Schools across the globe are realizing the power of collaborative technologies. Whether it’s visiting the Great Barrier Reef, participating in a poetry jam with students in another country or keeping the arts alive, students and educators alike are reaping the benefits of face-to-face collaboration.

For some schools, though, especially those in rural and poor areas, funding these technologies is a challenge. Grants often offer a life line to assist these schools in attaining the needed technologies to provide equal education and access to otherwise unavailable resources. Grant applications, however, can be daunting to say the least, especially for organizations that lack the resources needed to manage a successful grant application process.

Earlier this week, WorkSpace Today featured an article sharing five lessons learned for applying for the USDA Rural Utilities Service’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant (RUS-DLT), which is one of the largest grant programs for distance learning and telemedicine. The article featured tips from a recently recorded webcast in which Cheryl Henshaw, Director, PGAP and two recent awardees shared their experience with the RUS-DLT grant.

WorkSpace Today had the opportunity to connect with the two-time awardee of the RUS-DLT grant featured in the webcast, Carol Nelson, Distance Learning Consultant at the Cooperative Educational Service Agency 10 (CESA 10) in the state of Wisconsin. In our Q&A below, Carol shares her background at CESA 10, along with several tips to ensure your successful application:

 

Can you share with us your experience with CESA 10?

I have been working at CESA 10 for nearly 20 years. CESA 10 is one of twelve educational service agencies in Wisconsin providing services to districts based upon need and is entirely funded by the member K-12 districts. CESA 10 serves 43 school districts in 11 counties and has over 30 years of experience coordinating video distance learning.

 

How has the Polycom grant writing team helped?

As an educator, having the support from the Polycom grant writing team has been an incredible experience and a tremendous asset to our grant application process. Our agency has written RUS-DLT grant applications over a number of years. However, in 2008, we made a simple mathematical error that resulted in our application being thrown out. It was then that we realized additional help was needed.

The Polycom grant writing team helps us see our application through the grant guidelines lens. They understand the federal grant procurement and documentation requirements, and they keep up with the changing RUS-DLT requirements. Even through the application is our story and our information, they help us evaluate our document with a critical eye.

The grant writing team is available seemingly 24/7, and they come through with support at a very short notice when a section needs to be updated or fixed.

 

What best practices and tips do you recommend when writing a RUS-DLT grant?

Writing a successful RUS-DLT grant calls upon a broad range of skills and expertise. For a successful application, you will need:

  • Technology/data network knowledge of what is being used in your school and outside your school.
  • Fiscal, financial ability and resources to cash match appropriately. As mentioned earlier, the first grant we applied for we messed up. We figured the cash match wrong, which disqualified our application. We learned our lesson, and working with the Polycom grant writing team helps to ensure this won’t
  • Organizational capacity and ability to manage the grant. There are a lot of important details that must be addressed throughout the grant application process. You must follow all the federal grant writing guidelines, and you must be registered with DUNS and the SAM registration system. You also need to manage time and coordinate with others. The time window can be short, and the deadlines sometimes can be way too tight. You need to keep all of the parts together, and having the assistance from the Polycom grant writing team can help support you in these areas.
  • Excellent communication skills. You will be hopefully working with many people, so being able to communicate well is important. You also need to be able to write clearly, and you must read all of the grant guidelines, which are very detailed and specific. Working with the grant writing team is useful because they can point out areas that you may have overlooked.
  • Develop contacts for areas of expertise needed. Early on, you will need to look within your organization and develop contacts for areas they specialize in that will help you through the grant application process. If your agency falls short in any of these areas, the Polycom grant writing team can assist.

 

What’s your recommended approach to ensure a RUS-DLT application is successfully submitted?

Working backward is key. Look at the grant writing timeline and identify what information, documents and letters you will need from people early on. Then, give these people your target deadline and provide as much support as possible to help them complete their task.

You also want to be focused on building good partnerships with businesses, higher eds, school boards and community members. The makeup of your community will help differentiate your unique story.

Make sure your story is authentic – it has to be you, and your story must stand out. You can’t simply say, “We’re very rural, and very low income.” Many of the applicants are in the same position. What is unique about you? This is also where your partnerships will come into play.

You also want to be flexible and adaptable. Things can change on a whims notice. Perhaps, for instance, you were building a curriculum project around a higher education partner, then suddenly the whole department gets eliminated. You need to have other backup ideas in mind when things change.

Lastly, some things, such as the cash match letters, can take a lot of time. It is good to have a schedule, give people deadlines, and consistently follow up. At the last minute, a lot of paperwork can come in, and it is your job to ensure that everything is packaged and submitted correctly.

 

Currently, the PGAP team is working hard to prepare educational institutions for the RUS-DLT grant, which is expected to open up in March. To learn more about how to successfully apply for the RUS-DLT grant with the aid of PGAP you can watch the recently recorded webcast here, or you can request a grant assessment to kick off your project.