mentor

FAQs

Application

What resources should I be prepared to gather before submitting an application?

Your STEM faculty teammate needs to be determined, and you will need the NSF ATE program solicitation, Readiness Self-Assessment tool, & Mentor-Connect application.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Assessment

Does my proposal need to address assessment?

Yes. Ask yourself how you will know you have actually been successful. What did you really accomplish? What can you tell people about the accomplishments from having had a project or center? Think about your goals and objectives. How are you going to know that you've actually created the type of program you wanted to develop? How are you going to know if your students are really successful? Here's where someone who has expertise in assessment is critical to your project.

--Celeste Carter, TNET Videos

ATE

Where can I turn to find ATE connections?

There are numerous resources that people can take advantage of: ATE Central, ATETV, teachingtechnicians.org, and the ATE PI guide as well. Think about contacting PI's. You can always find out about awards in an area you are interested in. Contact individuals as well. ATE is a tight-knit group of people, and they are interested in deep collaboration. You can also take advantage of Mentor Links and Mentor-Connect.

--Celeste Carter and Rachael Bower, TNET Videos

ATETV

Would we be permitted to broadcast ATETV videos over our educational television channel?

The use you describe is not only permissible but highly encouraged! If you are able to broadcast ATETV as you describe, I encourage you to immediately start surveying incoming students who enroll in your technology programs to determine how they learned of and became interested in your programs, including a direct inquiry about whether or not they have seen one or more of the ATETV videos (and to let us know what you learn). It is important to all of us to know whether or not the career awareness and outreach methods we are employing are reaching the intended audience and are working to attract interest and enrollment in our advanced technological education programs.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Biographical Sketch

Do we need to provide an official biographical sketch for the External Evaluator?

You do not include your evaluator’s bio in the section where you upload biographical sketches. Biographical sketches are included only for senior personnel who will work on the project. Your evaluator is not a member of your grant team in this sense. You can include the evaluator’s bio as a supplemental document (along with commitment letters and other appendices you may want to include), and I would encourage you to do so. If using a company vs. an individual for evaluation, you can include something about the company as a supplemental document (e.g., a “capability statement”). You want to demonstrate to the reviewer that the person or entity you have selected for evaluation has some credibility for doing this work.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Budget

Should our budget figures be based on what they will be as of July 1?

Yes, using anticipated costs is usually smart as faculty pay increases, etc. may be difficult to absorb “after-the-fact.”

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

There are a couple of items that were listed in the budget for our grant that we will not be purchasing. Also, the actual price of one of our purchases was $400 less than what was budgeted. With this “extra” money, are we able to use this towards other purchases? If so, what is the process we would need to follow in order to do so?

As long as the purchases are clearly related to accomplishing the goals of your project and do not violate any of the Federal or NSF purchasing guidelines, then you may reallocate and spend the money. Within a budget category (alphabet letter categories in the NSF Fastlane budget template such as “Senior Personnel” or “Equipment”), you have unlimited flexibility to reallocate money to another expense. You may move money from one alphabet category to another without specific permission from NSF as long as the total amount re-allocated over the life of the project does not exceed 10% of your award amount. The only exception is that you may NOT move any money out of the “F” category, Participant Support Costs, without specific permission from an NSF program officer to do so.

NSF wants you to use the money that has been awarded to achieve the best outcomes possible from your project, so I would definitely work with the grant team to identify how this money could best be reallocated and spent. Also, keep in mind that the college can grant itself a non-funded extension of up to 12 months near the end of your initial funding period if you still have money and work to do. A brief justification is required, but you literally grant the extension to yourself! (It takes action by the PI, however; it is not automatic.) It may be that you need support for your faculty, etc. during the extension period to complete your scope of work, finish evaluating outcomes, etc. It is nice to have a little extra to work with during the extension, so don’t spend the unused money just to spend it right now if there is no clear and pressing need for the expense to advance your project. All unused money will roll over into the unfunded extension year.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

What if my budget goes over the maximum amount: $200,000 for a new institution?

Reviewers will probably rate you down because you didn't follow proposal guidelines, but it won't get rejected. So if you are going over $200,000 don't choose that you are a "new to ATE institution." Also if it is over $200K, you will be subjected to a different level of review by the Division of Grants and Agreements. But the ATE program solicitation is being rewritten so be sure to read it when it comes to see if there are any changes.

--Dr. Elizabeth J. Teles, NSF Program Officer

What is the rule for doing any budget modification requests? Is it greater than 10% of the line item?

Within an alphabet letter category in the NSF budget (A, B, etc.) any amount of transfer is allowed without permission. You may also move money between alphabet letter categories without permission as long as the total amount transfers over the life of the grant does not exceed 10% of the overall grant budget. The only exception to this is that you can NOT move money out of the participant support cost category without NSF Program Officer permission. If you need to move more than 10% of your total budget amount, contact your Program Officer for permission.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

As we’re approaching the end of our two year small grant, I find that I have wee, tiny balances left over in most categories. A hundred bucks here, fifty there, seventy-five over yonder... None of the amounts are really enough to do much, but collectively I could pool them together and purchase a few supplies. The total amount is under $1500 out of the $200,000 award. That’s okay to do, right? Do I need my AOR to submit something to you guys for that?

The only category that you need to have a program officer's approval on is moving dollars out of participant support. For that you submit a formal request in FastLane and we read and approve all reasonable requests!  Other than that, you have full authority to move funds to meet the goals and objectives of the project. What you are suggesting sounds like the way to go!
--V. Celeste Carter, Program Director, NSF


Another response--
It is OK to move the remaining money around and spend it on supplies directly related to supporting the outcomes of your project (as long as none of the money is in Participant Support, which can’t be moved except in special cases and requires Program officer approval).  Nothing for your grants officer to do. You do not need NSF permission to do this.  The PI has the latitude to move up to 10% of the total grant award each year from category to category (designated by alphabet letters in the NSF budget: A, B, C,…).  Within an alphabet letter (some have subcategories of expenses like the “Other Direct Costs” category), there is no limit to the amount that you can move from one line item to another as long as what you are purchasing is consistent with the grant goals and follows procurement guidelines at your college and as provided by the applicable OMB circular that governs allowable expenses for awards to your type of organization.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

And another--
You have the authority to move funds from one budget line to another as you deem appropriate for the completion of the project.  However, you may not move any funds out of the participant support cost line without submitting a request in fastlane, and providing a justification.
 --David Campbell, NSF

 

 

We had allocated $ 1875 towards faculty training in Year 2, but would like to use it in Year 1. If that is okay with NSF, my college administration would like to get an email confirmation from you (our Program Officer) that it is okay to do so.

You don't need my permission to do this. Except funds in participant support the terms of your grant allow you to move funds as long as it is what "a reasonable person would allow." Certainly doing some tasks earlier than anticipated falls under that.
--Elizabeth Teles, Program Director NSF/DUE

When developing my grant budget, how do I handle a faculty member from another institution who will be a Co-PI or Senior Personnel on my grant?

They can be employed by another institution, but that typically means the lead institution will use a subaward mechanism to pay them. In other words, the federal money has to be channeled through the individual’s home institution.

----Dave Campbell, NSF Program Director

Our college’s compliance director is working on some financial reports, and she needs to know how to classify the Mentor Connect funds that our College receives. Would they be considered federal pass-through funds, private funds, or something else?

As a direct recipient of grant funds (the awardee/fiscal agent), the funds received by your college from NSF are “Direct Federal Programs.” If you college should ever be a subawardee on a grant awarded to another institution, then the funds are “Federal Pass Through” funds.

----Elaine Craft, SC ATE

What budget changes are possible with my grant award?

Remember that your institution has received a GRANT from NSF. With a few exceptions, this means that your institution has a responsibility to manage the award and the right to move funds between categories “as long as a reasonable person would agree that this is for the best of the project.” So a reasonable person would not require you to spend $1500 for computers if you can get them for $900; use those funds elsewhere. A reasonable person would let you move funds in the supplies category to consultants. If there are funds left over in the personnel budget because the grant got started late and a person was not hired at the beginning, those funds can be used in a subsequent year or in other budget categories. The major exception is that you “cannot move funds OUT OF participant support” without formally requesting this via FastLane. This only needs your Program Officer’s permission, but it has to be formally requested and approved.
--Dr. Elizabeth Teles, NSF Program Officer Division of Undergraduate Education

Must we use calendar months? Can we use calendar weeks or pay periods?

You must use calendar months. This is the NSF standard and this method of indicating time on a project is required in the budget and on current and pending support forms.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Since personnel costs and consultants have to be named in the proposal, how are changes, if necessary, handled?

It depends on the type of change to be made. To change PIs or Co-PIs after funding, NSF permission is required. The PI should contact his/her Program Officer and explain what change needs to be made and why. Typically they will want to see a resume of the person who is replacing the originally-named PI or Co-PI. The Program Officer will let you know if it is OK to submit the request via Fastlane. Once formally approved by the Program Officer in Fastlane, NSF records will be modified to reflect the change. A change in consultant should be discussed with the Program Officer, but no formal approval is required. The issue is that the education and experience of those named in the proposal are part of the Intellectual Merit of the proposal, which is one of two criteria that guide NSF funding decisions. Reviewers rated the proposal, and a Program Officer made a recommendation for funding, based in large part on their confidence in the team named to implement the project. Change is inevitable, but changes in personnel on NSF grants are not to be taken lightly. Changes in personnel in key roles should be made in consultation with your Program Officer.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Budget Narratives have been typically limited to 3 pages. Are they subject to font size, line spacing and page margins?

Page margins, yes. Font size, probably. Line spacing, no, but reviewers will be irritated if the budget justification is hard to read.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

How do we balance the request for detailed descriptions and a page limit?

See example from webinar. You can pack a significant amount of detail in 3 pages. Also, subawards will each have 3 pages for budget justification, too, so you can limit subaward explanation in the primary budget to why you have included the subaward and generally what the subawardee will be doing vs. providing expense details that will duplicate the subaward budget justification.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Can extra money be spent in previously unbudgeted categories?

Yes. For example, you may not have realized you needed publications costs and budgeted no money in that category. Now your project has an opportunity to publish or showcase project outcomes. Money from another category can be moved to publications for this purpose.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Does the interpretation for the budget only apply to ATE or does this apply to other NSF categories?

Most of the budget information provided for ATE projects applies to all NSF grants, and all of the same forms apply. However, see individual program solicitations for specifics. For example, the NSF S-STEM Program is a scholarship program. Obviously, student scholarships are allowable in this program whereas they are not allowable in the ATE Program.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Conference

Should I include funds in my budget to attend the ATE PI conference?

I think you should add this expense (and plan to attend!), and I suspect the expense of attending may be more than you have budgeted if you include mileage to/from the airport, airfare, baggage, ground transportation in D.C. and meals that are not covered by the conference. Also, don’t forget to budget for pre-conference workshops as they are very important (especially the Getting Started pre-conference workshop that is offered each year and is targeted to new grantees). These workshops are currently priced at $50 per person per workshop.

Another consideration is the possibility of taking others at your college to the conference. You will be able to take as many as five people from your project. These individuals may be administrators, partners, or others who are involved in your project in some way and whose support is critical to the success of your project. You will have financial support (hotel and registration) for two people. The remaining three will need to be fully funded by your project to attend. The travel costs will be more as they will have to pay for hotel rooms (approximately $542 for two nights at 2013 rates), conference registration ($300 per person this year), and all of the other costs common to all participants.

One last thing. You will need an exhibit in Year 2 to showcase your project. This typically costs hundreds to more than one thousand dollars. In addition, you will need to cover shipping costs, which add up quickly. Oops…one more. You will have an opportunity to nominate students to attend. If accepted, they get free registration and two nights' hotel costs as a “scholarship.” Your project, however, will need to cover transportation and other costs. You may want to put some dollars in participant support for students to attend professional conferences such as ATE PI Conference. So…my advice is “don’t leave any money on the table”…you will need it, and NSF anticipates your request to be $200,000 or very close to that maximum.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Does travel to the ATE conference need to be budgeted for each year of the grant?

