Program that helps KU College faculty explore funding opportunities completes first year

LAWRENCE — FRESSH, an acronym for Fostering Research Expansion in the Social Sciences and Humanities, is a cohort of scholars that meets bimonthly throughout the school year, having just wrapped up its inaugural year at the University of Kansas.

Equal parts workshop, support group and networking circle, the program brings together faculty in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (or the College) to explore research funding opportunities and sharpen grant writing skills.

The idea was conceived three years ago at the University of New Mexico, while Arash Mafi was interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences there. When he accepted the job as executive dean of KU’s College in 2023, one of his first initiatives was to set up something similar here. 

“FRESSH empowers our faculty to take control of securing vital resources for their research,” Mafi said. “Witnessing our innovative researchers come together, sharing insights and supporting each other in the grant writing process has been truly uplifting.”

To get the program up and running at KU, Mafi enlisted the help of Associate Dean Nick Syrett and put Syrett in touch with his New Mexico colleagues. Soon thereafter, the call went out to College faculty seeking participants for the inaugural class, with 21 faculty members across 17 disciplines signing up.

Syrett said the primary goal of the program is to demystify the process of applying for external grants and fellowships for social scientists and humanists. Toward that end, the group hears from speakers from on and off campus, whether that’s fellow colleagues sharing their tips for how they successfully received grants or a review agent from the National Science Foundation explaining the review process in detail. Beyond the guest lectures, they also break off into smaller groups and workshop one another's proposals. 

All participants are expected to submit one grant or fellowship application within 18 months of starting the program. The hope, Syrett said, is that it kickstarts a career of grant or fellowship success, which in turn will make for lots of great research and enhance the research profile of KU. 

“Even if all participants don’t win their grants or fellowships on the first time out, we know that this is a long game that sometimes requires multiple years of submissions,” Syrett said. “But we can’t win if we don’t first try.”

Sofia Vera, assistant professor of political science, was a member of that inaugural class and is currently putting together an NSF grant proposal for her research on violence and police reform in Latin America. She said FRESSH was a godsend, not only because it taught her a great deal about the application process, but because it also introduced her to amazing colleagues across campus and reminded her that she wasn’t alone in this process.

“I would highly recommend it for any faculty member who is researching and planning to submit an external research proposal, especially if you are young faculty,” Vera said. “It gives you the structure to develop your proposal and gives you connections, making the process of submitting a proposal much more enjoyable.”

It will take some time before this first FRESSH class learns if its members have been successful at applying for their grants and fellowships. Still, by all accounts, the program is already a huge success.

“It’s just too early — some participants’ deadlines are a ways out yet,” Syrett said. “I think we’ll all feel it’s been successful if participants know more about resources on campus and make connections with fellow researchers in the group.”

The call for Year Two participants will be released soon, and any College faculty member interested in participating is strongly encouraged to apply.

“If you know that external funding or time away from teaching and service will help you with your research, and you want to apply for either of those things, this is the program for you,” Syrett said.    

Fri, 05/24/2024


Ranjit Arab

Media Contacts

Ranjit Arab

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences