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The Green House Grants Blog

The most important lesson from Innovation Boot Camp

So I’ve probably mentioned that I have an “Idea Shelf” in my office.

This is a whiteboard where I collect all kinds of random ideas as they might relate to this community college, ranging from outdoor preschools to a trades academy for historic renovation to a “Made in Roanoke” fair.

I love ideas. I *live* for cool ideas.

But ideas aren’t the only important ingredients when it comes to innovation.

Earlier in June, I had the privilege of attending a Data-Driven Innovation Boot Camp at RAMP, the new business accelerator in downtown Roanoke (which features a nifty mural designed by our own Joe Collins).

There was a lot to cover in two days’ worth of presentations by Mike Abbott and Lisa Garcia, who both teach NSF Innovation Corps programming to Virginia Tech students (among other impressive international gigs). They were in Roanoke to help coach the latest batch of RAMP entrepreneurs, a cohort of eight companies specializing in STEM-H fields. Learn more about the cohort here

So the focus of the training was on these startup companies and explaining a lot of business jargon (minimum viable product?), but my biggest takeaway — especially as it relates to my grant work at Virginia Western — was:

Focus on NEEDS first, solutions second.

This seems like common sense, but apparently it’s a huge problem for fledgling businesses. According to the Mike and Lisa, the most common reason for startup failure is the that they create cool products or services … but no one wants to buy them. They can’t find customers, or they didn’t understand their potential customers in the first place.

So I’ll share the four key questions that startups … or anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset … should focus on, according to the RAMP training:

  1. Are you going after a top-of-mind need?
  2. Who is the person you are seeking to serve?
  3. What is the person seeking to do better? (Or, what do they struggle with?)
  4. How do they define better? (To establish metrics of success)

So how do we find the real needs? Google searches for data and general chair-based research is a start, but we have to actually talk to people, according to Mike and Lisa. This summer, each of these startups is expected to interview 100 potential customers — preferably face-to-face interviews to get the most honest feedback, with phone calls as the last resort. No emailed questions are allowed. It was also understood that these should be strategically targeted customers … not just the first 100 people they meet at the mall or 100 of their friends. This will be hard work, to be sure, but it’s essential to understanding the real needs they want to serve.

So if you ever work with me on a future grant project, you will understand why I will be obsessed with needs. I will be asking lots of questions about workflows and processes, digging more deeply into the problems we’re trying to solve. Experience has taught me that sometimes the problem we thought we were trying to solve wasn’t the real problem at all.

Which brings me to a quote I jotted down during the training: “Innovation is like solving a mystery.” 

I will continue to collect creative ideas for my “Idea Shelf” — not because I intend to write grants for any or all of them — but to have a bunch of possibilities ready while we figure out the most important needs. Bring on the mysteries.

Posted on June 21, 2018

5 teaching tips to boost student completion and retention … what are yours?

I love practical tips … and I love lists, especially short ones.

I couldn’t resist sharing this story from the Chronicle of Higher Education, which I’m constantly reading for grant ideas:

The 5 Tips for Student Success That a Longtime Instructor Swears By

Tony Holland

The tips are from Tony Holland of the Alabama Community College System, a former dean of instruction who taught chemistry for almost 30 years. During the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in Dallas, Holland said his I-CAN approach (improvement, constant and never ending) increased associate degree completions by 67% and retention rates by 27%, with the greatest improvements shown by minority students.

Here’s the quick list, as they appeared in the Chronicle story:

1. Pass out course evaluations early in the semester
2. Set clear learning objectives for each unit
3. Create 10-minute videos for each objective
4. Give frequent quizzes, essays and group work
5. Provide early, intrusive interventions

If you want details, I urge you to read the entire story here, or watch Holland’s 30-minute talk, “Five Strategies to Revitalize Your Teaching and Invigorate Learning!”

What would you add to the list? I’d love to compile some tips from our own faculty. Even if you have just one excellent tip, please do share. Who knows … it might inspire your colleagues …. or an entire grant project. Email

Posted on May 4, 2018

Why we must collaborate, inside and out

If it seems like I’m a little obsessed with the buzzword “collaboration,” it’s because a bunch of grant funders are, too.

