A

 

Dawn Del Carlo

Dept. of Chemistry & Biochemistry



 


What are you currently researching?

I am currently working with IMSEP (Iowa Mathematics and Science Education Partnership) in targeting chemistry       teachers in Iowa.  We offer three day program development workshops that are topical.  Each one demonstrates different approaches to teaching a variety of chemistry concepts to a class.  Many schools and teachers are not equipped with the equipment needed to use in their classrooms.  We provide the teachers with money to supply equipment for their students to also perform these experiments.  We received a grant from 2008-2011 for $477,448 to use towards our goal.

Highlight one project specifically and how it was funded.

Right now I am currently wrapping up RAISE (Research Avenues for Iowa Science Educators) where we bring high school science teachers to campus and pair them with a professor for six weeks in the summer.  We have found that high school teachers are very excited to have the opportunity to get to “do” science.  When you are in a classroom and are limited on equipment it is easy to lose sight of the things about science that you once loved.  They are given the chance to see science as fun and interesting and not just their job.  We also research what the faculty mentors get out of the experience.  RAISE is funded through the Board of Regents’ Title II-No Child Left Behind Act.

Highlight a grant-seeking project that took place.

I applied for a National Science Foundation grant with two other universities, Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and Sweet Briar College (SBC).  The grant will include some of the same things I did with RAISE, but will expand the program by providing support for graduate level course work and training teachers in curriculum development.  The most fun part was the collaboration and interaction with the other PIs.  We were able to form a true team effort.



"The most fun part was the collaboration and interaction with other PIs. We were able to form a true team effort." 



What type of grants do you prefer to pursue?

I try to apply for grants that are mid-size or larger.  There is usually the same amount of work no matter the size of grant so I feel that my time is better invested in pursuing larger grants.  The most successful strategy I have found is having a good team. 

How have you shown perseverance in getting a grant?

When you are denied a grant it is very helpful to read the reviews and see what they say.  They are enlightening and can help you for future grant seeking.  I have learned from my mistakes and I just get back up and keep on going.  You can’t take this process personally.

What collaborative efforts have you participated in?

Besides teaming up with GVSU and SBC, most of my collaboration has been done on campus.  I have worked with others who are all working on issues in science education.  I began this collaborative work when senior faculty helped me along with other junior faculty.  I found this help and guidance to be extremely beneficial.  Collaborates always have a few problems.  I’ve encountered some communication barriers but I overcame them by taking control of the project, learning quickly, and adapting to the environment.  The Office of Sponsored Programs also helped me out during this time.

What are your top three tips for grant seekers?

My first tip is to never quit, keep trying.  My second tip is to be active when communicating with collaborators, and my third tip is to always plan ahead, don’t put things off.

Identify one thing that UNI could do to support research?

I feel that UNI could obtain better support and cooperation across the entire university.

 


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Prior Profile:

Research Q&A

 

Dr. William Downs

Dept. of Social Work


 Dr. Susan Dobie


What is your most recent grant?

My most recent grant was an Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) (January 2005-August 2007). It was an R15 grant administered by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. We interviewed 70 clients and 54 staff from three different victim services agencies and three different substance abuse treatment agencies.

The purpose of this project was to find out the extent to which the agencies had integrated the new services that were requested and the kind of changes within the agencies, as well as to ask the clients and staff what they would like to add on top of all the previous alterations.

How did this grant idea get started?

The research and grant branched from a previous National Institute of Justice grant (January 1997-February 2002). In this project we interviewed 220 women in victim services. We found that 67% of the women had physical abuse, 95% had psychological abuse, and 26% had alcohol abuse. From this initial research, I applied for an AREA grant.

What have been some of your grant-seeking experiences?

Grant-seeking is not a simple process: grants are very competitive, they take time, and the paperwork needs to be near perfection. Also, if working collaboratively with agencies, the agencies must be on board. Normally, I do grants over winter break, which does not leave much of a holiday.

Nonetheless, although grant-seeking requires a lot of work, there is a big reward. I especially enjoy researching and grant-seeking in a coalition with other agencies and staff. For example, I have had great experiences with Barb Rindels of Seeds of Hope, the Integrative Services Project team, Phyllis Baker, and Adam Butler among many others.




"Nonetheless, although grant-seeking requires a lot of work, there is a big reward. I especially enjoy researching and grant-seeking in a coalition with other agencies and staff."



What are your top three tips for grant-seekers?

