Proposal Development Specialist Aims for Quality, Competitiveness
Sarah Koerber helping expand services as interim director of new Office of Research Development
Sarah Koerber’s job isn’t bound by traditional university lines. As the University of Idaho’s proposal development specialist, she helps researchers and scholars in all fields pursue outside funding, from new professors who have never submitted a proposal to multi-institutional teams aiming for multimillion-dollar grants.
“I get to meet with people who have interesting ideas and learn about things that have never occurred to me, and things that could really make a difference,” Koerber said. “I get to help them work toward making that difference.”
Koerber, who holds a bachelor’s degree in geology and master’s degrees in geology and environmental science, has been helping UI staff and faculty prepare grant proposals for funding since 2001.
“Sarah Koerber is a critical member of my new Senior Leadership Team,” said Vice President for Research and Economic Development Janet Nelson. “She does so much more than providing proposal support and identifying research opportunities. Her efforts to work directly with faculty and staff to initiate and nurture critical partnerships have helped to raise the profile of the University of Idaho.”
As of fall 2016, Koerber also is interim director of the new Office for Research Development, part of the Office of Research and Economic Development (ORED).
For now, the Office of Research Development is mostly conceptual, but Koerber will work with Nelson, as well as other leadership, to identify ways to expand the resources and services available to faculty and staff as they pursue grants.
The UI strategic plan’s goals for 2025 include increasing the university’s research expenditures to over $150 million, as well as targeting Carnegie Foundation R1 status.
“Increasing our internal investment in research development is a critical part of meeting the goals of the strategic plan,” Nelson said. “We want to provide top-of-the-line support and resources for our faculty and staff, allowing them to compete for more grants, attract strategic partners, and involve more graduate and undergraduate students in their research. It is my goal to grow our Office of Research Development to eventually offer a broad suite of faculty development resources in addition to research development support. We need to provide more assistance to all our faculty, especially in the humanities and social sciences, to help support and celebrate successes in all our research, scholarship, and creative activities.”
Expanding UI research will require not simply turning in more proposals, but preparing high-quality proposals, Koerber said.
“It isn’t enough for faculty to have great ideas. They have to be able to communicate how great that idea is and how meaningful it will be to do that work,” she said.
Improving the quality and competitiveness of proposals is Koerber’s focus. Her scientific background allows her insight into many projects, but she also is able to bring an outside perspective to any proposal.
“That’s always valuable. People are very close to what they write. There’s sometimes a disconnect between what’s in their mind, what they want to say and what comes out on the page,” she said.
Koerber’s secondary services include helping researchers find funding opportunities and navigate requests for proposals, and providing workshops on proposal writing for faculty, staff and students.
Her services are not limited to any college or subset of researchers, though her priorities are collaborative, team-based projects, and faculty and staff who are early in their careers or new to proposal writing.
She can help at any stage of proposal development, too.
“They can come to me anywhere from just idea generation all the way up to when we hit ‘Submit,’” she said. “My services are flexible to accommodate the needs of each person or team with which I work.”
Koerber also manages ORED’s Seed Grant Program, which offers small grants for research, outreach and creative activities to early-career faculty or to established faculty who want to explore a new direction.
Through the Seed Grant Program and her other services, Koerber gets to know researchers across campus, and use her knowledge to help connect people and ideas.
“I get to play the role of matchmaker and help build some collaborations around campus,” Koerber said. “You just never know how far these ideas will go.”
Aim for CAREER
Koerber offers customized assistance to faculty interested in writing a proposal to the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program and will be starting a working group for interested faculty. To learn more, contact Koerber at firstname.lastname@example.org.