Let me give you two recent examples:


GO Virginia

You may have heard about the GO Virginia program, which has funded some economic development projects in the Roanoke region, including the RAMP business accelerator where Virginia Western offers entrepreneurial programming.  

I attended a “how-to-apply” GO Virginia workshop in Richmond earlier this month, and my biggest takeaway was that the program is designed to encourage collaboration — “incentivized collaboration” is the term used in its mission statement. The state is carved into 9 regions (pictured above), and each region has produced its own Growth and Development Plan, which identifies specific industry clusters. We are in Region 2, which includes the New River Valley and Lynchburg. Priority clusters for Region 2 are (1) manufacturing, (2) life sciences & healthcare, (3) food & beverage processing, and (4) emerging technologies & IT. Not only are proposals for funding expected to be collaborative within our region (working with at least two localities, or another community college, for example), but GO Virginia is now promoting a separate “competitive” grant program that requires collaboration between regions. My personal take is that the VCCS could be in a strong position to convene stakeholders across two or more regions. If you’re curious what that could like like, I encourage you to read my workshop summary report ( GO Virginia Workshop Summary ), which includes a list of previously funded workforce-related projects across the state, along with a matrix of overlapping target industry clusters across the 9 statewide regions.



On the horizon are a couple of grant opportunities that help fund the state’s FastForward initiative. FastForward, formerly known as the Workforce Credential Grant (WCG) program, helps pay tuition for students who enroll in our non-credit Workforce training programs, including Industrial Maintenance Technician, Machining, Welding, and a new Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) program. The purpose is to get students — especially working adults — an industry-recognized credential that will lead to better employment and higher wages. One of the capacity-building grants for FastForward has been the annual Institutes of Excellence grant program, which funded the start-up costs for Virginia Western’s CCMA program. But the IE grant has changed significant this year. Individual awards will be bigger than than years’ past; however, the VCCS only expects to fund four projects across the state in 2018-19. The expectation is that these projects will be highly collaborative — with business and industry, and with other colleges and community groups – and they must be sustainable and able to scale statewide. These proposals are due July 16.

A spirit-boosting TED video

I know collaboration is messy … it can take time, and sometimes it’s just plain hard. It requires those soft skills that even we struggle to emulate for our students. But the collaborative process is also where some of our best ideas come from. I was delighted to watch this TEDx video from the Netherlands, “Speed Up Innovation with Design Thinking.” It’s only 12 minutes long, but researcher Guido Stompff reminded me of the magic of interaction and learning by creating. As he says: “Ideas fundamentally arise in between us.” Watch it here:

(With a big thanks to Sam Steidle, who told me about the video last week.)

In the coming weeks, I plan to spotlight some of Virginia Western’s collaborative success stories, to celebrate our innovators and to help spark even more ideas. And don’t hold back … tell me about some projects that should get the attention of the entire college. Or ideas you might have for those grant opportunities I described above. 


Posted on April 24, 2018

How do you show your Virginia Western spirit? (And why it matters.)

I painted my fingernails blue and gold, y’all.

I was shopping the Elizabeth Arden warehouse sale in Salem this past weekend (where we get a 10% discount with our VWCC ID badge!) and found the $2 nail polish along the back wall.

I thought the colors would be perfect during the week of Spring Fling, which is Friday.

But my Virginia Western pride doesn’t stop with a manicure.

I also make a point to wear a VWCC ball cap when I run errands on the weekend, which frequently provokes conversations about the college in checkout lines.

I do this on purpose because I know informal interactions are the secret sauce to building relationships.

They are also the pixie dust for innovation.

And this is where it all comes around to grants …

… stay with me.

Over the holidays, I stumbled onto this video of author Simon Sinek: “Why Leaders Eat Last.”

Sinek, who has a degree in cultural anthropology, is best known as the author of “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.”

I was hooked … and spent most of that day binging more of his YouTube and TED videos, where he talks about leadership and teamwork. I immediately ordered his 2014 book, “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t.”

I highly recommend this book, especially as higher education — and Virginia Western — continues to transform and stoke our anxieties. “Leaders Eat Last” provokes questions about *why* we work here — and what motivates us to do our best work.