You would be expected to bring at least one person each year of ATE conference and usually two.

--Dr. Elizabeth J. Teles, NSF Program Officer

Are all PIs and Co-PI’s required to attend the ATE PI Conference? If two out the three PI’s attend will that be okay with NSF?

It is not required that all attend.  Two out of three is good.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Is there anything in the NSF guidelines that would not allow travel by me to be charged to the grant? For example, if I attend HI-TEC and the PI Conference in support of our ATE project, can I charge my expenses to the grant?

You may accompany your team to the ATE PI Conference as one of the project’s team members…no problem there as part of the conference, especially the pre-conference “Getting Started” workshop, deals with managing grants and NSF grantee compliance. HI-TEC is a little less clear. I think it would be essential that there be some clear way your participation would be of direct benefit to the project. If you were serving as the project manager, or if you are responsible for disseminating project outcomes (helping develop displays, developing press releases or papers on the project, etc.) then there will be no problem. What role are you filling in the execution of the grant makes attending HI-TEC a reasonable thing to do? I would be very careful with documentation if grant funds are used to send someone whose college title is Grants Development Specialist to HI-TEC. Sometimes titles don’t tell the whole story.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Co-PI

Because of some institutional changes, we have moved our person who was to be a co-PI in as a consultant. Thus at the moment we don’t have a co-PI listed and want to go just with a senior team member as our second person. Do you see any issues to this?

The credentials of the co-PI are important. The senior team member may be OK as long as it isn’t someone too far removed from teaching (a department head, division chair vs. President of the institution). If the person has STEM academic credentials, that will be helpful, too. It needs to be feasible that the person will actually spend time on and contribute to the success of the project. Also, a co-PI can be paid as a consultant if not a full-time employee of the college. You can list the person as a co-PI or senior personnel in the narrative, just not put them at the “top” of the budget page under personnel. You can put money in for their support under consultants. If you plan for the original co-PI to be engaged with the project, there are ways to do that. Without understanding the “institutional changes” that are predicating this move, it is hard to know exactly how to answer the question.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

If I have been a co-PI on an NSF ATE grant but the grant was awarded to another college, am I eligible for Mentor-Connect assistance?

Yes, and you will be uniquely positioned to be successful because of your prior experience. If your institution (or branch of a larger institution that has its own chief academic officer) has not been the fiscal agent/recipient of an NSF ATE grant in the past 10 years, your institution is eligible for small grants for institutions new to ATE and you (with a STEM teammate) are eligible to apply for Mentor-Connect assistance.

--Orientation webinar presenters

We have an industry co-PI who will be listed as such and paid a small stipend (in addition to conference travel). The amount relative to his calendar months is pretty small and I am worried it might raise some questions. Should I just write a detailed response in the budget narrative? We have a letter of commitment from his company president so I think that should cover it?

The industry Co-PI should be listed and duties described in the management plan in the narrative but not included with college personnel in the budget. In the budget, list the industry Co-PI under consultants and give a number of days and price per day for his/her services. If you plan to budget $1000 stipend/year, then perhaps 2 days/year at $500. It needs to have this level of detail and be reasonable for the amount of work planned.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

A Co-PI on our grant is leaving the college. We know that we have the latitude to move the remaining money designated for this Co-PI to other personnel support or work of the project.  However, we don’t have anyone else that we want to add to the project as the Co-PI has already completed most of the work for which she was responsible.  What do we need to do to move forward without replacing this Co-PI?

Within 3 months of her leaving the college, you will need to have your AOR submit a request to NSF to withdraw her from the project and explain in the comments section how most of her work is done and how the rest will be accomplished so that her leaving will have little impact on the project.
--Dr. Elizabeth Teles, NSF Program Officer, Division of Undergraduate Education

A project Co-PI left the college and we need to replace this Co-PI.  In looking at someone who understands the problem-based learning strategy we are using in the project, there is an instructor in the Math department who would be a great fit.  It is OK to have a co-PI who is not in programs identified in the grant?

Yes.  In some cases, having an out-of-program Co-PI  can actually enhance the project’s impact.  Math is a supporting discipline for all of your targeted technology programs. Having math faculty understand and contribute to accomplishing the goals of the project can help spread the project’s strategies to other departments, facilitate change, and grow capacity among others who impact the preparation of technicians at your college.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Curriculum Development

Does NSF fund curriculum development?

Yes, but reviewers and Program Officers will need to be convinced that the curriculum development being proposed is innovative and not work the college should be doing anyway. Also, you need to ensure that you are not duplicating work already done by others. If another grantee over ATE’s 20-year life has developed curricula in the discipline you are addressing, then consider adapting and implementing someone else’s work. The rationale for “starting from scratch” will need to be VERY strong, and you will have to convince reviewers that there was nothing available that you can adopt or adapt to achieve your objective. New curriculum development needs to focus on introducing or integrating emerging technologies, providing specialized education to meet an identified local employer needs, combining content across disciplines in new ways (such as was done when mechatronics was first introduced), or perhaps accommodating changing teaching methodologies (e.g. converting to problem-based learning) or delivery methods (e.g., flipped classrooms, hybrid classes).

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Data

Is it okay to use Department of Labor (DOL) data in an NSF proposal? I am finding some interesting labor statistics as they relate to engineering and manufacturing and wasn’t sure how NSF feels about that.

Absolutely. NSF wants your rationale to be supported by data from whatever reputable/published source is available to make a case for what you are proposing to do. DOL data is a standard “go to” data source for NSF ATE PIs.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Email

Are there guidelines for sending email to my Program Officer at NSF?

Remember emails that you send your Program Officer must get attached to your permanent electronic file here at NSF and that the only way the Program Officer can attach them is using your award number. Tips for communicating by email:
(1) Include your award number in the subject line.
(2) Also include a brief summary about the contents of the email in the subject line. For example, if you are asking your Program Officer a question concerning when your annual report is due, the subject line might be something like “xxxxxxx Annual Report Timing” and if you are sending a press release the subject line would be “xxxxxxx Press Release” where the xxxxxxx is of course your award number.
(3) Include NO graphics in the body of the email. Many educators include the school logo block in emails, but NSF does not allow the attachment of emails to your files with these or similar graphics. There is danger of embedded viruses. You can always attach either PDF files or Word file for your Program Officer.
(4) Program Officers love to get pictures of you and your students and your activities, but if you send them, be sure that you have written permission from your students to do so. While NSF acts under the Privacy Act and so far has not had to release information attached to files, NSF cannot guarantee that they will never be required to release some information under the Freedom of Information Act.
(5) Please share the above with your grants office and strip off those signature logo blocks if you forward something from them to me.
--Dr. Elizabeth Teles, NSF Program Officer Division of Undergraduate Education

Equipment

Can equipment purchased through the grant be housed at the college campuses or could it be housed at both the college and school district locations?

The equipment may be housed at a partner location. Equipment, however, is typically purchased and inventoried by the grantee institution (fiscal agent for the grant)—which in this case will need to be the community college-- and thus the method of transfer to a high school or other community college will need to be determined. This is considered an “internal” decision, and NSF will not care how it is handled as long as the way it is handled conforms to local policies and procedures, and the equipment is used to achieve the goals of the funded project. For larger awards, it is usually advisable to have a subaward for a partner so that the partner has an independent budget that can include equipment purchases. Small Grants for Institutions new to NSF are generally considered too small to support subawards, but there is no rule against it (it is just more paperwork and accounting than most would consider reasonable at this award level). Equipment from an NSF perspective will be items costing more than $5,000. If you are thinking of lower costs items (e.g., computers, then the items will be considered materials and supplies (even if inventoried as equipment at the college).

The grantee institution (fiscal agent) will not be able to charge indirect costs on equipment. For this reason, grantees are reluctant to “give away” equipment that they have acquired with grant funds. More typical is an equipment loan, equipment in a mobile device (e.g., truck) that moves from one academic institution to another, or having partners come to the grantee institution to use the equipment. If this is the plan to distribute the equipment from the start, however, it may work. We will be happy to help you work through these types of questions and issues through the Mentor-Connect assistance process.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

How much money can I budget for equipment?

Funds requested for equipment and instrumentation (computers, computer-related hardware, software, laboratory or field instrumentation, and scientific or industrial machinery) normally may not exceed $200,000 for the duration of the grant.

Do equipment costs include installation and rigging costs or do they go in another line item?

Installation and rigging costs are usually added to the cost of the equipment itself for a total on that line.

--Dr. Elizabeth J. Teles, NSF Program Officer

For any equipment that we purchase, do we have to put any special identifying tags on them?

No. Once purchased, items are the property of the college and college inventory practices should be followed. If your college is audited by NSF related to the money spent on equipment, the questions will likely be related to evidence that the money was spent as indicated and the goods were received, evidence that the purchased goods were used in completing the scope of work of the grant, and evidence that college policies for inventory, tracking, and/or disposal were followed.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Our college has a small grant for institutions new to ATE for $199,825, which does not include any equipment purchase because of the nature of the small grants. Is there a way for us to apply for additional funding under this grant for equipment?

The ATE program has no provision for supplements unless they are specifically in answer to a Dear Colleague letter or in other unique cases (equipment would not be unique). So you cannot request a supplement for equipment for your project. There is no provision against equipment in a proposal; proposals that are primarily equipment or even with a large request for equipment generally, however, do not review well.

If you have some small unspent funds in other categories that a "reasonable" person would agree could be spent on equipment to best benefit the project, you can use them for that purpose. Since your institution has not had many grants, you might want to pass by your Program Officer how much is left, why the funds have not been spent, and how you would use them.

You can apply next year for a new ATE grant to expand work and partners and include some equipment in the budget. It is suggested that you talk with your Program Officer and Mentor-Connect folks next spring or summer while you are preparing.

--Dr. Elizabeth Teles, NSF Program Officer

Can warranties be factored into the price of equipment?

No, equipment purchased with grant funds will belong to the college at the end of the grant, and the maintenance and repair costs must be covered by the college and may not be charged to the grant.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Can training /repair for equipment/instrumentation be factored into the price of equipment?

Repair, no. Whether training included in a grant proposal will be approved or not depends on the circumstances and justification. If faculty development in a new technology is part of the grant activities, this is often permissible. Typically, training that is included in grants will result in certification or otherwise clearly qualifies faculty member to deliver instruction for students to meet a well-defined industry need.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Should equipment budget include shipping, handling, and installation as a complete amount?

Yes, in general, the costs to acquire the equipment, ship the equipment, and have it installed can be included, but no facilities renovation or preparation to accept the equipment may be charged to the grant (e.g., pouring a concrete pad, adding electrical service, or room modifications).
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Would computers be included in supplies - under $5000?

Yes, computers are almost always considered materials and equipment as the purchase price per unit is typically less than $5,000 per unit. However, beware that classroom computers in general are a “hard sell” in a grant proposal as colleges typically provide this equipment for students. A case must be made for why the computer purchase is not a routine college expense and why such equipment is essential to the project.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

During the recent budget webinar, it was stated that warranties/maintenance agreements for equipment shouldn’t be charged to the grant but rather paid for by the institution. But I can’t find any guidance on that in the regs; can you point me to where that’s specified? Or is it just a general rule of thumb?

I would take the warranty expense out, reallocate the funds to some other line item/activity or person, and not risk having the cost determined as unallowable. The Program Officer isn’t the one likely to identify this expense as “unallowable” but personnel in the Division of Grants and Agreements will likely flag it.

From the excerpt from the GPG below, you can see that the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources form is the place where you describe the “source of funds for the operation and maintenance of the proposed equipment.” I believe that this implies what was said by Dr. Carter during the webinar about grant funds not being used for warranties. You can pay for the equipment with grant funds but should identify a different source of funds for operation and maintenance (such as warranty).

"Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources that includes a description of the physical facility, including floor plans or other appropriate information, where the equipment will be located; a narrative description of the source of funds available for operation and maintenance of the proposed equipment; a brief description of other support services available, and a statement of why the equipment is severable or non-severable from the physical facility" (GPG Chapter II.C.2.i should be consulted to prepare this portion of the proposal).
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Evaluator

Do I need an evaluator during proposal development?

