When Rochelle Holm, WSU doctoral candidate in environmental and natural resource sciences, could not find refuge for her research in grants, she sought out individual companies for equipment donations. To her surprise, she was able to raise more than $7,500 in equipment donations needed for her research on water resources in Africa.
“Looking back, I applied for every one of the grants or scholarships I was eligible for at WSU,” Holm said. “As a part-time doctoral student on the Tri-Cities campus, I was excluded from many of these based on my part-time status.”
Holm said with her being a part-time student, her husband not working and her working full-time at a local engineering firm, she was excluded from many other funding opportunities because she could not demonstrate financial need.
During the course of two years, Holm applied to 16 grants and scholarships.
Despite her lack of success in obtaining research grants, Holm said her love for Africa, passion for water quality and determination to do her research on water quality in the east African country of Malawi outweighed what she lacked in funding.
Holm said she took a list of required field equipment and started calling manufacturers for donations and discounts.
“It is extremely difficult to make cold calls, but my determination could not be deterred.” she said.
Holm said as she started to make the cold calls, she was floored by the outstanding response of manufacturers willing to provide equipment to meet the needs of her field project.
Holm said she received thousands of dollars in equipment donations including analytical water testing equipment from the Hach Company, sampling bottles from Thermo-Scientific, software and a license for ArcMAP mapping software and much more.
Although she still received rejections for donations, Holm said it was to a much lesser degree than the grants and scholarships that would provide cash.
Holm said the most encouraging donation was $1,000 in high-quality water-level monitoring equipment from Heron Instruments Groundwater Monitoring Inc. As she made the cold calls to the company, Holm made contact with a woman who used lived near the area where Holm was going to do her research.
“Since this initial call, Heron provided not only the minimum required field instruments for my project but additional high quality instrumentation as a donation for Mzuzu University,” she said.
Holm recently returned from her trip to Africa on March 27. She left for 10 weeks to study water resources in Africa starting on Jan. 10.
She said her time was spent between field collection of water quality samples and a household survey with the assistance of field technicians, water quality analysis, preparation of supplies to keep the project going smoothly, data entry of results and mapping of results to identify trends.
“While I have been successful in the collection of data for my degree, the project had a secondary effect of exciting both students and faculty in increasing the analytical capability of Mzuzu University and allowing continuation of research and development opportunities in a developing country,” she said.
Dan Nordquist, associate vice president of research at WSU, said grants are very difficult to come by and very competitive.
“Each grant has its own requirements and award criteria,” he said. “All of them are hard to obtain.”
Nordquist said the typical success rate for grant proposals is about 17 percent.
When Holm submitted a proposal to the Natural Resource Conservation Endowment Fund at WSU, there were 13 proposals that had been submitted and only two were funded, comprising a proposal success rate of about 15 percent, he said.
The economy has also had a large impact on the amount of grants offered, he said. It has made it harder for students to be accepted.
Nordquist said the office of research does whatever it can to help students obtain funding. He said most of the assistance the office will provide pertains to grants, but they do offer other resources as well. The office offers help on writing proposals and other types of guidance in the grant proposal process.
Paul Weed, graduate school director of administrative services, said WSU also has sponsored a research assistant, Samuel Rodriguez-Flecha, where his sole mission is to work with graduate students in finding opportunities for their research and scholarly endeavors.
Along with the regular scholarships offered through the financial aid department, the various colleges and academic departments at WSU, the WSU Office of Grant and Research Development publishes a website located at informer.ogrd.wsu.edu/ that provides graduate students with upcoming funding opportunities and WSU research news.
As far as seeking out gift donations from companies directly, Nordquist said he definitely recommends it if the options are available.
“Sometimes you can go out and get money for those scenarios and if you hit the right company that has a foundation that works exactly with the right kind of research, then you really have something,” he said.