By JASMINE WALLACE
Innovation Grants provide members of the St. Lawrence community with the opportunity to implement creative project ideas that will benefit the campus community. While the deadline for the grant applications recently passed and new grants will be awarded within the next couple weeks, there are many Innovation Grant-funded projects currently underway.
The grants have been used to fund a variety of projects, events, and capital investments such as the Hydration Station, which was proposed by Robby Glass ’13. Innovation Grant-funded events such as last year’s Power of Pink week were intended to bring together the campus and community in new ways. Projects like the permaculture design project are also visible on campus now. This project involves construction of a fruit, nut, and perennial herb garden behind Commons College and will include an outdoor classroom. “Hopefully it will be a yummy and nice space to be,” said Coordinator of Sustainability Projects Louise Gava, who is the adviser for the project.
“Innovation Grants were made possible in 2010 from a grant by the Mellon Foundation,” said Lisa Cania, who explained that the foundation enjoyed supporting new university presidents and therefore awarded $100,000 to President Fox to aid in his initiatives. “He decided to turn it over to faculty, staff, and students for their ideas.” The university is currently in its fourth round of Innovation Grants, and the original grant from the Mellon Foundation will run out this semester. However, due to the quality of ideas and the benefits that the campus has had as a result of these grants, they will continue be funded in the future from St. Lawrence’s own budgets.
Gava described the application process as “really simple,” and explained that it required a brief project description as well as information about how the campus community will be effected and benefited, what expenses will be, and who will be involved. The committee has developed a rubric for judging the proposals that they receive and award grants based on this. “We love reading these. There are such great ideas percolating on campus,” said Cania, who added that an important part of the proposal is proof that the plan is executable within the time and funding limits specified.
The grants are given to projects that benefit campus life and range from $1000 to $5000. They do not pay salaries or fund new positions on campus, and are instead meant to jumpstart more short-term projects. Given the variation in funding, the number of grants given each semester ranges from five to ten. According to Cania, the ideas are almost always good, but at times they are beyond the scope of the Innovation Grants and therefore do not receive funding.
A current Innovation Grant is funding the development of a campus arboretum. “It’s been a really fun process and it’s brought a lot of folks from across campus together,” said Gava, who was responsible for orchestrating this project and writing the grant proposal for it. The Innovation Grant enabled the project to get underway quickly and also allowed more people from a variety of disciplines and departments at St. Lawrence to become involved. If they had not been given this grant, Gava said, “We wouldn’t get the same product.”
Gava said that there are three major goals of this multi-phase and multi-dimensional project. The first is to gain information about the species, age, and health of the many different trees on campus. This will help to predict the possible future effects of climate change and dangers such as the emerald ash bore, an insect that kills ash trees, on the campus trees. The final goals of the project involve recognition of St. Lawrence’s role as an educational institution. The project will present an opportunity to share the campus’ trees with a wide audience. This aspect of the project has involved the admissions department since students have begun to plan tree tours that prospective students and their families can take. “It would be great for visiting students to interact with out university through the trees,” said Gava.
There are currently over 3,000 individual trees on St. Lawrence’s campus, and this does not include the many more trees located on the rest of the university’s property. Due to the fact that there are so many trees to locate and catalog, Gava said, “It’s a little bit slow-going.” Additionally, the large number of people involved makes coordinating schedules and communicating information difficult at times. The team is also currently mapping out the routes of their tree tours and deciding what information to include about the trees so that a brochure can be produced. “Those trees that are on the tour will become part of the aboretum,” said Gava. These trees will be labeled with plaques that identify them.
“I really hope that we use and keep the data updated, and I hope that people take the tree tours,” said Gava, who added that creative management of the campus’s trees is another goal of the project. Facilities has become interested in using GIS software as a result of their involvement with the arboretum, and in the future will be able to landscape the campus in ways that have new aesthetic and ecological value.
Another project funded by an Innovation Grant that has influenced staff in a variety of departments on campus was designed by Director of Employee Labor Relations Colleen Manley and Director of Human Resources and Employee Benefits Debra Mousaw. After receiving many repeated questions from managers across campus, Mousaw and Manley identified the need for a training program and designed their Management 101 Training Series. They took a core group of 16 managers from departments all across campus and held monthly “lunch and learn” sessions that covered topics pertinent to successful management. “Some of this was fundamental training that every manager should know,” said Mousaw.
There were nine sessions overall, and they began last September. Some of the training topics discussed were union contract highlights, hiring and termination, professional communication, and conflict resolution. While Mousaw and Manley led many of the sessions, alumnae were also brought in to give talks. Ken Polk ’90 spoke about motivation and morale building, and Jeff Honeywell ’80 gave a lecture about employment law.
“They’ve been really receptive and very appreciative, and we hope to continue,” said Mousaw, who added that they have receieved widespread positive feedback from everyone involved in the training series. This year’s series of talks served as a trial to see if the sessions would work smoothly and be helpful to the managers involved. Manley said, “It was really about setting them up to be more successful at their jobs.”
“Oftentimes, they don’t know what they don’t know,” said Mousaw. She explained that many mangers are unaware of what Human Resources has to offer them in terms of guidance and support, and that there are a variety of laws in place that aren’t well publicized. By bringing them together, they were able to have discussions about similar experiences with personnel and to have engaging conversations about management on campus. Managers who have attended the training sessions are also able to convey the information they learned to managers who work under them.
According to Mousaw and Manley, they could have eventually organized the training series on their own, but the grant was an integral motivating factor and an incentive to implement their idea right away. They plan to continue with the sessions next year with a new group of managers. The group will dictate some of the training topics that will be covered in addition to the most important core topics. Next year’s sessions will be funded with money leftover from the Innovation Grant and with money from Human Resources’ budget.
Currently, the committee responsible for selecting projects worthy of funding is headed by Cania and comprised of seven individuals. There are two students on the committee, Noah Fitch ’14 and Michael Hayden ’13, and two faculty members, Bill Decouteau and Erin McCarthy. Alison Almasian, the admissions director, and Elain White, the executive secretary of student life, are also on the committee. “They work really, really hard,” said Cania.
The committee is responsible for reading all of the submitted proposals and also must research the grants. This research involves discussing the projects with individuals on campus who will be affected by their outcomes or who may be opposed to them in some way. The decision to approve or decline a grant is taken very seriously according to Cania, who said, “Our resources are precious, and we take every expenditure very seriously.” It is important that the grants benefit the campus community. The grants also afford St. Lawrence faculty, staff, and students outlets for their creative ideas to better the places where they live and work. “It’s a way to reward employees for coming up with good ideas,” said Manley.
The committee received twelve proposals this semester, which is less than they typically get. According to Cania, the highest number of proposals that have been submitted in a semester was 39. “It all kind of depends on what ideas are out there and how much time people have to put a proposal together,” said Cania. The committee is currently in the process of researching the grants and hopes to have a decision made about which projects will be awarded grants in about a week. “A lot of proposals went to the Innovation Grants committee, so to be selected was an honor,” said Mousaw, whose project began last fall.