In the book, Sinek praises a few companies for their supportive cultures, including 3M, maker of Post-it Notes. Simply put: Post-its were born from failure. One of 3M’s scientists was trying to create a strong adhesive. Instead, he made a weak adhesive — but instead of burying his “failure” out of embarrassment, he shared the mistake with his colleagues in case someone else could figure out how to use it. Years later, another scientist at 3M remembered the weak glue when he was frustrated by his bookmark, which kept falling out of his church choir book on the music stand. He wanted that bookmark to stay put. Eureka! …. now Post-its cover everything we own.

Sinek points to the company’s culture as what made this breakthrough possible:

Innovation at 3M is not simply the result of educational pedigree or technical expertise. Innovation is the result of a corporate culture of collaboration and sharing. … The cross-pollination of ideas — combined with an emphasis on sharing across product lines — has led to an atmosphere of collaboration that makes 3M a place where employees feel valued. “Innovation from interaction” is one of the company’s favorite mottoes. (p. 169)

“Innovation from interaction” … this is how it relates to grants.

Grants are more than money. They are tools for creating change in our college and in our community, and they are powered by creative ideas. The most effective grants require imagination, courage, good planning … and collaboration.

And the collaborative magic doesn’t necessarily happen in formal meetings (but those help, too).

It happens when we pass each other in the hallways … the conversations we have while waiting in the coffee shop … the serendipitous interactions at events like Spring Fling.

We build trust and relationships in these small, face-to-face moments, which are hard to measure. This 3-minute Sinek video explains how consistency (not intensity) builds the healthiest cultures. For example, brushing your teeth twice a day … every day … (consistency) vs. intensity (going to the dentist twice a year). Going to the dentist is important and easy to track and measure … but the effectiveness of a single session of tooth-brushing? Not so easy to measure … but essential to dental health over time. 

All of the stuff we too often dismiss as unimportant or wasteful or frivolous … these are critical to the sense of teamwork we have at this college, and ultimately, the good ideas (and healthy failures) that can spring from this teamwork.

I hope to see you having fun at Spring Fling … with our without blue fingernails.

Posted on April 9, 2018

I tried speed dating once … and how it relates to Innovation Grants

You’ve heard of speed dating, right?

Where you meet with a bunch of potential romantic interests in efficient, 10-minute increments?

Based on my own comic experience at Roanoke’s now-defunct Saltori’s in the early 2000s, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this method for actual dating.

But I think the concept might help some of us out with grant ideas.

Hear me out.

Six of your colleagues attended the Innovation Grant Workshops last week (THANK YOU!), and one of them made a comment that sparked this idea.

The gentleman said it seemed the Educational Foundation was looking for broad ideas that impacted more of the college than just one class or department (correct), and he wondered how more folks across campus could share their ideas. He suspected that some of us are probably mulling similar ideas and just needed to be connected.

*Light bulb*

So this is a huge experiment, because I don’t know how many of you are willing to try “speed brainstorming.”

But I’m going to just try.

Anyone intrigued by sharing their innovative ideas (or kernels of an idea) should email me and let me know you’re game.

I will then take those names and check all of our Outlook calendars for a one-hour gap where most of us are available in the next two weeks.

We’ll meet in the grants office during that hour … and we’ll pair up for increments of 10 minutes or so, where you give the elevator pitch to your colleague. This is an excellent opportunity to talk through your ideas … ask some questions, give some feedback, etc.

And then, after those 10 minutes are up, we switch and repeat.

Who knows … maybe you’ll find someone with similar ideas, and you can collaborate for an even stronger proposal.

No matter the outcome, I’m betting this will be fun.

Also, we have candy.

And I’m hoping someone can come up with a better name than “speed brainstorming.”

If you want to give it a try, email by Friday, Feb. 16.


Posted on February 12, 2018

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas for the Innovation Grant …

How are those Innovation Grant proposals going?

I’ve been hearing some good questions from your colleagues about the process, and I thought I would post some tips for generating grant-winning ideas. Here are five:

  1. Think “Project Runway”

So if you’ve ever chatted with me for more than 5 minutes, then you probably know I’m a huge fan of “Project Runway.” I’ve watched this fashion competition since the first episode in 2004. I love Tim Gunn and the “unconventional materials” challenges the most, but I also reference the show when trying to explain the creative process. Specifically, how constraints tend to bring out the most creativity.

