Grant writing is one way to support undergraduate research, but not the only way! In this contribution. Dr. Michael Castellani outlines how his department at a public, comprehensive university has raised over $300,000 to support scholarships and fellowships for its undergraduate students. He describes the process they followed, with some cautionary tales and advice.
When facing tight budgets, undergraduate research can suffer. How can faculty and their departments creatively fund undergraduate research? At Marshall University, the faculty wrote and published a lab manual, the proceeds from which were donated back to the university in support of student research. Each spring, the Department selects up to two chemistry majors to each receive a $4,000 fellowship to work in the research laboratory of a chemistry faculty member. Funds to support this fellowship come in part from the sales of Chemistry laboratory manuals. How can your department accomplish something similar?
When facing tight budgets, undergraduate research can suffer. How can faculty and their departments creatively fund undergraduate research?
The questions that should be considered include:
- How many manuals can be sold each year? Will your bookstore resell used ones or can you negotiate them not doing so?
- What will the royalty rate be?
- Will you couple it to a fundraising program to your alumni and if so, what is a reasonable expectation of return from them?
- When will the funds be used? They can be spent each year or can be used to create an endowment.
- For what will the funds be used? Scholarships, fellowships, or equipment and supplies?
While some of the experiments may be completely homegrown, many will come from the literature, with the Journal of Chemical Education, being a major source of ideas.
While the revenue generated from the first two points is simple to calculate, determining the royalty rate can be a sticking point. Our Department started with the premise that when we moved from a commercially available manual to one we wrote, every student should benefit. There are many independent publishing houses that will produce a manual that is professional in appearance for only $5-6 a copy, if they are purchased in bulk. At that rate, a hefty royalty (>$10) can be collected and still save every student a good deal of money. One thing to be sure of if you choose to use an outside publisher is to retain both the copyright and the publishing rights. Without the latter, a publisher can block you from publishing your materials and force you to either use them or pay them to purchase back the rights.
“…our department pledged to fund a summer fellowship for five years out of royalties and donate any residual funds to an endowment in exchange for donations to an endowment.”
Always talk to your dean and university foundation before attempting any attempts at fundraising. Never come into conflict with fundraising activities by your administration. The royalties from your sales can be used to leverage donations from alumni. For example, our department pledged to fund a summer fellowship for five years out of royalties and donate any residual funds to an endowment in exchange for donations to an endowment. Several years into this process, we developed a departmental newsletter to include with the solicitation as a way to better connect with our alumni. Typically, requests to alumni for funds that directly benefit students receive higher levels of donation than do funds for equipment. For this reason, after funding our third summer fellowship, we are fundraising for academic year scholarships wherein the student must work in a lab as part of the scholarship. Your ability to solicit funds from alumni may change over time as your administration does.
Never come into conflict with fundraising activities by your administration.
Endowments have the advantage of producing funds well into the future, but there can be a delay in using the money. Another advantage of endowments is donation fatigue. Initially, there can be a surge of giving, but over time, it may drop off. If the money is spent as it comes in, there can be significant swings in how much is available each year. Finally, raising for any departmental endowment provides a hint to prospective big donors to create one on his or her own. Always thank each donor for her or his contribution. For large donors, phone calls or personal meetings are a good idea, always with the knowledge of your foundation.
Endowments typically pay out 4 – 4.5% annually so a $4,000 summer fellowship will require about $100K, while a $1,000 scholarship can be created for only a $25K endowment. Departments with large numbers of students or wealthy, generous alumni may find the former goal relatively easy to attain, while departments at smaller institutions may find the scholarship a better target.
Have as many people contribute labs as possible to foster the idea of a communal responsibility and benefit, but one or two people need to be editors. This job is more work than most people realize at the outset. For example, an attractive manual requires that all of the labs must be formatted the same way. While some of the experiments may be completely homegrown, many will come from the literature, with the Journal of Chemical Education, being a major source of ideas. When our department approached that journal for permission to charge royalties for labs based on its articles (with the proviso all funds were to be donated back to the university), it was granted. We also have each contributing faculty member sign a form waiving their rights to the royalties.
Plan for how they will be dispersed. Will an individual receive the check and donate it? If so, are their tax liabilities? We have the royalty checks made out directly to our Foundation. If you go that route, make sure your department receives credit because some Foundations do not track such deposits as donations (because the check comes from a company which isn’t making a donation).
~Michael Castellani (firstname.lastname@example.org) Dr. Castellani is a Professor of Chemistry at Marshall University. His research interests include the synthesis, reactivity, and physical properties of transition metal organometallic radical complexes as well as the effects large ligands have on the structure and properties of organotransition metal complexes. He is a member of CUR and a Chemistry Councilor