It's good to involve an evaluator from the very beginning of proposal development. This is someone who at critical points will push you to focus on your goals. Evaluation can help the Principal Investigator learn about his or her project. It's one thing to gather some data. But it's another thing to make meaning out of that data. The most important contribution that a good evaluator can make to an ATE project--or to any project, really-- is to understand what the results of that project really mean in terms of goal achievement.

The best evaluations are designed into a project when the grant proposal is prepared. So, to bring an evaluator on after a project has already been awarded works. But, it sometimes precludes the evaluator from doing things in a way that would be more effective had the evaluation been designed into the proposal when the proposal was originally submitted.

--Celeste Carter and Pete Saflund, TNET Videos

When should I request annual reports from my evaluator?

You may wonder why report deadlines for the evaluation are so early (before the end of years 1 and 2 of your funding). Annual reporting dates are aligned with what will be your required reporting dates to NSF (Year 1 report will be due in advance of one year…in fact, will be considered “past due” on July 1, 2014). We want to make sure that you have an evaluation report in hand to upload with your annual report each year… and thus can’t wait until June. In Year 2, you will have more time, so we place the report due date in May vs. April. NSF requires reports before they release the next year of funding; so when there will be no more funding, the lead time before the grant year-end isn’t as critical. (If you have had any experience with Department of Labor grants, this will be VERY different in that DOL reports are due after the end of the quarter and/or year for which the report applies.)

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

How do I find an evaluator?

The first link is to a list of evaluators provided by the American Evaluation Association. The second is the link to the EvaluATE website evaluator directory. For the EvaluATE directory, the search by state doesn’t really work, so I recommend just hitting the “search” button and reviewing all entries.

http://www.eval.org/find_an_evaluator/evaluator_search.asp
http://evalu-ate.org/community/evaluator_directory/

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Can participant support include paying for travel to the ATE National PI Conference for the external evaluator?

The evaluator works for the project and is not a participant. Travel funds for them should be included in Section G generally.

--Dr. Elizabeth J. Teles, NSF Program Officer

Extension

We're in a first no-cost extension on our ATE grant. We have notified NSF and received an OK. Do we have to submit anything budget-wise?

No, there is no budget communication required beyond the no-cost extension request itself. The PI should check Fastlane to make sure the end date for the award has been changed (follow up with the Program Officer if this has not happened). Once the date is changed by NSF, and the new end date shows up in Fastlane, the project is “good to go” and can continue activities and spending money beyond the original award expiration date. In the no-cost extension request, the PI enters the approximate amount of money remaining, and that is the extent of communication with NSF about the project budget as it is expected that the project will still operate using the original project budget. However, the person should make certain that their business office at the college (fiscal agent for the grant) is aware of the extension and new award expiration date.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

On January 28th, we received an email with an attachment from the NSF Division of Grants and Agreements requesting that we submit several requested documents within 10 days (Feb. 4); however, Feb. 4 is only 7 days! People with whom we need to work to put the documentation together are currently out of town. What should we do?

I would send a note requesting an additional week or two explaining that you need the additional time to put together all the documentation. You will need that much time to do a good job and put it all together in good order. Don’t try to rush without getting advice and guidance. Just respond and give them a reasonable date when you can provide everything – Maybe February 14? The time provided is not enough.

----Elizabeth Teles, Program Director, NSF DUE

How can I get an extension of time to complete my project?

Most NSF (and certainly ATE) projects take longer to conduct than expected. After the term of your award, the first extension ONLY needs your institution to approve it and to NOTIFY NSF via FastLane that they are approving an extra year. Your Program Officer will have to review it, but that is all. If there are unspent funds one year, use them in a similar manner. For example, you are required to support as many participants as your budget shows, but if it takes three years rather than two, that is fine.
--Dr. Elizabeth Teles, NSF Program Officer Division of Undergraduate Education

Faculty Intern

Does NSF fund the percent of time a faculty member spends at an industry partner business as an intern?

Typically, short-term faculty work in industry is referred to as an externship (the term “intern”usually refers to students). Release time for a faculty to complete an externship for the purpose of bringing updated industry skills and knowledge back to the classroom is an allowable expense.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Faculty Pay

Just to verify from what I heard during the webinar, can't faculty on nine month contracts get 2/9ths pay and summer pay? My understanding is that (1) you can recover expenses of the faculty member working on the grant or (2) you can recover expenses of the faculty hired to replace the faculty member working on the grant.

There are two ways of handling this. (1) “Direct” faculty support should be calculated as you have indicated, but isn’t limited to 2/9 of a 9-month contract. It could be 1/9 or 4/9 or any other fraction up to 9/9 if the PI is to devote that much time to the project. This method implies more faculty time spent on the grant than just one course release or something like that. Summer contracts are usually separate and should be pro-rated similarly. The college pay plan rules. Whatever the college would pay the person to work in the fall/spring or in the summer is the basis for the amount you should budget. Time and effort reports will need to indicate that much time spent on grant work. Likewise, depending on the time commitment of the person, the pay during the fall/spring should be that fraction of the person’s total salary for the 9-month contract (plus pro-rata fringe benefits). (2) If, instead, you plan to hire adjunct faculty to replace the faculty member who will be provided with one- or two-course release time, you can budget for the cost of the adjunct faculty replacement(s) vs. the cost of the person being replaced in the classroom. Very often, this is the less expensive route as fringe benefits are less and pay is often less as well. This is another way to stretch your grant dollars. The idea is that one way or the other, it is going to cost the college something to reassign faculty to grant work. It is up to you how you want to budget for and account for this expense.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Finally, we are working on our calendar months for our Lead Investigator and it appears we need to stay at a total of 2 months per year (per the NSF proposal guide). Is that correct?

NSF ATE Program does not adhere to the 2-month limitation and will consider any amount of time up to full time with appropriate justification and alignment with responsibilities for the individual. Be careful of how time is listed. If by months, list as academic months and/or summer months. This is most common for faculty (who typically have separate academic year and summer contracts). If the person is to get a percentage of salary support all year, you may elect to use calendar months instead. For example, 10% would be 1.2 calendar months.

----Elaine Craft, SC ATE

How do you handle faculty that are on a 9 month schedule but paid on a 12 month contract?

For grant calculations, work as if the entire salary were paid in 9 months. Paying over 12 months is an accommodation to the employee but does not impact the 9-month contract salary amount.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Would we illustrate release time of faculty that will be performing the work or the wage of the faculty that will be filling in for the instructor?

You can budget for either, but not both. Either budget for the Senior Personnel time or for the adjunct faculty time who will replace senior personnel. However, there are good reasons for budgeting for senior personnel vs. adjunct faculty you anticipate hiring. First, reviewers want to see the PI, Co-PI, etc. with budget dollars supporting their time on the grant. You can’t name these individuals in the budget if you are not including a dollar amount for them. If you budget for adjuncts instead, then the budget will look as if only adjunct faculty have time on the grant. You can explain what you are doing in the budget justification, but it is still risky to not name at least the PI in the budget. Second, the amount of salary for a permanent faculty member plus fringe benefits will be more than enough required to pay the adjunct faculty who replace those working on the grant. If you budget for the permanent/full-time faculty member, the college will likely have more than enough money to hire adjunct faculty, and excess money budgeted salary and fringe benefit money can then be reallocated to other project activities and purchases. NSF allows this type of budget transfer once the grant is funded.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Is it possible to put an adjunct faculty member on the budget? How would you define their time?

Yes, you may include an adjunct faculty member, but reviewers will want some assurance that the person has a long-time association with the institution or has expertise that is essential to the project. This should be explained in the proposal and budget justification. It isn’t prohibited, but it is not advisable to have an adjunct in the PI role, however, because of the limitations of what they can do at the college. Not being able to initiate purchase orders, hiring, travel, etc. puts constraints on a PI that make a challenging job even more difficult to accomplish efficiently. Also, reviewers will wonder about the person’s dedication to the college and project since many hours of work may be required beyond those that are paid “on the clock.” For example, attending the ATE PI Conference in Washington, DC takes several days of time. Will an adjunct be available to attend this required activity?
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Can you compensate a PI during the academic year with a combination of release time (paying an adjunct) and a stipend for work over and above workload?

Release time is OK, but be careful with stipends or other forms of overload pay. NSF approval of stipends or other forms of overload/above-normal pay is limited to special circumstances. For example, if the faculty member teaches a workshop three Saturdays during the semester, and this person would normally not work on Saturdays, the NSF will allow additional compensation for this work time related to the grant. The same would apply to outside-of-contract work done between semesters, summers, or other times when the faculty member would not normally be under contract to the college.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Can a faculty member work in the capacity of consultant under a subaward if they are contracted at a university?

An institution may not hire its own employees as consultants. If a university has a subaward, and within that subaward they hire a faculty member from the community college to assist with their scope of work, then the faculty member may be hired as a consultant under the subaward and the person will be paid only by the university. It must not, however, be anyone named in the grant at the community college for which the subaward applies. All of this would need to be carefully explained in the grant proposal with a rationale provided for why the faculty member could not do that same scope of work under the grant at the community college and as an employee of the college.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

FastLane

In fast lane can I assign access to a team member to help me input the budget stuff?

I'm pretty sure you can, but you can always call FastLane when you are unsure about anything. You can also give your team member your access information.

--Dr. Elizabeth J. Teles, NSF Program Officer

Should my NSF ATE grant proposal be submitted in Fastlane or Grants.gov?

The answer is Fastlane. Grants.gov is not set up to handle some of the forms that NSF requires with proposals; therefore, if a proposal is submitted via Grants.gov, there will be extra steps triggered in the submission process that send you back to NSF and Fastlane to complete the required forms. There is an added risk that something will be missed or not done correctly. While proposals submitted via Grants.gov are accepted by NSF for review, Program Officers routinely encourage prospective grantees to use Fastlane. College grant writers use Grants.gov for a number of other federal grant submissions (e.g., Department of Labor, Department of Education), so they are inclined to want to use the system with which they are most familiar. This is understandable, but there are compelling reasons to learn and use the Fastlane system for NSF proposals: it reduces the number of required steps to submission, minimizes the risk of error, and all subsequent actions related to the proposal (other than annual reports, which are submitted via Research.gov) are handled in Fastlane (e.g., change of PI or Co-PI, no-cost extension requests, all business office financial drawdowns and reporting).

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

We have a problem with pdf files uploading and appearing sideways or upside down in the Fastlane file. When I uploaded my commitment letters from industry partners, one appeared sideways and one appeared upside down. How can I get the documents to appear right side up in my proposal?

Upload your supplemental document (e.g., letter). If it appears sideways, accept and then view. Save this version to your desktop. Open the desktop version and rotate until straight. LEAVE OPEN. Reopen Fastlane and delete the last document your uploaded (that appeared in the wrong direction). Browse and choose the rotated document from your desktop. Upload. Save. This should result in a document that is positioned correctly in your proposal.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

When will Research.gov replace Fastlane?

NSF has not announced a time frame for the complete replacement of Fastlane by Research.gov. The transition is being implemented in stages. Some functions previously available in Fastlane are now only available in Research.gov (e.g., annual and final project reports). Grant proposal submission and certain permission request actions will transition to Research.gov as the programming is completed and the system is fully tested.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

During a prior NSF webinar, the speaker alluded to the fact that FAST LANE may be going away and grants.gov will become a required option for submission of a grant. Can you clarify?

Fastlane is NOT being replaced by grants.gov but rather by research.gov, a website being developed by NSF. Fastlane, and later research.gov, are strongly recommended for submission of NSF proposals. Research.gov does not support some of the required forms for NSF grants, does not include helpful compliance checks for potential grantees, and does not adhere to deadlines for proposal submission that are established by NSF. By the time the information is transferred from grants.gov to NSF and the error messages are returned to grants.gov and then to the person submitting a proposal, the proposal deadline may have been missed or there may not be sufficient time to submit forms.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Fringe Benefits

For fringe benefits, is there a cap to how much we can claim in the budget for each individual and also is there a set amount of the overall total budget that we can’t go over for fringe benefits? Our fringe benefits are very high due to high costs of insurance and retirement benefits. Should we explain why they are so high?