For example, the show is built around challenges for fashion designers: Limited time (usually a day or two), a limited budget ($200 at most) and a specific focus, such as fashion that looks good under black lights … or dresses made only out of stuff sold at a grocery store …. Or an outfit for professional stiltwalkers (this was real).

So when I’m asked about coming up with winning grant ideas, I analogize with “Project Runway.”

Think of yourself as the creative designer.

The grant rules and regulations …. i.e., the maximum budget, the allowable expenses, the funder’s mission (in this case, student retention!) … are the creative constraints.

Your job is to create a beautiful project within those constraints. Sometimes you have an idea that will work perfectly within those limits … and then sometimes those limits push you to a place you could have never imagined. I find that process exhilarating.

  1. Try not to look at grants as extra work …

I know … you’re busy. We’re all busy. The last thing we want is to add more to the workload. So instead of approaching grants as one more burden, look at them as a tool for fixing problems. What are your pain points? What problems do you encounter in your classrooms, in the college’s processes, etc.? What are you always complaining about? How might a grant help address those problems… and might that solution benefit students and the whole college? A grant will help you prototype a possible solution.

  1. Build on our strengths

On the flipside, consider the vast resources Virginia Western already offers. What do we do *really* well? This is the first example that comes to mind: We have lots of parking lots, so potential room for mobile services and food trucks. We now have a presence in the emerging downtown Roanoke “innovation corridor” through our involvement with the RAMP business accelerator … so how might we use that space? I’m sure there are many more examples. What do *you* do really well? What do you love the most about your job? How can we amplify your strengths … and strengths of this college … in a more innovative way? In the grants world, we like to use the fancy word “leverage” … how can we better leverage our resources?

  1. This is professional development.

I lifted this idea from a Fast Company story about rethinking your career: Imagine your best, actualized self in 10 or 20 years. What are you doing? And what steps do you need to take tomorrow — and next year — to get there? Which leads me to this question: How might proposing a grant project help you grow out of your comfort zone and expand your professional horizons? I guarantee you will meet new people and learn more about the college and your community by going through a grant process.

  1. This is not time wasted … even if you FAIL.

Speaking as a recovering perfectionist … the kind of high-achiever who tried to avoid failure throughout my formal schooling years  … this has been one of my hardest life lessons. Yes, going through the grant process will take time. It will take effort. And you’re not guaranteed a payoff. The grant might not be awarded at the amount you requested … or at all. And that’s OK. You spent that time focusing on an idea that you love. You thought it through … you talked about it with colleagues, some of whom you hadn’t worked with before. There might be a better grant opportunity right around the corner. Or the idea will morph into something else … and get stronger. You are exploring and planting seeds and moving forward … and hopefully having fun. So don’t be afraid to just try. You never know where your first idea will lead.

Don’t forget! If you plan on submitting a proposal, consider signing up for the Innovation Grant Workshop (perhaps with your collaborative partner?).

I’m piloting some small, 1-hour workshops in the grants office on two dates so far … Wednesday, Feb. 7 (10 to 11 a.m.), and Thursday, Feb. 8 (3 to 4 p.m.).

During the workshop, we’ll go through the application step-by-step. Bring your questions … and a laptop or iPad if you want to write or edit your proposal as we talk.

I may schedule additional workshops (in groups or one-on-one) depending on the demand.

Please sign up for the limited number of spaces at this link:

Or reach out to me directly if those times/days don’t work for you:

Stephanie O. Seagle | | 857-6084.

And in case you missed it:

Thinking about an Innovation Grant? Don’t skip these important first steps (with downloadable grant application)

Posted on January 31, 2018

Thinking about an Innovation Grant? Don’t skip these important first steps

So perhaps you have some creative ideas floating around your head … ideas to help students succeed, or possible solutions to help with student retention.

If you’re like me, your idea might feel a bit half-baked … the start of something cool, but you feel like you need to talk it out with another colleague.

Awesome, let’s work with that.

Or maybe you love your idea but are totally mystified and overwhelmed by the grant process.

That’s OK, we’ve all been there.

So let’s take some baby steps to see what might be possible with the Educational Foundation’s Innovation Grant: an excellent starter grant with pretty good odds for funding.


Step 1: Read the Innovation Grant application. All the way through. It’s only five pages long (which, compared to a federal grant RFP, is easy-peasy).

