When I embarked on the journey (a gift from my Dean) of updating our educational programs to align with the latest industry demands, I quickly realized proposal writing is not just about having a great idea. It’s about articulating a plan that’s both logical and achievable. I learned that evaluators and funders look beyond lofty goals; they scrutinize the steps you’ll take. For instance, when integrating new equipment, how does it fit with your curriculum, and how are your faculty trained to leverage these new technologies?

The Heart of Proposal Writing. I once believed starting with the grant dollar amount was the way to go. Experience taught me otherwise. (Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, but that isn’t NSF.) It’s not about fitting a project within a budget; it’s about creating a project worth the investment. This realization came when I sat down with stakeholders—faculty, industry partners, administrators, and students¾to discuss what we truly needed to shift in our college. We aimed not just to improve instruction but also to match our curriculum with evolving industry needs.

Faculty Training: A Crucial Step. Training faculty was another area where my approach evolved. Initially, I thought about it as a separate component. However, I’ve learned that it’s integral to the success of any curriculum update. Scheduling faculty training should go hand in hand with curriculum development, ensuring that when new equipment arrives, our educators are ready.

Aligning Equipment with Curriculum. As a hands-on educator, I’ve always been excited by the potential of new equipment. Yet, it’s crucial to integrate this equipment thoughtfully into our curriculum. Surprisingly, not everyone realizes stakeholders expect to see practical results—that they want proof that investments are enhancing learning. This includes showcasing which courses were modified, the creation of new lessons, the methods used to measure outcomes, and student feedback. Stakeholders also appreciate seeing these changes firsthand. It’s not enough to simply acquire new equipment or infrastructure; they want to see the direct impact on students and how it contributes to achieving educational goals.

Evaluation: More Than Just Data Collection. In my early days of proposal writing, I viewed evaluation as a mere formality. Now, I see it as a vital tool for measuring success and identifying areas for improvement. Collecting pre-and post-training data has been instrumental in shaping our approach and supporting the need for further projects. It’s not just about gathering data; it’s about understanding and applying it to improve.

Conclusion. The advice “Start with the end in mind” has never been more relevant than in my journey through education and training. Focusing on logical steps, from faculty training to equipment integration, has been pivotal. And here’s the crux: Starting with a strong evaluation plan is key. It sets the stage for a project’s success, ensuring that every step taken aligns with both educational goals and industry standards.

Remember that the NSF proposal is a living document, evolving with your project. A solid evaluation plan is your compass, guiding you toward effective education and meaningful change.

About the Authors

Tim Tewalt

Tim Tewalt box with arrow

Founder, Mechatronics Training

Tim Tewalt brings over 37 years of expertise in technical education, primarily focusing on evaluation. As the founder of Mechatronics Training, he provides comprehensive training solutions for Advanced Manufacturing, offering trainers equipped with complete coursework. Tim specializes in ATE 2-year NSF grant evaluations, providing invaluable insights and guidance to ensure proposals meet the highest standards of quality and impact. His wealth of experience extends to program development, where he leverages his extensive background to enhance technical education systems.

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