NSF allows grant funds to pay fringe benefits at the rate the college pays fringe benefits, no matter the rate. All you need to do on the budget is to list the college percentage and then in the budget justification explain that the college’s fringe benefit rate for full-time faculty is x percent. Nothing else is needed. As long as the college does not pay faculty members any more or less than they are paid for their “normal” work, you will be in compliance. Once the salary amount is entered into the NSF budget form, the formula in the budget form will calculate fringe benefits at the rate you have entered on the listed amount of pay.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Getting Started

What should I do before I start proposal writing?

The first thing is to go on the website and find the solicitation and download it. The solicitation is the way to find out the aspects that are really important to your proposal. Secondly, do your homework. The ATE program has been around for 18 years, and there are all kinds of materials out there. Find out what is there. Don't think you need to reinvent the wheel. There's a tremendous community of people out there that are more than willing to help newcomers.

--Celeste Carter, TNET Videos

Impact

Should I indicate how I will measure impact?

Yes. Almost from the inception of the program, ATE has been keeping information about how many people graduate from the program. How many of them get jobs before they graduate? Within the first three months after? Within the first six months after? The agency has data to show which programs are placing the most students. If a program is placing a lot of students, it's likely to get additional funding.

--TNET Videos

Independent Project

May I participate in Mentor-Connect on my own as an independent project?

No; you can never do this alone. The first reason is that awards are made to organizations, not individuals. The fiscal agent for the grant must be an organization that is registered and eligible to receive federal grant funds. The second reason is that Mentor-Connect requires a team of two STEM faculty working on each proposal to be eligible for assistance. Experience has shown that a team approach greatly enhances the probability that a proposal will be submitted.

--Orientation webinar presenters

Indirect Cost Rate

Do we need to include in our supplemental materials the official indirect cost rate document?

No. NSF Grants and Agreements will request this document once recommended for funding and prior to making the award.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

How do I establish an indirect cost rate?

Here is the documentation required for an indirect cost rate to be published. You may also want to check our resources for forms and samples.

The proposal package should include:

  • The proposal
  • Audited Financial Statements
  • A detailed and understandable reconciliation between the proposal and financial statements, showing each reclassification and adjustments to the financial statement accounts
  • A notice of grant award or a financial assistance award document that shows the college has a current federal award that is eligible to receive indirect costs. (EIN and award number should be visible.)
  • A Certification of Facilities & Administration Costs, which should be signed by an official of the organization
  • Calculation of 20% Deans & Department Heads – if applicable
  • Checklist

--Matt Dito, US Department of Health and Human Services

Is there a specific person that we would work with to negotiate our indirect cost rate? I am not familiar with how to go about doing this.

If your college does not have a federally negotiated indirect cost rate, you may not be able to negotiate one until you have a pending award. If you have a another type of federal grant at your institution at this time, you may be able to move forward with securing a rate. The link below seems to provide some good information about this. (Note: My college business office handled this for our institution, so I do not have direct experience in securing an indirect cost rate. --Elaine Craft, SC AE) (For added information, see Budget Rates and Base in our Additional Resources and http://grant-writing-proposals.com/establish-indirect-cost-rate)

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Our external evaluator keeps asking us if our PI will get any funds out of indirect. It is my understanding that PI funds should come out of direct costs.

This should be of no concern to your external evaluator and is entirely up to the college after the grant is awarded and the college has collected indirect costs as grant funds are expended. You are correct.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

We are trying to figure out our budget. Our biggest issue is that we have a 65% negotiated indirect cost rate that our system has negotiated. That will leave us with only $70,000 for program costs.

Tough situation, but it appears that you have no choice but to include the 65% rate in your budget.

One thing to note: to the degree that you can budget costs into participant support, equipment, or subawards, this money is “protected” against the 65% indirect rate. Subawards are not usually appropriate for small grants, and the entity to whom the subaward is made will have an indirect cost rate included in the subaward budget, so there may be little to gain. So…focus on equipment and participant support costs as possibilities. The more money you budget in these categories, the more money you will have overall.

Once the indirect costs are charged to the grant, and the money is received into the accounting system of the college, the college can elect to use some or all of that money to support the grant and/or grant personnel. Any arrangement of this type must not be mentioned in the grant proposal, and you must not indicate any anticipated funds from the college in your budget. Some colleges are more inclined to share indirect costs with the projects that generated the income than others. I would plan your project budget to do only what you can do with $70,000 (or whatever your direct costs will be with indirect considered and total budget request not greater than $200,000). Your grant budget should include some faculty support as reviewers want to know that those who will conduct the work of the grant have dedicated time to do so.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

What items can we charge against the indirect costs and do we need to provide documentation of this breakdown?

The question can be interpreted two ways. (1) If the question relates to costs in the budget for which indirect costs can be taken, the question is easier to answer by stating costs for which the college can’t collect indirect: participant support, equipment, and subawards. (2) If the question relates to covering project costs with indirect costs that will be collected by the college should the project be funded, this is not relevant to the proposal/proposal budget because it isn’t allowed. You may not discuss college contribution of indirect costs to support the work of the project in the proposal or in the budget/budget justification (no matter what internal agreements may have been reached about this). Cost-sharing is not allowed, and to indicate that any project support will or may come from the college via indirect costs or otherwise is prohibited.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

It is recommended that if we do not have an indirect cost rate, then we should wait to apply for one until we are invited to get one by NSF. This seems a long time to wait to start the process. Additionally, if we do not get the grant, then we have waited almost a year from now to begin the process. What is the logic to not applying before we get the grant?

NSF does not negotiate indirect cost rates, but uses whatever is the established cost rate for the institution. Most educational institutions and I think all community colleges have their indirect cost rates negotiated by Health and Human Services. Although I have not spoken with them, people tell me that are very supportive. But because they want to be sure to use the most current college information and because of the work involved, they won't negotiate a rate until they know that an institution is going to be recommended for an award. It can start when an institution hears from the program officer at NSF or any other federal agency so it can be done in parallel while you are working on your questions. You can use the current "safe rate" which would then be used in the first grant. Then the full indirect rate can be used in future submissions.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Does NSF suggest a “stand-in” indirect cost rate we should use when preparing our budget if our institution does not yet have a federally-negotiated indirect cost rate?

Yes, the Division of Grants and Agreements considers 10% to be a “safe” rate to use if your college’s indirect costs are based on a broad spectrum of college overhead costs. Increasingly, however, many negotiated rates are based on salaries and wages only or salaries and wages plus benefits. When the indirect cost is based on personnel costs, the percentage is generally much higher.

--Dr. Elizabeth J. Teles, NSF Program Officer

Additional note by Elaine Craft, SC ATE:

With either approach, the sum of direct costs in your budget that are in the negotiated rate is the amount to be entered into the budget form to calculate indirect costs. Note, however, that if the institution’s broader overhead costs have been used in determining the negotiated indirect cost rate (vs. personnel costs), there are budget items within your NSF proposal budget that must not be included in the calculation. Participant support, equipment and subaward amounts must be deleted from total direct costs when determining the base to be used for the indirect cost calculation in the budget form.

Also, once your institution obtains a federally-negotiated indirect cost rate, that rate must be applied. If the rate is different than the “stand-in” rate you used initially, your budget will need to be adjusted accordingly before a funding award is made.

Are there situations where indirect costs can be charged on equipment purchased for a grant?

The definition of equipment is important to understand.  Also, the expenses that are specified in your institution’s indirect cost rate must be understood. For an NSF grant, to be considered equipment, you need to be purchasing single items costing  greater than $5,000 each.  For smaller-cost items that you may be referring to as equipment, these items should be budgeted as Other Direct Costs: Materials and Supplies.  If your indirect cost rate is calculated on modified direct costs (that is direct costs minus equipment and participant support and subawards in excess of $25,000), then the items in Materials and Supplies will be included in the indirect cost calculation. Many institutions now have their indirect calculated only on salaries and wages plus benefits. Then you only calculate indirect on Line C.  Your institution should know whether it is on salaries and wages or modified direct costs. So they will have to tell you. Anything on the equipment line generally cannot have indirect for NSF purposes.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

If you use a de minimus indirect rate of 10% and then negotiate a much higher rate, will you have to cut your planned expenses to accommodate the new rate or can you request a proportionate increase in the budget?

It depends on when the negotiated rate is determined. If the project receives the grant award prior to the determination being made, the de minimus rate will apply for the life of the grant. If a federally-negotiated rate is determined for the institution prior to the award, then the budget will have to be adjusted accordingly. It is a timing issue. If the college applies for a federally-negotiated indirect cost rate after being recommended for funding but the time it takes for that negotiation to result in a rate determination is longer than the time it takes for the grant award to be made, then the college will have the de minimus rate until they submit another proposal in the future.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Indirect Costs

What are indirect costs?

Indirect costs are costs that an organization incurs for common or joint objectives that cannot be readily and specifically identified with a particular grant project or other institutional activity. Many applicants request funds for indirect costs that they incur while carrying out the work of a project under a federally funded grant program. Such costs are usually charged to the grant as a percentage of some or all of the direct cost items in the applicant’s budget. This percentage is called the indirect cost rate. With the exception of some limitations imposed by federal law or regulation, indirect costs are allowable costs.

How does a grantee obtain an indirect cost rate?

To obtain an indirect cost rate, a grantee must submit an indirect cost proposal to its cognizant agency within 90 days after the date the Department issues the Grant Award Notification (GAN). (See Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR) at 34 CFR 75.560 (b))

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has assigned to certain federal departments and agencies the responsibility for determining indirect cost rates for specific organizations. The department or agency that determines an organization’s indirect cost rate is generally the federal department or agency that provides the organization with the most direct funding. The agency that issues an indirect cost rate agreement to an organization is known as the cognizant agency for indirect cost negotiation. Non-profit organizations, institutions of higher education, commercial organizations and state agencies should determine which federal agency provides the preponderance of their funding in order to determine which agency should negotiate their indirect cost rate. The Department of Health and Human Services determines rates for most universities and colleges receiving grant funds from the Department of Education. (OMB Circular A-21, (G) (11) (a))

Information about obtaining and indirect cost rate determination from the US Department of Health and Human Services
https://rates.psc.gov/fms/dca/negrev4.pdf

The Department of the Interior is NOT typically the agency two-year colleges will contact for an indirect cost rate determination, but this link provides some helpful definitions that will be applicable to getting an indirect cost rate determination from the US Department of Health and Human Services
https://www.doi.gov/ibc/services/finance/indirect-cost-services/faqs

Guide from US Dept. of Labor (again, this is not likely the agency two-year colleges will contact for an indirect cost rate determination, but DOL provides useful information and samples)
https://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/boc/costdeterminationguide/cdg.pdf
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Industry

How important is industry involvement within my proposal?

Yes. Almost from the inception of the program, ATE has been keeping information about how many people graduate from the program. How many of them get jobs before they graduate? Within the first three months after? Within the first six months after? The agency has data to show which programs are placing the most students. If a program is placing a lot of students, it's likely to get additional funding.

--TNET Videos

Institutional Support

What level of institutional support does the project need?

Your college needs to provide the appropriate level of administrative approval for the faculty team application that will help insure institutional support during the grant proposal development process, and thereafter, if funded, to promote project success; allow two STEM faculty members the time to participate in the three-day January workshop; reimburse faculty travel expenses for the January workshop, and then seek reimbursement for those travel expenses (up to $1200 for a two-person team) thereafter.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Interim

Since we are going through a transition in leadership at our campus, do we need to do anything other than create a new account in Fastlane for our interim President?

No. You just need to ensure that the chief executive officer of your college is on record with NSF. Updating your college’s registration with Fastlane should take care of that.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Internships

We have in our budget money for interns. Is this allowable?

