All Articles

NSF Funds New Iowa State Research Administration Internship Program

Dan Kirkpatrick, Iowa State University Office of the Vice President for Research

Posted Feb 12, 2024

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Iowa State University $3.7 million over 4.5 years to spearhead a cross-institutional program designed to build a more robust regional research administration (RA) workforce for the future.

The Iowa Research Administration Internship Student Experience (I-RAISE) received funding through NSF’s Growing Research Access for Nationally Transformative Equity and Diversity (GRANTED) program. GRANTED focuses on addressing systemic barriers within the nation’s research enterprise by improving research support and service capacity. Iowa State’s Jane Garrity is leading the I-RAISE project. Garrity is Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Office of the Vice President for Research and director of Grants Hub.

The National Academies has identified a lack of dedicated and trained RA staff at emerging research institutions (ERIs) as a major factor that limits the ability of ERI faculty to contribute to the national research enterprise.

“Without RA staff to take on administrative burdens and provide guidance throughout the funding lifecycle, academic researchers cannot effectively develop and submit successful grant proposals, manage awards, or remain compliant with institutional requirements and Federal regulations,” Garrity said.

But even as demand for RA services grows with the number and complexity of grant proposals and heightened regulatory requirements, both ERIs and research-intensive institutions, such as Iowa State, struggle to find qualified RA staff. The RA workforce is both aging and unevenly distributed across institutions and geographies, and potential new entrants are unaware of RA career opportunities. These challenges are greatest at small rural ERIs with limited hiring pools and few resources for RA training.

“The I-RAISE project came together because collectively the participating colleges and universities in Iowa recognized we have a critical need to build our own well-trained RA workforce,” Garrity said. “If we fail to develop these staff, we will face continued hiring challenges and ultimately be less able to respond to funding opportunities and compliance requirements.”

Iowa State, a doctoral/very high research activity (R1) institution with a large, specialized RA work force, is leading the I-RAISE program. The other participating institutions are the University of Northern Iowa, Drake University, Central College, Dordt University and Simpson College. The structure of the program builds off Iowa State’s Jump Start Research Administration Graduate Internship Program, which launched this January with an initial cohort of seven students currently interning with various Iowa State grant support units.

I-RAISE will prepare both undergraduate and graduate students from partner institutions for RA careers through a classroom-based RA bootcamp and summer internship at Iowa State, followed by additional mentored internship rotations at each student’s home institution. The first cohort of I-RAISE students will be recruited this spring, for a program kickoff in late May. The project team will also develop and host an open-access, on-demand set of training resources for onboarding new RA staff at any institution by converting the I-RAISE bootcamp curriculum into freely available online training modules, to be hosted in partnership with Iowa State Extension and Outreach.

“The work that we proposed is creative and original because it brings together RA staff from different institutions in Iowa to solve a common challenge in building a regional RA workforce,” Garrity said. “I-RAISE is potentially transformative because it can serve as a model for building similar RA training collaborations among ERIs and flagship or land-grant universities elsewhere, particularly in other rural EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) states.”

Garrity said she and the team expect to graduate four cohorts of 10 to 16 I-RAISE interns who will be well-positioned for RA careers at the partner institutions. The hands-on training, coupled with the onboarding modules that will be available for institutions across the country, will support the training and development of a qualified workforce for diverse institutions in Iowa and across the country.

“Research Administration professionals are vital to the success of any research enterprise, whether at an R1 institution like Iowa State or an emerging research institution,” said Peter Dorhout, Iowa State Vice President for Research. “Students from Iowa colleges and universities are a promising source of talent for future RA positions across the state. We’re delighted to serve as the lead and host institution for I-RAISE. We believe it is a program that will help us develop and keep talent here in Iowa while also bolstering the capacity for research and innovation within each partner institution and across the state.”

Garrity encourages potential mentors who might have an interest working with an I-RAISE intern, either during the summer or throughout the year, to submit their interest via Smartsheet.

I-RAISE internship applications are now open. Interested students from Iowa State should review the Request for Applications for details and submit applications via Smartsheet by 5 pm, Monday, March 18, 2024. Virtual information sessions will be held on February 27, March 1, and March 5 – register here.

Partner Institution Impact

Here are brief perspectives on the expected impact I-RAISE will have on their respective institution as shared by those institutions’ co-principal investigators and/or project leads.

[Institutional leads are asked to provide a quote framed around this question: How do you believe the I-RAISE program will benefit your institution and students?]

Central College

Michelle Wilkie, Director of Development: “Central College is excited to be part of this collaborative work. We know a strong research administration pipeline will help lift and support our faculty who have brilliant ideas to share with the world. As our academic programming grows, we want to harness the incredible talent in our own backyard. This grant will allow us to do this through exposure and creating resources for future research administrators.”

Dordt University

Angela Kroeze Visser, Director of the Kielstra Center for Research and Grants: “Research administration is a part of the research enterprise that students have little exposure to – and may not consider as a possible career.  We are excited for the opportunity that I-RAISE offers for early exposure to the field of research administration and anticipate that over time it will help grow our research capacity”.

Drake University

Mary Pat Wohlford, Director, Sponsored Programs Administration and Research Compliance: “As a small private institution of higher education, Drake University does not have the depth and breadth of research administration staff that many large research focused institutions have. As such, we do not have the resources to train and best support faculty and others in developing research across campus. The I-RAISE program will provide our sponsored programs staff and students with opportunities for advanced training and expertise that is on par with better resourced institutions. The I-RAISE program is critical in preparing individuals to meet the research administration workforce needs in Iowa.”

Simpson College

Marzia Corni-Benson, Director of Foundation and Government Support Programs: “As a small, emerging research institution, we have limited capacity to provide training and support for faculty engaged in research. Through I-RAISE, we have the opportunity to engage students in research administration not only to extend the capability of our one-person office, but also, and more importantly, to develop a well-trained pipeline of local talent that can fill the current gaps in our workforce.”

University of Northern Iowa

Tolif Hunt, Director, Research and Sponsored Programs: “As a mid-size comprehensive university our resources for supporting the research enterprise at the University of Northern Iowa are constantly stretched to the maximum. This project will make UNI’s project administration much more efficient, which will provide better support for our important community of collaborators and help us grow our externally funded research programming. More importantly the program will create a pipeline of well-trained research administration professionals who will support Iowa’s colleges and universities, private businesses, non-profits and state agencies – the ecosystem within which all of our sponsored projects exist.”