Give the application just 10 or 15 minutes of your time, even if you skimmed it before the holiday break.

Personally, I like to print out all documents and read with a highlighter in hand.

Download the Word document here: 2018-2019_Innovation_Grant_Application

Go ahead, I’ll wait ….

The most important information for this grant (or any grant) should be in this application, including an explanation of the submission process … the deadline (March 30) … and the maximum amount considered ($10,000).

Most importantly, it goes over the rules and intent of the grant. Does your idea make a good fit?

And do you even qualify? (The answer is yes, because according to the FAQs >>>  FAQs_Innovation_Grant_2018 <<<  all members of Virginia Western faculty and classified staff, including adjunct faculty and part-time employees, are eligible to submit proposals.)


Step 2: Time to talk

Hopefully you noticed the number of signatures required on the application cover page (which note earlier deadlines).

The grant process will require multiple conversations, so please allow time for those conversations early in the process … the worst thing to do is wait to complete the application at the last minute.

New this year is a Scoring Matrix:


Take the time to read this document, too, because this is how the Educational Foundation board members will judge the proposals.

And here is a key point about the Scoring Matrix to keep in mind:

We often encourage collaborative approaches and projects around campus in general, but this grant actually awards up to 10 points for collaboration with another colleague, department, student group, or outside organization. Teamwork truly makes the dream work, so build those bridges early.

Finally, as you consider submitting an Innovation Grant, please make it a top priority to discuss your ideas not only with your colleagues, but with your supervisor and/or dean early in the process. The conversations you have NOW can help refine your idea or connect it with others that might be percolating within your own department.


Step 3: Proposal workshops

If you believe your idea is a good fit for the grant, and you plan on submitting a proposal, consider signing up for the Innovation Grant Workshop (perhaps with your collaborative partner?).

I’m piloting some small, 1-hour workshops in the grants office on two dates so far … Wednesday, Feb. 7 (10 to 11 a.m.), and Thursday, Feb. 8 (3 to 4 p.m.).

That gives you a little over three weeks to hold those important conversations and gather the information required for the application.

During the workshop, we’ll go through the application step-by-step. Bring your questions … and a laptop or iPad if you want to write or edit your proposal as we talk.

I may schedule additional workshops (in groups or one-on-one) depending on the demand.

Please sign up for the limited number of spaces at this link:

Or reach out to me directly if those times/days don’t work for you:

Stephanie O. Seagle | | 857-6084

I can’t wait to hear your ideas!

Posted on January 15, 2018

‘Western, we have a problem’: 5 tough takeaways from Dr. Monty Sullivan

More than 20 years since I first watched “Apollo 13,” I’m often reminded of one particular scene.

And no, it’s not, “Houston, we have a problem.”

In order to save the Apollo crew, a group of NASA engineers raced against the clock to create a carbon dioxide filter from the limited equipment available in the spacecraft.

They quite literally had to figure out how to put a square peg in a round hole.

I love this scene because it required not only creative problem-solving skills but also teamwork under life-or-death stress. Watch it here.

After hearing Dr. Sandel and Dr. Monty Sullivan challenge us to work together on our enrollment and retention goals — to influence our future instead of being at the mercy of the trend lines — I was reminded once again of that dramatic “Apollo 13” scene.

Racing against the enrollment declines, I imagine our college sitting around a big table with the parts of VWCC spread around for all to examine … questioning and re-imagining their original purpose. How might we make the parts work better together … to help all of our students shoot for the moon?

Our budget isn’t the only potential casualty. The lives of our students — and our community — depend on the answers.

But before we explore some possible answers, we need to ask the right questions.

Dr. Sullivan’s presentation to the college on Jan. 4 was inspiring and chock full of ideas (loved the work ethic grades on transcripts!), but these are the five tough questions that got my attention:


(1) Would you send your child to Virginia Western? Why or why not? If not, what would change your answer?


(2) What makes Virginia Western special? What do we offer that is changing lives … or could be changing lives?


(3) We are not a university. How would we refine/re-imagine/redesign our role based on the changing needs of our community?


(4) Instead of exclusively focusing on the 4,459 high school graduates in the region, why don’t we better serve the 100,000 working adults with a high school diploma or less?