It is my understanding that participant support dollars for student interns is OK as long as it isn’t called or considered a scholarship (money can’t be paid to the college but directly to students)…and, of course, the proposal needs to make a case for how this may be sustained when the project ends. I have worked in recent years with geospatial technology projects in both Colorado and California that provided grant-supported internships for students that were included in NSF ATE project budgets. I would encourage including an evaluation activity to determine the extent to which employers who benefit from interns under this program would be willing to pay for interns in the future. Often when employers discover the value added of having these uniquely prepared students working in their facilities, they decide to make it a permanent opportunity…at their expense.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

IRB

I remember hearing that we need to show that we had IRB review of our proposal. Do you have a template letter that we can use as a model?

Does your college have an IRB? An IRB policy and procedure in place? The IRB requirement is more than just a letter…the institution needs to have a process in place and to follow that process. The IRB “letter” that will be requested by the NSF should your proposal be recommended for funding is the end-product of following an IRB process of review and determination regarding the proposed grant.

a. If you have an IRB process in place, just follow your college procedure for proposal review. Once your proposal has been reviewed, you will receive some documented determination from that review.

b. If you do not have an IRB process in place, the college needs to either establish an IRB process for the college, or you need to find an institution with an IRB process in place to review your proposal and provide that determination for you. If your institution wants to establish an IRB process, I can send you information developed by our college to guide your college’s development process. It takes creating a policy (often requiring Board of Directors or an equivalent approval), a procedure for implementing the policy, and “Templates” for use in adhering to the process; e.g., an application for review, and a letter indicating the determination for the proposal. Proposals are determined to be exempt or non-exempt. Exempt means exempt from further review (not exempt from review). Most ATE projects are exempt. How all this gets done varies from institution to institution. Once established, however, the process can be relatively simple for grant proposals in the community college environment. For research universities, especially when dealing with underage youth/children and in areas of medicine and psychology, the process can be quite involved and take months both initially and with follow-up reviews. The IRB requirement was established by the Federal Government to protect human subjects involved in research projects. So the primary purpose of a pre-funding review is to consider whether or not a proposed project poses any risk to participants in terms of privacy and physical or emotional “well-being.”

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

We do not have an IRB. How should we answer the question about Human Subjects (GPG II.D.7)in the proposal?

Leave the box unchecked. As soon as you get your proposal submitted, contact your mentor to discuss setting up an IRB at your college. IRB approval is not required for proposal submission; however, it is required in order to be funded. You should prepare to have this done after proposal submission to be prepared for moving to the funding stage...think positive! Some wait until they are contacted by NSF saying that they are on track to get an award, but that only works if the IRB is already in place and can respond quickly to a request for review.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

I have been told that I need to develop an IRB in order to interview students. Where could I find examples of this form?

Mentor-Connect does not have any sample forms for this particular request. Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for your project was required by NSF prior to funding. IRB review is typically an internal function at a college or university, and forms for additional IRB approval for a specific evaluation activity will be unique to the IRB that assumed responsibility for the project’s review. The college’s IRB procedures should indicate how to request review for an additional evaluation activity that was not initially included in the proposal and associated evaluation plan. However, if student interviews were included in the evaluation plan when IRB approval was obtained, then no additional approval should be necessary unless the approval included a statement that further review for such specific evaluation activities is required. If your college obtained IRB approval for the project from an external entity (e.g., another college or university), then that organization’s IRB will need to be contacted for additional review and approval for an evaluation activity that involves human subjects.

----Elaine Craft, SC ATE

IRB Review

Do we only need the IRB review if NSF selects us for funding and therefore we do not need to include the letter with our submission?

You are correct. No IRB review determination is submitted with the proposal. However, you will be asked about IRB review on one of the proposal forms in Fastlane. If you have had your proposal reviewed already by the time it is submitted, you check “yes” when asked about this as you complete the forms associated with the proposal. If not, you check “no.” Whether you answered “yes” or “no,” if your proposal is being considered for funding, you will at that time be asked for the IRB determination for the project. The value of getting the IRB determination done before you submit or before you hear from NSF regarding the outcome of the proposal is that you will be in a position to send the form to NSF immediately when it is requested. If you wait to hear from NSF before requesting IRB review, then you will have to deal with the turn-around time for getting an IRB determination for the project. Program Officers like to hear back from you within a week or two once they contact you stating an interest in funding your proposal.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

IT

Would an IT tech be considered "computer services"?

If it is an IT project, then this person would probably be under Section B to directly support the project and students. If however this is support that the college requires department users to pay directly, then it can be under computer services. If it is just what everyone uses by asking, then it is expected to be covered under indirect.

--Dr. Elizabeth J. Teles, NSF Program Officer

Letter

Can a current mentor write a letter for a mentee's proposal?

Yes, a mentor may provide a letter if there are ways that he/she will support the project if it is funded. As you know, letters that don’t involve commitment are not very useful and don’t win points with reviewers. Perhaps the letter could state some connectivity to and support from the mentor as an expert who will provide mentoring and/or technical support going forward…something like that. The bottom line is that if the mentor will help the mentees if they get funded, a letter is an appropriate way to communicate this to reviewers. The fact that the writer of the letter is the applicant's Mentor-Connect Mentor should not be a barrier.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Mentor

What can we do if my mentor and my team don’t see eye to eye?

Contact the Mentor-Connect project team for resolution c/o mentor-connect@fdtc.edu or by calling 843-676-8540.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Can I provide any input on the kind of person I would like as a mentor?

This should not be necessary; however, if there is something that you think the Mentor-Connect team should know about you/your college when mentors are assigned, please make a note about this on your application.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

How are mentors assigned?

The Mentor-Connect team will make assignments once participants have been selected.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

How do I get a mentor?

Apply and you may be selected for the cohort of potential grantees who will be assigned an ATE mentor.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

What if my mentor is in a different field than my area of expertise and proposed project?

Most of what you need to know to prepare a competitive proposal is not subject specific, and your ATE mentor can help you connect with subject-area expertise if needed.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

What types of projects are most likely to be chosen for mentoring?

Priorities will be potential PIs from underrepresented populations in STEM and rural colleges or projects that address the challenges of technician education in rural America. Applicants from the Pacific Northwest will also be given special consideration in Year 1 of the project. Each year, the project will focus on a different geographic region to help minimize travel costs to the workshop.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

When will I know if I have a mentor?

Notification will be made in November.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Will I be eligible for continued mentoring if my project is funded?

It is anticipated that mentors will continue to be available not only for those who are funded but also to assist those whose proposals were not funded for revision and a second submission.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Will my mentor help me brainstorm and write the proposal? Help define the ideas for the proposal?

Brainstorm, yes. Write, no; however, your mentor will provide feedback on what you write. It is important that proposals be original, that the writing style be unique to you/your institution, and that the proposal reflects your vision and personal approach to advancing technician education.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

What is the effect of dealing with a mentor instead of an NSF program director?

Mentors can answer a lot of questions and they know when to refer the questions to the program directors.

--Dennis Faber, Mentor-Connect

Mentor-Connect

Does participating in Mentor-Connect give us a better shot at funding?

Yes, there will be a higher probably of funding because the instruction and mentoring assistance your team receives can reduce the kinds of mistakes that prevent funding and help you address the nuances of the program in a way that will make your proposal more competitive.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Is it okay for us to mention in our proposal that we are part of Mentor-Connect?

Yes. This is an ATE initiative with which you are working, and the SC ATE Center (home of Mentor-Connect) is a national ATE Center whose resources you are using. We will be happy to provide a letter for your proposal if you wish offering to help you disseminate project outcomes, link your faculty to relevant faculty development opportunities via www.TeachingTechnicians.org, and continue to provide mentoring support to maximize your project outcomes.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Will the mentors and/or Mentor-Connect encourage ATE to fund these projects?

No. The NSF uses a merit review process that has long been the “gold standard” among federal funding agencies for merit-based, bias-free review. Mentor-Connect will absolutely not attempt to influence the funding decision process. Once submitted, proposals will be funded or not funded based on their own merit, available funds, and alignment with NSF and ATE program priorities.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Non-paid Personnel

If we have other individuals who are working on the project as senior personnel, can they be in the grant without getting paid? Would we still include bio-sketches for them?

Yes, they can work without pay. And, yes, you should include biographical sketches for all senior personnel. Do not list these people in the budget or mention them in the budget justification in the salary category. Listing a person with $0 salary in the budget is no longer allowed (as it is viewed as voluntary cost-sharing). It is desirable for senior personnel to get some compensation as reviewers may question their commitment to the project if they aren’t being compensated. An exception is personnel who are not eligible for release time such as an administrator or recruiter but whose involvement will be critical to the success of the project. If including senior personnel without pay, I would suggest that you include travel and conference registration funds for these people to attend the ATE PI Conference or to conduct dissemination (make presentations) on behalf of the project. This way, you are doing something to support and encourage their involvement.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Not Chosen

What if my project and application are not chosen for mentoring this cycle? Should I go ahead anyway? Is there someone from Mentor-Connect who can give advice/guidance?

A second cohort of colleges/STEM faculty teams will be selected for Year 2 of the project. Those who apply and are not chosen in Year 1 will be given priority consideration in Year 2 provided the applicant fully met the criteria for being selected in Year 1, and compliance with the criteria can be reaffirmed for the following year (e.g., college support). In the interim, online resources including instructional webinars and some limited mentor consultation with Mentor-Connect project staff or ATE mentor volunteers will be available to assist those who want to proceed with grant proposal development and submission.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Overload

How do I handle faculty overload pay?

Basically NSF rules do not allow any overload pay except for the very special cases listed in the ATE program solicitation.

--Dr. Elizabeth J. Teles, NSF Program Officer

Participant Support

Will it be a red flag if we do not have any money allocated in the participant support category? Our project is mainly going to be working with a wide variety of our internal faculty members.

No, participant support isn’t essential or expected if the project isn’t serving people who don’t work for your institution or students who qualify as participants. If you are working with faculty and other personnel at your institution, none would be eligible for participant support. You don’t want money in the participant support budget category that you can’t use because it is almost impossible to move that money out of that category, and NSF approval is required to do so.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Partnering

I want to know if partnering with other colleges across state lines for the ATE is appropriate or not.

Partnering across state lines is often appropriate and can broaden the impact of your work.  The quality of any partnership is what is most important.  A few questions you may want to consider:  Do you have a shared vision for the project? Is there a high probability for win-win outcomes?  Is the potential partner willing and capable of fully engaging in the work of the project?  Have initial communications with the potential partner been easy or problematic?
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Part-time

Is there anything to preclude the involvement of a part-time instructor in our grant? Can he be a co-PI? If not a co-PI would he be a senior personnel or would we have to write him in as a consultant?

Yes, it is fine to include a part-time/adjunct faculty member as a co-PI or senior personnel for your grant. It is generally not advisable, however, to have a part-time faculty serving as PI because you need someone in that position with the authority at the college to take care of activities such as initiating purchase requisitions. There are PI tasks that require that a person be a permanent employee. Also, I encourage people to only include adjuncts with some history and “proven record” with the college. Good candidates are those with a vested interest in the institution, programs, and students who are likely to be with you for the duration of the project and possibly beyond. The consultant role isn’t likely to be appropriate for a faculty member who is employed by your institution. At our institution, for example, if someone has been classified as an employee at any point in time, we can’t later hire them consultants. I think this relates to IRS rules about the distinctions between employees and consultants.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Is it OK to have project staff who are all part-time faculty?

It is risky…and just not a good project management plan. One part-timer on the team, maybe, but not all part-timers. There is no “rule” at NSF about this, but I don’t think reviewers (or Program Officers) will be convinced that the project is on solid footing from a management stand point. The problem with part timers is they have no college authority (nor can they be given any). This means you will have project personnel who can’t have budget authority for the grant, initiate purchase requisitions, etc. They may not have access to college departments and personnel necessary to run a good project. It will be harder to book meeting space, they are not likely to be given any Fastlane access other than minimal notifications. Part-timers are typically confined to working through their supervisor…and they don’t get paid for extra time spent doing this (and the supervisor may not be motivated to be helpful if the part-timer is the one getting the money to do the grant).

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Password

Does NSF have my FastLane password?