First, find someone who has grant experience, get to know them, and learn the grant-seeking process. Through this, an investigator can get an idea of what the process is like. Also, this person may be able to act as a co-investigator and help with the submission of grants.

Second, do not think of grants in isolation. Make sure you have a research program in mind based on personal interests.

Third, get to know the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP). The OSP can help you look for a place that provides funding and all kinds of help in working on a grant. Simply put, you can't do it without OSP. Personally, I have worked with Ed Ebert at OSP since 1992 and continue to do so to this day.

You mentioned some collaborative efforts. Doe you have suggestions for researchers who want to team-up with the community, other departments, or other offices?

The best thing to do is to get to know OSP. OSP does a good job of hooking people-up, both on and off campus. Also, reach out to various agencies.

Researching and grant-seeking can be difficult processes. What barriers have you come across through the years and how have you managed to overcome them?

The first barrier is that it is hard to get started. My first grant experience was with my PHD dissertation in 1979 and it did not get funded. The second grant I applied for also did not get funded. It was not until the fourth or fifth grant application that I was successful. The experience of writing grants and getting feedback was most helpful in finally obtaining a grant.

The second barrier is discouragement. As pointed out above, many grants do not get funded the first time. However, don't get discouraged, read the responses, and incorporate the feedback in the future.

The third barrier is to not assume that other people are going to think that your research is important. It is imperative to tell the reviewers why exactly it is important, all the while keeping the reviewers in mind.

The final barrier is that grant reviewers look at a stack of 50-100 applications. Therefore, make sure it is easy to read and make your intentions clear from the start.

Can you identify one thing UNI can do to support research?

The biggest suggestion is to hire someone with experience sitting on the National Institutes of Health and pay this person to review submissions before it is sent in for a first formal review. This would allow professional feedback beforehand, no last minute work, clean applications, and thus an increase in the likelihood of funding.

 


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Prior Profile:

Research Q&A

 

Dr. Susan Dobie

Dept. of Health,
Physical Education &
Leisure Services
 Dr. Susan Dobie


What are you currently working on?

The project I am working on is called the Speak Up! Salon Project, which is part of a larger project called the Iowa Initiative to Reduce Unintended Pregnancies. It is funded by a private foundation. The project trains stylists in hair salons to talk to women about contraception and talking with their partners, friends, and family about the use of birth control. We are using the stylists as a bridge to communicate with women who are hard to reach. We train the stylists to deliver the heath education messages we want them to hear and the stylists deliver them.

About half the pregnancies in Iowa are unintended. Unintended pregnancies have an impact on the ability to continue education, the health of the baby, the health of the mother, and a women's financial future. When we postpone a pregnancy until a women is planning on a pregnancy, it really changes a women's life.

The private foundation has funded $11 million for the Iowa Initiative and my particular project receives about $600,000.

How did you discover this project?

The foundation came to a researcher who put together a research team and then people on the team were invited to submit research proposals, so people all across the country applied and then the foundation chose the projects that they were interested in funding and the Speak Up! Project was one of those selected.

Was this a competitive process?

The funding was not like National Institutes of Health (NIH) money. The foundation approached Dr. Mary Losch and asked her to put together a team, so within the team the projects were competitive but we knew some money would come to Iowa.




" When you find someone who is 10-20 years ahead of you who will work with you, you are light-years ahead. And that is one of the most important things that has happened to me on campus: other researchers who have said 'I think you have potential-let me help you get from point A to point B' and that has changed my life."



What kind of experience have you had with NIH?

I have submitted an application once to NIH and they asked me to change and resubmit. NIH is an uphill climb and it is a lot of work, but you cannot beat it for money.

What is the hardest part in obtaining a grant with NIH?

In addition to paperwork burden and fierce competition, the hard part of anything is having a great idea with methodology to match it. However, you can't win them all. The key is try, try again and recycle. There is no such thing as using your proposal one time. So much of what you do is repeatable.

Do you have any tips to those who have little or no experience with grant-seeking?

Persevere, recycle, find a mentor, and pick a field and stick with it.

How do you find the time to research and seek grants?

You just do because it is what you love to do and all professors have a bit of a competitive streak. Also, it is part of your job. We are supposed to be teaching, researching, and bringing in money.

What is one thing that UNI could do to help people with increasing researching or grant-seeking?