(5) Is your program in high demand in our region? How might we tweak the program to incorporate credentials that lead to better-paying jobs? What credentials would help people go from making $8 an hour to $15 an hour?


And if you don’t know what are considered high-demand jobs, you should read the Local Workforce Plan by Virginia’s Blue Ridge Works, paying closest attention to pages 3-19.

The plan identifies five existing target industries with high job growth:

  1. Healthcare
  2. Manufacturing
  3. Construction
  4. Transportation and warehousing
  5. Financial services

It also explains three emerging sectors, with a few shout-outs to Virginia Western:

  1. Food and beverage manufacturing
  2. Life sciences
  3. IT

You can drill into the wage data and credentialing requirements here:

I’m looking forward to our Retention Town Hall on Jan. 11 and future meetings to discuss our challenges together.

And while these ideas are percolating, don’t forget about a few grant opportunities that could help turn them into reality. If you’re wondering how you — an individual faculty or staff member — can effect change, a grant can be a first step.

(1) The Paul Lee Professional Development Grant ($2,500 for the summer) and the Paul Lee Workshop Mini-Grant ( $1,500 maximum). Deadline is Feb. 1.

(2) The Educational Foundation’s Innovation Grant applications ($10,000 maximum) are due March 30. (Details)

The grants office would be happy to talk through you ideas. Please note that all proposals must be reviewed by Virginia Western’s Office of Grant Development and Special Projects prior to submission. Please contact Marilyn Herbert-Ashton ( | 857-6372) or myself ( | 857-76084) for assistance.

Posted on January 5, 2018

Wait! Before you log off for winter break …

As I’ve emphasized before, ideas — our imagination — are the real power behind grants.

And I collect rando ideas like some people collect Star Wars action figures.

I read like a maniac because it helps stuff my brain with as many ideas as possible — and then, like magic! — some joke or frustration or grant RFP will spark a connection.

Before we peel off for holiday break, I wanted to give you just one link to click.

Just one! And it’s an easy list to skim.

These are the best community college innovations of 2017, as chosen by the League of Innovation in the Community College … and you can find them here.

My hope is that just one of these innovations will get your attention … something might spark an idea.

And it might not be immediately.

Just skim it … no heavy lifting here. I want to put our unconscious selves to work … because while we are sleeping late and reading for fun and traveling and celebrating over the break, our brains will rest.

And a rested brain makes the magic happen.

If we’re really lucky, an entire string of idea bulbs will light up in our collective heads!

When we return in January, I’ll focus more attention on the Educational Foundation’s Innovation Grant.

I have blogged about some previous awards to give you an idea of what your creative colleagues are already doing.

This year’s application is out earlier than usual — and you can find more about how to get it here.

I helped tweak the format to (hopefully) make it easier to apply, and I plan on offering an application workshop early in the spring semester.

Among the most important points to know:

  • All members of Virginia Western faculty and classified staff, including adjunct faculty and part-time employees, are eligible to submit proposals.
  • Requests will be considered up to $10,000
  • Proposals that introduce strategies to improve student retention will receive 5 extra points in the scoring process. (But themes other than student retention are welcome.)
  • The deadline is March 30.

Enjoy the holidays and the time off … I’m looking forward to very creative 2018!

(And if you’ve read this far, then you might also be hungry for more League of Innovation ideas … find the award winners for 2016 and 2015.)

Posted on December 14, 2017

Here’s an idea for the Paul Lee Professional Development Grant. What are yours?

Before we get bogged down in the details of the Paul Lee Professional Development Grant, I thought I’d expound on an idea that I mentioned in a previous blog post.

In “The Power of Moments,” authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath introduced me to the Course Design Institute (CDI), a week-long workshop offered at the University of Virginia.

“The dirty secret of higher education is that faculty aren’t taught how to teach,” said Michael Palmer, an associate professor of chemistry who started the CDI at UVa in 2009.

Here’s a passage from the book that explains the power of this program:

[Palmer] puts the following question to his audience of 25 to 30 professors: “Imagine you have a group of dream students. They are engaged, they are perfectly behaved, and they have perfect memories … Fill in the sentence: 3-5 years from now, my students still know _________. Or they are still able to do _____________. Or they still find value in _________.”