The institution sets the password. NSF won't know it if you lose it.

--Dr. Elizabeth J. Teles, NSF Program Officer

PI

One of our faculty PIs is serving in an administrative capacity on an interim basis (beginning March 15) and will possibly be applying for the permanent position when appropriate. Does this preclude her/him from participating in the Mentor Connect program or submitting the NSF/ATE proposal as a Principal Investigator?

From a grants administration perspective, if a project is “staffed” with someone who holds a purely administrative position, it usually isn’t possible to provide “release time” for him or her to do grant work. The project just becomes one more thing to do on the administrator’s plate. Both NSF and reviewers like to see a work plan and budget that provides dedicated time to the project. That said, NSF ATE regularly funds proposals for which a PI or co-PI is an administrator. The main thing is to have enough personnel working on the project who can be provided with dedicated time to see that it gets done.

My advice, therefore, is to definitely keep the potential administrator involved. If the person becomes an administrator before or during the project, this can actually aid in conducting a successful project because the person will thoroughly understand the vision and work plan for the project; and, the person may be in a position to remove road blocks, facilitate release time for faculty, approve purchases, etc. Also, we believe that conducting these projects teaches and/or improves administrative skills (which is another of our Mentor-Connect objectives). However, I recommend adding another faculty member to the team who can be given time to work on the project (with some release time money in the budget). Alternately, add a staff member as a co-PI or “Senior Personnel” for the project if that makes sense (e.g., if the project has a strong recruitment component, perhaps engaging a part-time recruiter may be what is needed; if curriculum development is involved, then a curriculum or instructional designer may be the talent that is needed). Having only one person with dedicated time for the project may not be viewed by reviewers as enough to ensure the project’s success, so build a team to get the work done.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

What should we do if a PI leaves the project unexpectedly?

Changing the PI on a grant requires Program Officer approval.

  1. The process is “officially” handled through Fastlane, but needs to be approved by the Program Officer one-on-one before a request is submitted via Fastlane. Program Officers are notified of requests submitted via Fastlane (it alerts them to take action), and most of them don’t like surprises. It is a courtesy to seek informal approval prior to seeking formal approval for the change.
  2. The Program Officer will want an explanation of why the change is necessary and a bio of the person who will replace the departing PI, and the credentials need to “convince” the PI that the new person has the right background to take over leadership of the project (preferably another STEM faculty member, but a case can be made for another leader, especially if it is someone who was already working with the project and contributing to its success).
  3. The information in step 3 should be sent to the Program Officer via email with a request to submit a change of PI via Fastlane
  4. When you hear back from the Program Officer, you can go into Fastlane and select the change of PI option from the “Program Officer approved” list of change requests.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

When should I contact my Program Officer?

A Program Officer’s job is to oversee and hear about the scientific and technology related aspects of your award. Think of your Program Officer like your NSF Department Chair or Dean. In most cases if there are questions about the conduct of the award and what is allowed or not allowed or things like annual report timing and extensions, your Program Officer should be your point of contact. Your Program Officer may occasionally refer you to others at NSF, but start with your Program Officer. The one MAJOR EXCEPTION to this is in drawing down of grant funds by your college’s financial office. Each state has a contact at NSF that your financial office can use to answer questions about drawing down funds (http://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dga/docs/liaison.pdf).
--Dr. Elizabeth Teles, NSF Program Officer Division of Undergraduate Education

Must someone be a US Citizen to serve as a PI on a grant (and receive compensation from the grant)?  The person in question is currently in the US on a student visa but will soon have a work visa.

According to the PAPPG (NSF 16-1)Except where a program solicitation establishes more restrictive eligibility criteria, individuals and organizations
in the following categories may submit proposals:

Unaffiliated Individuals  Scientists, engineers or educators in the US and US citizens may be
eligible for support, provided that the individual is not employed by, or affiliated with, an organization, and the
individual:
• has demonstrated the capability and has access to any necessary facilities to carry out the project; and
• agrees to fiscal arrangements that, in the opinion of the NSF Division of Grants & Agreements, ensure
responsible management of Federal funds.
Unaffiliated individuals must contact the appropriate program prior to preparing and submitting a proposal.

It is my understanding per the PAPPG if the individual meets this above-mentioned criteria, they could serve as PI and received compensation.

--L. Rashawn Farrior, NSF Grants & Agreements Specialist

Is there any guidance available about budgeting to hire a project coordinator to run an ATE grant?

It depends on the type of work that the project expects to accomplish. If the bulk of the work is writing and implementing curriculum, for example, the personnel time should be going to support the faculty time required to do this work. Faculty have the content and teaching expertise that is required for the scope of work. If the project has a lot of outreach and activities that require coordination (e.g., launching an internship program, running camps, providing faculty development activities), then including a part-time project coordinator or similar may be the best strategy for success. There is too much work to be done that doesn’t fit in a faculty member’s limited between-class time.
Program Officers and reviewers will not likely respond well to a request for grant-funded full-time positions except for the largest endeavors such as ATE Centers. On the other hand, most understand that faculty really don’t have time to manage a plethora of logistics while teaching, and the project is more likely to be successful if a non-teaching staff member can help with the leg work, record keeping, etc. When a coordinator is included, the proposal needs to be explicit in outlining the work of the coordinator. Even if the PI or Co-PI has the time to do the work, perhaps the faculty with content expertise just aren’t good with record-keeping, details and logistics work (and have no experience doing this work). A part-time recruiter, internship coordinator, etc. can make the difference in success or failure of the project.
Sustainability is always of concern, too, when it comes to hiring personnel. In planning personnel for a grant proposal, consider what may need to be sustained at project end and how that ties to the person being hired. Some activities and positions may not need to be sustained. If a part-timer is hired by the project for a specific scope of work, it may be OK if the person leaves thereafter. For example, a project may provide faculty development to prepare faculty to teach a new technology. Once the faculty are trained and have integrated the technology into their courses, the training has done its job and may not need to continue. A coordinator who helps recruit and register faculty for the training, communicate with participants about the event(s), register the participants, ensure that participants receive a stipend or travel reimbursement (if planned), contract for food and beverage service for the workshop, arrange for workshop materials to be printed or uploaded on computers, etc. may be essential to the project’s success. However, that person need not be retained when the project ends. In this example, faculty would struggle to do all of this work and still teach and handle other grant management responsibilities, including perhaps developing and delivering the workshop content.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

PI Budget

Printing

Our college has a print shop. Printing charges are considered indirect costs for every department. Would a chargeback to the grant be allowable for any printing done by our print shop?

Printing that is specifically for the project (for participant use, for dissemination of project information and outcomes, or for conducting “the work” of the project, e.g., printing a copy of your grant proposal or a poster for your exhibit at the ATE PI Conference) can be charged to your grant. 

Our college, too, has a print shop, and costs are allocated to departments as is the case at your institution.  We have arranged for grant-specific printing to be charged to the right grant account.  When you set up your grant budget at the college, you will have budget codes assigned to all categories of expenses.  One of those codes will cover printing costs.  You can use that code to indicate to both the print shop and the college business office which expenses “belong” to the grant.  The code you use will tell them that the expense does not “belong” to your department or another account at the college.  We are diligent to use the right codes when making print requests so that the business office has no difficulty assigning costs to the right budget and budget category.  I also have someone who follows up to ensure that all costs charged to the grant were authorized for that expense code.   

Caution:  Always consider whether or not you would be doing the printing if you did not have the grant. If the answer is “yes” or “probably” then it isn’t advisable to charge it to the grant, and the cost should be covered by departmental funds or indirect costs collected by the college.  For example,  assume it is your practice to print out the course syllabus for your class and distribute it to students on the first day of the semester.  Now you have an NSF ATE grant, and your project involves a curriculum modification.  The curriculum modification results in changes to your course syllabus.  You make the changes and then print the syllabus for distribution to students at the beginning of the next semester.  In this case, you probably should not charge the printing of the syllabus to your grant. This is an activity that you would have done anyway.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Proposal

What makes a proposal competitive?

The most competitive proposals and the ones that usually get awarded are the ones that have a good relationship with industry. It's important because we want the graduates to be able to enter the workforce and hit the ground running. So if the proposal works with industry ahead of time and if they get industry input into what skills are necessary for that particular job then the proposals can develop the curriculum in accordance with industry so that the students will have the necessary skills to graduate.

Sometimes industry will provide internships – we like to see that. It’s rather encouraged. Sometimes the university itself will try and support the internships as well. Some are paid, some are unpaid. It helps tremendously as you can guess because the students get the hands on experience during the internship.

--David Campbell, TNET Videos

Publishing

Can you give me an example of when I might need funds for publishing my findings or work?

Projects typically prepare exhibits to display information and outcomes of their project at the annual NSF ATE PI Conference and other conferences and workshops. Purchasing a pop-up display with project information such as large-scale photographs and graphics are expenses that should be included in the budget. In addition, organizations like the American Society for Engineering Education charge for publishing in the proceedings of the organization’s annual conference.

--MATEC Mentor-Connect Budget Webinar

Readiness

What are the most important things I need to find out (from NSF and/or my college) or do (at my college) before I complete a Mentor-Connect Application and attend the January workshop?

Read the NSF ATE solicitation; complete the Readiness Self-Assessment to confirm you understanding of the solicitation; determine the focus for project development and the industry need that will be addressed; share your ideas with and secure support from appropriate administrators at your college.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Reapply

What if I work with a mentor but don’t receive funding, will I be automatically eligible for the next cohort? Will I have to reapply?

It is anticipated that Mentor-Connect participants who are not successful with their first proposal will be provided with Mentor-Connect support to reapply. Each case will be addressed separately to determine the appropriate level of support to be provided the following year. Much will depend on the participant’s level of engagement during the initial proposal development process and the feedback on proposal strengths and weaknesses that will be provided by the NSF. Reapplying may or may not be required.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Records

How long should a college retain NSF financial (and related) records after a grant has ended?

In general, records should be kept for 3 years from the time of submission of the final report, but there are exceptions if there is an audit underway.  Specifics are located in the NSF Grant Policy Manual NSF 05-131 http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/manuals/gpm05_131/

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Register

When should the PI's and co-PI's be registered?

Reviewers think it is really strange if you put that folks will be PIs in the proposal and they don't show up on the cover sheet. Register them very early.

--Dr. Elizabeth J. Teles, NSF Program Officer

Release Time

For the senior personnel other than the PI – they are 12 month –is this release time or is it considered a stipend for assisting with the project?

If the person is being reassigned to the grant for x% of his or her time, the college can take that % of the person’s salary and fringe benefits. It should not be a stipend in addition to regular pay as that will be like overload pay which is not allowed.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

I am seeking some clarification about the Senior Personnel line item and how that will work. We are requesting a one class release time for our PI (which is 20% for a 9 month faculty) during the academic year (Y1 & Y2) and summer month pay (1 month Y1 and .5 month Y2). I know that during the summer we will pay the PI the allotted amount. But what happens with the funds for the academic months? Does it go back to the College so they recoup the costs of having lost a faculty 20% of the time?

With 20% release time, the college can take 20% of faculty member’s salary and fringe benefits from grant funds; or, if adjunct faculty are hired to cover classes that the faculty member would have taught without the release time, then the grant money can reimburse the college for the cost of having adjunct faculty teach the course or courses. CAN’T DO BOTH, it is an either/or. In either case, however, the college gets the money and not the faculty member.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Our Co-PI was an adjunct when we wrote our grant proposal, but she is now full-time and hence more expensive. A. Can we funnel money from somewhere else toward faculty costs? If so, are there areas I can't touch? B. Is it better to give her less time off? C. Would there be problems with classifying her compensation as a special assignment stipend when I and the other Co-PI both are receiving leave time? D. I assume that once I figure out what changes to make to the budget, I need to notify the program director. Or, should I notify him before I make any changes?