Everyone needs a mentor. Maybe if there were more opportunities for younger researchers to connect with more established researchers that would be very helpful. When you find someone who is 10-20 years ahead of you who will work with you, you are light-years ahead. And that is one of the most important things that has happened to me on campus: other researchers who have said 'I think you have potential-let me help you get from point A to point B' and that has changed my life. This can really keep you accountable to get your stuff done and follow deadlines. To have somebody who is 25 years ahead of you and is an expert who you can bounce ideas off of and tell me when I am right and wrong and when I am trying too hard, that relationship is invaluable. This person can shave years off of your development. Also in terms of confidence and making it not feel like you are alone, is invaluable.

So, then is it absolutely crucial as a new researcher to find someone to link-up with?

I think it is wise. When you first start there are a lot of mysteries: how do you work with IRB? How do you work with the grants and contracts office? I think that having a partner, at UNI or across the country, that those relationships are very helpful.

How did you get connected with your mentors?

Fate. Paths crossed in a failed IRB application and a failed grant. She saw my work on these failures and she was asked to review my work and said you are someone I would like to work with.

What is your ultimate goal in your research? What do you aim to accomplish?

I would really like to reduce unintended pregnancies in the state of Iowa and nationally. A sub-goal is that I would like to see more materials developed and accessible for women, so women of all stages of literacy can receive help. Another sub-goal is to bring along young researchers. Twenty years from now I would like people to feel as though I helped them.

 


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Prior Profile:

Research Q&A

 

Dr. Greg Stefanich

Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
 Greg Stenfanich


"Always accomplish more than you say you will. Once you establish a consistency within that framework, you can establish a reputation of exceeding expectations."


What are you currently researching and how is it funded?

I am involved with three grants, each grant addresses an aspect of accessibility for students with disabilities who have interests in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Grant #1:

My primary activity is with a project called Midwest, an alliance that includes the University of Wisconsin Madison, the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and UNI. It is in its fourth year of a five-year initial award period. This project received a $3 million award from the National Science Foundation. Midwest is one of six regional alliances receiving National Science Foundation Funding, who collaborate to advance opportunities for individuals with disabilities and interests in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

The purpose of the Midwest Alliance is to increase the number of students with a wide range of disabilities completing postsecondary studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and transitioning to employment.

Grant #2:

The second project I am involved with is funded by the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust. It is a materials assistance project, which serves 16 secondary school students (8 blind and 8 low vision) in Iowa who have a physical and/or sensory impairment with a primary focus on visual impairments. The primary thrust of the grant is to provide materials support to 32 high school teachers who have one of the students noted above enrolled in a science or mathematics course.

Grant #3:

The third project received funding from the Iowa Mathematic and Science Education Partnership (IMSEP), a Board of Regents funded initiative to improve opportunities for individuals with interests in science and mathematics in Iowa. This is an effort to bring together constituents to better serve students with disabilities who have STEM interests in four areas: to strengthen the high school experience in science and math; to facilitate the transition from high school to community college; to facilitate the transition from a community college to a four year degree program in STEM; and to facilitate the transition from STEM graduation into employment.




"Midwest is one of six regional alliances receiving National Science Foundation Funding, who collaborate to advance opportunities for individuals with disabilities and interests in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)."



What were your initial experiences with grants?

My initial grant was as a secondary school science teacher in Chisholm, Minnesota in 1967. It was a small grant to support efforts of teachers to improve science instruction for students. Since receiving my doctorate I have been involved with grants beginning with my first post-secondary tenure track appointment as an assistant professor at Montana State University in 1971. I've been involved with approximately 20 grant awards since coming to the University of Northern Iowa in 1976. My first grant award was a cooperative college school science initiative directed toward assisting K-12 schools in the implementation of newly developed NSF science curricula.

What are your top three tips for grant-seekers?

First, you have to establish a focus for which you feel a passion and commitment.

Second, you must establish a strong scholarly agenda and maintain it. You have to sustain credibility in the field.

Third, I would encourage people to start small and exceed expressed projected outcomes. Always accomplish more than you say you will. Once you establish a consistency within that framework, you can establish a reputation of exceeding expectations. For example, I might state that I would serve 300 clients and end up serving 450. After completing two or three grants, the program officer knows you will do at least what you say and probably more. Once you have a reputation and credibility, it puts future proposals in a favorable light. One of the things reviewers are always concerned about with grants is that too often people promise more than they deliver. Credibility is essential if you wish to receive sustained funding through external grants.

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