After some brainstorming and listing answers (very few of which are content focused), Palmer then asks the professors to pull out the syllabus they brought to the institute.

“How much of your current syllabus will advance your students toward the dreams you have for them?”

There’s an awkward silence in the room. George Christ, a biomedical engineering professor, remembered the moment with a chuckle: “You look at your syllabus, and you go, ‘Zero’.” Most professors discover exactly the same thing. It’s a head-slapper of a moment.

… The differences between the “before and after” syllabi from the CDI are often striking.

Lucky for us, the authors provide an example of an improved biomedical engineering syllabus on their website:

The book reports that 295 instructors participated in CDI through 2015. They rated the workshop a 4.76 out of 5.0 — and all 295 said they’d recommend the course to a colleague. Not bad!

I was intrigued … so I explored the CDI website and learned that the program is open to any instructor — not just UVa faculty. The 2018 sessions include May 21-25 and June 18-22. Registration is $900, and lodging and most meals would be extra. Learn more by watching this video:

And through the CDI website:

I’m curious if there would be any interest from VWCC faculty who would not only attend CDI for their own course, but go with the intention of sharing the same techniques with faculty at Virginia Western? Someone (or some team) willing to host our own version of a course design workshop … folks who would champion student-centered design thinking on our campus?

Perhaps this idea — or a similar one — might inspire you to consider the Paul Lee Professional Development Grant or an Innovation Grant through our Educational Foundation or some other funding alternative.

As always, I’m happy to talk through your ideas and questions.

Now back to the professional development opportunities through the VCCS …

The VCCS offers two types of professional development grants:

  1. The Paul Lee Professional Development Grant, with a maximum stipend of $2,500 for the summer.
  2. The Paul Lee Workshop Mini-Grant, with a maximum award of $1,500.

Last week, I focused on the Workshop Mini-Grant. Today, I’ll spotlight the Paul Lee Professional Development Grant.

Full-time and adjunct VCCS faculty members are eligible. Classified staff may not be primary authors, but may be involved as collaborators and co-applicants.

Faculty may apply individually or collaboratively for time and expenses. Maximum funding for time is eight credits. Most time is funded at three credits. Summer funding for Paul Lee Professional Development Grants is $2,500.

The next deadline is Feb. 1 for projects proposed for the 2018 summer semester.

The VCCS suggests the following topics to get your ideas percolating:

  • Initiatives to enhance student success
  • Discipline-specific project
  • Information literacy
  • Faculty learning communities
  • Student learning communities
  • Initiatives enhancing the use of technology in teaching and learning
  • Best practices in global awareness
  • Pedagogy
  • Leadership development
  • Developmental education
  • Alternative evaluation systems

Eligible projects
The following projects are typically eligible for grant funding:
• Grants supporting research and activities advancing teaching, learning and student success and the mission of the VCCS are eligible, including research; writing professional articles/books (with shared ownership with the VCCS); developing courses not listed in the master course file; collaborative projects with high schools, other higher education institutions or the community; and projects related to VCCS-identified priorities.
• Conference expenses — if they are part of a larger project or activity. Applicants should demonstrate college match for a portion of the costs.
• Travel (domestic and overseas)—approval is dependent upon the purpose, methodology, and justification of costs. Make sure that the travel budget is well researched, detailed, and realistic.

What kind of projects are NOT eligible for funding?
• Professional development activities typically funded by the college, i.e. tuition reimbursement; travel to VCCS-sponsored events; licensures; equipment, supplies, textbooks, and software purchases; student activities funding; normal teaching or administrative duties; and developing courses similar to those in the VCCS master course file.
• Design and development of a web-based course that is already available online (check VCCS Master Course File listing online) will not be funded unless there is a distinctive or innovative component.

More information

To review the online application and learn more about these grants, go to

The grants office would be happy to talk through you ideas. Please note that all proposals must be reviewed by Virginia Western’s Office of Grant Development and Special Projects prior to submission. Please contact Marilyn Herbert-Ashton ( | 857-6372) or myself ( | 857-76084) for assistance.

Posted on December 11, 2017

Contact Us

Grants Development Office
Location: Fishburn Hall F204
Phone: 540-857-6372

3093 Colonial Ave., SW
Roanoke, VA 24015