A.  You may move money from one budget category to another up to 10% of the total award without specific permission from NSF (categories correspond to alphabet letters on NSF budget form, A, B, C, etc.). The exception to this rule is that you may NOT move any money from the participant support budget category without NSF approval.
B.  No, if you can fund her originally planned amount of time off, that is preferable.  People need adequate time to do grant-funded work or outcomes may suffer.
C.  Special assignment stipend is OK, but you must be careful that this isn't overload pay.  Better to pay her extra only in the summer if you will be putting her in overload status otherwise.  You must keep careful time and effort reports for anyone getting grant support either as a % of their salary and fringe benefits or as release time.  The total amount of time the person is working can't exceed 100% of a normal full-time faculty load from all pay sources.
D.  While it isn't essential that you get NSF approval for a budget transfer to accommodate the pay difference associated with your Co-PI being hired into a permanent, full-time college employee position (assuming this change will be <~$20,000 which is your maximum flexible transfer amount), I think it would be nice to let your Program Officer know that this change has taken place (which I consider good news because that means that the NSF investment in personnel time for your co-PI is developing someone who will be in a position to do more in the future) and that you will be making a budget adjustment to accommodate her increased compensation.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Report

When will I need to submit an annual report to the NSF?

You may submit annual reports to NSF up to 90 days in advance of the end of the grant year. Program officers prefer to have reports, requests for non-funded extensions, etc. at least six weeks before the deadline. Try to submit reports more than six weeks in advance and not more than two months in advance of a deadline.

Here's an example: Last week (June 30, 2013)I submitted the annual report for the Mentor-Connect grant. The first year ends August 31, 2013. As a result, NSF has now "released" Year 2 funding for this grant (although we won’t actually spend Year 2 money until Sept. 1 or thereafter, we now have access to Year 2 money if we need it). This is very helpful when you need assurance of continued funding for faculty release time, purchasing airline tickets for an event in the future (e.g., the ATE PI Conference in October), or contracts that must be signed in advance (for example, for the Mentor-Connect grant, I am currently signing contracts to secure meeting spaces for events in 2014). The new NSF reporting system, www.Research.gov , has a “dashboard” that tells you when reports are due…very helpful! This reporting system is new (used in 2013 for the first time). You can check in to the system at any time. In the upper left corner, you log in as a NSF grantee with the same ID name and number you use for Fastlane. "

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Is there a sample template of what the program report looks like so we know what to expect in the coming year?

A program report template and tutorial are available at research.gov with your NSF Fastlane login.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

When is the report due for annual reports?

The due date is 90 days prior to the anniversary date of the grant award. The report is past due on the anniversary date. This means that the PI has a 90-day time frame in which to submit the report. PIs are expected to submit their first annual report 9 months into the project but not later than the anniversary date. This means that the first “annual” report will not cover a full year of work. In subsequent years, however, information for the preceding 12 months can be covered making it a “true” annual report. Program Officers prefer reports to be submitted sooner rather than later in the 90-day available time frame as they need time to read and approve reports. Also, on occasion, reports are not accepted and are returned to the PI for additional work, so time is required to handle this contingency within the 90-day reporting period for the project.

----Elaine Craft, SC ATE

When is my annual report due?  In Research.gov, I see a date listed as “Days Until Report is Overdue.”  How do I know when my report is due and should be submitted?

The project “due” date is set 90 days before the “past-due” date. Thus, there is not really a single report due date but rather a “reporting period” that begins on the “due” date and extends from the “due” date until the last day before the report is “past due.” You can submit an annual report any time in that time frame and be compliant. It is extremely important that you not be “past due” with an NSF report.

If you have a continuing grant award (your grant award indicates your year 1 budget amount and not the total award amount), then you will want to submit your report earlier in the report-due period. NSF also makes standard grant awards (frequently the type of grant award made in the small grants for institutions new to ATE category) where the entire award amount is made available to the project at the time the award is made. With either type of award, annual reporting is a requirement. The timing of your report submission is especially critical with a continuing award, however, because your next year’s project money will not be released until the Program Officer has approved your annual report for the current year. Program Officers need time to read and approve your report, and they appreciate getting them sooner rather than later. Also, if there are questions about the report or issues to be resolved, the PI needs time to attend to this.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

What is expected in the annual report that a PI is required to submit to NSF?

NSF expects all projects to submit an annual report no earlier than 90 days before the award date and no later than the award date. Thus they send you a message that your report is "due" 90 days before the award date, but it does not become "overdue" until the award anniversary date itself. Most projects wait until close to the award date to submit in order to submit a full year of data.  However, it helps Program Officers if reports are submitted weeks vs. days prior to the “past due” date. The report is submitted using a template provided at research.gov. Please be sure that your report is informative (usually 4 to 6 word pages before you cut and paste into FastLane) and include sufficient information for your Program Officer to understand what you are accomplishing and what impact your project is having. Please don’t include names of any individual students for privacy reasons but you should include summary data about them and their successes. If you wish to refer to some particular student you might use something like “Female Hispanic Student 1” or “Male African American Student 2”. Also the reporting section only allows ASCII characters so don’t use bulleted items as FastLane and research.gov convert many formatting symbols from Word such as bullets and curly quotes into a series of strange characters that make the reports almost unreadable, so it would be best to convert to text before cutting and pasting. You can print and check for problems of this type before submitting. A report from your project evaluator should be uploaded as a supporting document.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Salary

NSF policy states that we cannot charge more than two months’ salary to the grant in any one year unless it is disclosed in the proposal budget, justified in budget justification and specifically approved by NSF in the award notice.

The NSF guidelines typically apply only to faculty on research grants at universities (this “rule” is based on the research university environment when graduate students are doing much of the work). For ATE grants, where the PI, co-PI and senior personnel are the ones doing the work on the grant, you may pay what is outlined in your approved grant budget. You are not limited to two months. HOWEVER, you may NOT pay faculty overloads who are named as PI, co-PI or senior personnel on a grant except, perhaps, during summer months (for some reason, summer time is handled differently and doesn’t count). Faculty who work hours that are not covered by the person’s contract (e.g., a Saturday workshop) may receive compensation for that time and it not be considered overload pay, but your record keeping needs to be very precise. You may, however, pay other faculty overload pay to cover for someone who is grant supported but not anyone named in the grant. NSF is not flexible about not approving overload pay for grant-funded personnel during fall and spring semesters, no matter how “dire” the circumstances. If you have someone on the grant who does not get his or her release time, you just don’t take any money from the grant for that time period (and you don’t keep time and effort reports for the person for the time when the person was not provided with release time as that would be interpreted as “voluntary cost-sharing” which is prohibited).

Time and effort reports need to reflect time covered by the grant and no more. If the grant support for someone did not begin until October 1, you should not have time and effort reports dating before October 1.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

If I am not sure of someone's salary, can I just approximate it?

It is better to be accurate because several other costs such as fringe benefits and indirect costs will depend on the amount budgeted in the salary category for individuals. If the salaries are not accurate, neither will be the other linked costs. Also, only the normal salary for an individual may be paid with grant funds. A person’s salary may not be increased to match what is budgeted in the grant. Using the correct amount will make the budget more realistic. If annual salary increases are typical for your institution, however, you may budget a modest increase each year into the budget calculation for salaries based on the base rate at the time the proposal is submitted.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Schedule

If we want to change the timing of when an activity in the budget takes place i.e. summer to winter, do we need to ask permission?

No, as long as you complete the planned activity, this would not be considered a change in scope that would require a Program Officer’s approval. You should, however, be certain that your evaluator knows about the change so that the expectations for outcomes related to this activity can be aligned as delays can often have a ripple effect on other work planned in the grant.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Scholarship

Can the grant fund student scholarships?

The answer is "no." NSF ATE will allow other types of student support in the participant support budget category (e.g., food/refreshments for an event such as a "lunch and learn" program with industry, student travel to industry or professional meetings, stipends for serving as student recruitment ambassadors or mentors for other students, etc.) but not any expenses for tuition, fees or books. This is true no matter what the type of enrollment. NSF has another funding program, Scholarships in STEM (S-STEM), that is specifically designed to provide student scholarships.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Senior Personnel

I have a senior personnel who will be a workshop co-facilitator. I did not allocate any funds for this because this is part of his current job description. Is my thought process correct on this?

Correct. Also, do not name this person in the budget and do not budget any money for his/her time. No one should be named in the budget (by name or by position) unless money is being budgeted to support that person or position.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Small Grant Funding

We are considering changing our budget for review to $200,000 per year rather than spreading out $200,000 over 3 years. We want to go in as a regular project rather than "new to ATE." What would you suggest ?

Your team will more than double your chances of being funded if you stick with the small grants program for your first proposal. If the project plan can be broken into parts or stages, I would strongly urge you to reduce their scope of work and spread the activities, personnel, etc. over 2-3 years not to exceed a $200,000 total budget. The proposal can state the larger vision with this scope of work as a first step in achieving your larger vision. Perhaps you can develop a prototype for the larger idea? Pilot test something? It is always a good idea to do something credible to get your feet wet before diving into the deep end. In October, you can submit a second, larger project grant to continue working toward the larger vision. If you are willing to tackle your idea in stages, I recommend that you plan to do things first that are likely to produce quick impact and outcomes data. Goals or objectives that will take longer to accomplish can be tackled later. For example, the project might focus on program or curriculum innovation to improve first-year retention rates and/or help students achieve the first of a set of stackable credentials (e.g., a certificate that can lead to a degree). The larger project might then refine the first-year innovation and add a focus on graduation rates, adding a capstone course, internships, etc. to get students ready to enter the workforce. If you want to work with 10 industries, you could start by working with 3-4, and then expand to new industries later.

If reducing or changing the proposal to conform to “small grant” parameters does not seem feasible, and you think you have a strong, well-developed plan, then I would suggest trimming the budget to not more than $500,000 (total)…$450,000 seems to be a “sweet spot.” In my experience, projects with budgets $500,000 or less (total for 3 years) that are not small grants or planning grants seem to fit a niche and get funded more readily than the higher budget project grants. Smaller projects seem to be attractive to program officers and reviewers alike. Essentially, they can fund 2, $450,000 project grants for each $900,000 grant they fund. It spreads the “research risk” and the money more broadly. Smaller grants are usually easy to understand. They tend to be very targeted with a few very clear and achievable goals, equipment requests tend to be modest, etc. In essence, they are “worth taking a chance on.”

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Stipend

We have one PI and two co-Pi’s. They are committed to working on the project in the summer and during the academic year in addition to their regular teaching. The college will not be doing release time but instead paying a stipend (I think this will be equivalent to a 3 credit course) to the faculty. Will this work?

This will not work. Unless the faculty are doing project work on Saturdays, holidays or other times when they are not under contract to the college, a stipend will not be allowed in lieu of release time. NSF will consider a stipend in addition to the faculty member’s full-time contract pay as “overload” pay, and overload pay isn’t allowed.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Can ATE dollars be used to pay student stipends?

It depends on the purpose for which the stipend is to be used. If the purpose is for tuition, fees, books…the answer is likely “no,” as that would be the equivalent of a scholarship. (NSF has the S-STEM program designed to provide scholarships, so ATE doesn’t do that). If the stipend is for other purposes such as serving as a mentor or ambassador, offsetting a student’s travel costs to attend an event (high school outreach, a professional meeting), or for helping faculty with activities at a career fair or summer camp, then it is likely to be OK to use ATE participant support dollars to pay student stipends.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

We are looking to offer stipends to students to be ambassadors at events promoting our grant. Does this item go under participant support in our budget?

For students serving as ambassadors as you describe, stipends definitely belong in participant support.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Subaward

Where do I include my subaward information?

The subaward amount will be one line-item amount in your primary budget each year (and then it automatically totals for a cumulative budget). In your budget justification, you will explain the purpose of the subaward (a brief synopsis of what the subawardee will do for the project). The subawardee prepares and uploads a separate budget and budget justification for the scope of work that will be covered by the subaward. Please note that the subawardee’s budget will include an indirect cost rate applicable to that organization. You should exclude the subaward amount when calculating indirect costs. Other exclusions from indirect costs are participant support costs and equipment (this is also true for the subawardee as well). NSF does not allow indirect costs on these three items in a budget.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Should we pay the evaluator as a subaward or a subcontract? He’s registered in Fastlane, but wants us to do it as a subcontract. But we can’t do it as a subcontract, per state regulations, without doing an RFP and even if we did he’d not be the low bidder.

Either approach is acceptable to NSF, so you need to choose what works best for this situation and your college.  I recommend that the evaluator be hired on a consulting contract vs. including this service via a subaward (or subcontract).


*For more information, see Subawards in the Mentor-Connect resource collection.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Would the subaward need to identify their own PI and co-PI?

Yes, it is as if the subaward were a mini-project grant proposal of its own. The subaward will be for a very specific, well-defined scope of work that supports the overall project.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Summer Pay

Our faculty are on 9-month academic month contracts but sometimes also teach in the summer. How should we set up our budget?

Your best bet is to budget for all of their time in the summer (even if they do some work during the year, which they will need to do). The 2-month limit isn’t applied anymore. Keep in mind that the pay the faculty get will need to tie to time and effort reports, so if you are paying them for two months in the summer (or some portion of a two-month salary for summer, say ½) then the time and effort report must reflect the time worked during the time that money was paid.

NSF much prefers release time as they know the faculty need time to implement effective projects. If you can demonstrate that faculty are participating in weekend faculty development retreats or something like that, a stipend for the weekend time will probably be allowed, but you should be careful to explain the timing of the grant activity as outside their normal contract and working hours. Make it clear that any pay being received isn’t overload pay during regular working hours.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Supplemental Documents

We developed a logic model for our project to include in our ATE proposal, but we’ve run out of room within the 15 pages. Can this document be included in the Supplemental Documents to the proposal?

Yes, a logic model can be included in the Supplemental Documents.  Be aware, however, that reviewers are not required to read Supplemental Documents.  The good news is that most ATE panel reviewers do read this additional information. It is advisable to refer to the items included in the Supplemental Documents within the Project Description. This alerts the reviewer to items in the Supplemental Documents that could help them understand your project and proposal.  If possible, however, include an excerpt from the logic model in the Project Description, and then refer the reader to the full Logic Model in the Supplemental Documents. This is likely be even more helpful to the reviewer if you can’t fit the full logic model within your 15-page limit.  

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Synergistic Activities

How would you define synergistic activities as it relates to Community College faculty bio sketches? Can you please provide me some examples that would help our faculty who are working on these forms?

Synergistic activities can be anything that has prepared the person with skills that will be needed for the proposed project (e.g., person has worked on another grant-funded project at your institution or a partner institution so knows something about how to carry out a successful grant-funded project). Or, the person may be engaged in an activity that can be leveraged to maximize outcomes from the proposed project. Another example might a faculty member who volunteers for First Robotics, tutoring at the college, or perhaps works in admissions as an advisor several hours each week. If one of your grant goals is student success or recruitment, then this person would be engaged in activities that could enhance the activities planned in your project.

A sample “snipped” from a bio of a colleague is provided below.

Synergistic Activities
Innovation Coach, "Synergy: Research, Practice, Transformation" project, DUE #0903224, 2010-2012
AACC ATE focus group, April 2008
Timmonsville High School (SC) "High Schools That Work" Technical Assistant Visit, 2007.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Technical Education Programs

We are eager to get information on technical education programs and related materials for our use with all the required consent agreements. Will you please share that information?

Www.ATETV.org is a wonderful free resource and all videos may be downloaded and used free of charge…and you are encouraged to do so. If you need any assistance with downloading and using these videos, you may contact the producer at Pellet Productions, amanupelli@pelletproductions.com

The WGBH Pathways to Technology video may be used for educational purposes with attribution (which is built into the video if you show the video in its entirety). As long as you don’t sell, distribute, or change the video, it can be used without copyright infringement.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Ten-Year Rule

I am not sure we qualify for a grant because of the ten year rule. We had an award in 2002. Everyone that was around at that time has long since retired and our current financial office has some records showing financial transactions occurring in 2005. Does the ten-year requirement start with the award date or the grant completion date? The NSF Awards web search shows an estimated expiration of August 31, 2007. Based on this information, do you feel we have a chance of qualifying for a grant?

If the initial award date was > 10 years ago, applicants are eligible without regard to continuing funding dates thereafter for the duration of a single project. Thus, those who received an award notification in 2002 or before are eligible for a small grant in 2013 (a previous grant with a DUE # beginning with 02, 01, 99, etc.). Those who received an award notification in 2003 or before are eligible in 2014, etc.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Time and Effort Report

What do the time and effort reports look like? Do you write down time worked in hours?

There is no “official” time and effort reporting form, but most have the same essential information. There is a sample time and effort reporting form for a salaried person who reports time by % of total in our "Samples" resources. This form is used by any salaried person who is directly receiving NSF grant-paid salary or is being provided with release time (with the grant paying for replacement faculty). You will notice on the form that our college has several grants, so each person reports time only for the projects he or she is working on. The important thing is to account for 100% of a person’s time (e.g., 50% teaching, 50% grant work; or, 50% teaching, 25% administrative, 25% grant work). A part-time person can report time hourly and doesn’t have to show 100% of his or her time…the time just needs to reflect the work hours being paid for with grant money.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Timeline

Since my timeline was moved to three years, it has changed. Does my monitor have to approve this?

The timeline and work plan for your project may be changed throughout the project without NSF Program Officer approval provided the goals and scope of the project do not change substantially. You can do work at different times than proposed, but you should not do significantly different work than proposed. Specifically, do not eliminate or change goals or reduce the scope or focus of your work without your Program Officer’s approval. If a project was funded as a 3-year project when proposed as a 2-year project, your Program Officer expects the PI to make appropriate changes in the timeline and work plan so that they more realistically reflect the time it takes to implement and evaluate various activities outlined in the proposal. When reviewers and Program Officers recommend a longer time frame for a project, it is because they believe it will take more time to accomplish the proposed scope of work than was requested. In funding the project over the longer time frame, the PI has, in effect, been given permission to redo the project timeline and work plan for the new time frame (unless you have been told otherwise in correspondence from your Program Officer).

----Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Training

Transportation

Can we include in the budget some funding for low income students' transportation to our institution for summer sessions of their automotive degree program courses?

Yes, you can provide money for transportation for students (participant support, travel).

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Travel

If faculty is taking students on a bus to tour a facility, should the cost of the bus trip be under participant support or E. Travel?

In general the cost of the bus trip should be either under F Travel or F Other.

--Dr. Elizabeth J. Teles, NSF Program Officer

We have a line item in our budget for faculty professional development that serves two purposes: our faculty will attend workshops and seminars and they will travel to work with other colleges and high school faculty to share our program. We did not explicitly write in to this line item expenses for mileage. Can we charge that against the grant or will we need to ask for a modification to add a certain amount in for mileage?

Mileage charge as part of travel expense is permissible. No modification request is needed to include this as part of the overall travel costs charged for your faculty travel.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

I have a question regarding staying an extra night for the October ATE conference in DC. I was already on the east coast the weekend before the ATE conference because of a different conference. Rather than flying back to Spokane to be home for only 18 hours, I elected to stay on the east coast which meant I spent an extra night in DC compared to my CoPIs. More importantly, I stayed because my flight from New Jersey to DC, plus the extra night at the DC hotel, plus my return to Spokane after the conference was cheaper than the Spokane to DC plus return ticket I normally would have purchased. So, I saved my grant budget money by staying an extra night in DC. Our district travel office and our district budget office are concerned about this extra night and don't think we can charge it to the grant budget. Am I violating any NSF guidelines or policies by charging Monday night's hotel stay to the grant? During that Tuesday before the workshops started on the Wednesday of the conference, I worked on NSF related activities.

I often did this when it made financial sense, as is true of your situation. My institution required I write a justification and attach it to the travel reimbursement. As long as my supervisor signed off on it, TMCC and NSHE ( the state level of bureaucrats) were okay. Travel rules for NSF rely on your institution to follow their standard accounting procedures. --Jane Ostrander, TMCC

Another view: 

As always, I am neither an "official" voice of NSF nor an auditor, but here are my thoughts based on experience:

If your district travel guidelines consider the additional lodging, meals, etc. cost acceptable given the circumstances, NSF is likely to consider this an allowable expenditure as well as they typically defer to your institutional policies, with a few exceptions that govern all federal travel (e.g., a requirement that you fly on a US-based carrier when traveling abroad).  I know many situations where the same decision has been made by grant personnel who find themselves in back-to-back travel circumstances such as you describe.  I don't think NSF or others will find fault with your decision to stay in D.C. between events.  However, if the conference prior to the ATE PI Conference was not related to your NSF grant,  perhaps travel costs should be pro-rated between the two accounts that covered your travel expenses for each activity; e.g., half of the airfare to one and half to the other; half of the extra night's lodging to one and half to the other, or something like that that pro-rates the expense in a reasonable way.  This makes it fairly easy to document that the combined trip was less expensive than if each trip were made separately. --Elaine Craft, SC ATE

--Jane Ostrander, TMCC and Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Tuition

Can we pay student tuition for a pilot program? Would I put it in participant support?

No. You can’t pay student tuition with ATE grant funds. It is OK to pay student stipends for doing some specific project work (e.g., a student ambassador making a presentation at a high school or assisting with a summer STEM camp) or engaging in a project-related activity (a stipend to cover miscellaneous travel expenses to go to ATE PI Conference), but no payment to the student or college can be for the purpose of off-setting college tuition and fees.
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Vitae

Do I need vitae for “Other Personnel?”

You can include vitae for other personnel should you think that strengthens your proposal, but you do not have to include vitae or even a name.

--Dr. Elizabeth J. Teles, NSF Program Officer

Changes

What changes can I make in my project plan or scope of work after funding?

In some cases you may need to change some part of your project. Most of the time if it is small, you will not need to get permission. Use your judgment. But if it is major (e.g., eliminating one of your majors goals), then send your Program Officer an email so that he or she can discuss with you whether your institution will need to submit a “change in scope” request via FastLane and whether or not the Program Officer will be willing to approve the change. When in doubt, ASK.
--Dr. Elizabeth Teles, NSF Program Officer Division of Undergraduate Education

Grant

What is the difference in a continuing grant award and a standard grant award from NSF?  How do I know which one my college received?

NSF awards two types of grants:

Standard Grants, in which NSF agrees to provide a specific level of support for a specified period of time with no statement of NSF intent to provide additional future support without submission of another proposal, and

Continuing Grants, in which NSF agrees to provide a specific level of support for an initial specified period of time, usually a year, with a statement of intent to provide additional support of the project for additional periods, provided funds are available and the results achieved warrant further support.

(from http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2003/nsf032/032_5.htm)

If the award letter from NSF includes only the first year budget amount, it is a continuing award. If the award letter from NSF includes the total budget that was requested or subsequently approved following negotiations with a Program Officer for all years of the project, then it is a standard grant award.

What the NSF definitions above mean is that with a standard grant, the entire, multi-year amount of an approved project budget is awarded and made available to the grantee at the time the award is made vs. awarding the cumulative project budget amount via annual increments. With a continuing grant award, a subsequent year of funding is awarded only after the project’s annual report is submitted and approved by the NSF Program Officer and the Program Officer has approved an additional year of funding. Even with a standard grant, annual reporting to the NSF is still required, and the approved project award is expected to be spent incrementally over the proposed time frame of the grant. See FAQ “When is My Annual Report Due?”
--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

Workshop

What happens if I can’t attend the January workshop?

Attendance at the workshop is required. If you cannot attend, another faculty team will be named to replace you.

--Elaine Craft, SC ATE

I am attending the ATE PI Conference for the first time, so should I attend a pre-conference workshop?

I would encourage all of the new awardees to have at least one person attend the New Grantees Workshop. You will learn a lot about the ATE program, reporting requirements, and the ATE annual survey. If you are a new principal investigator even if the award is not new, you should attend the workshops related to grant implementation and grant management. Some projects even find it useful for someone from the project to attend during the second year; the amount of information provided can sometimes be a little daunting.
--Dr. Elizabeth Teles, NSF Program Officer Division of Undergraduate Education

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