Illinois State University Media Relations

April 24, 2012

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RSP support helps Ball get NEH grant

Photo of Cheryl BallAs the editor of a pioneering online journal, Associate Professor of English Cheryl Ball knew her publication needed critical system upgrades. With support from Illinois State University’s Research and Sponsored Programs Office (RSP), Ball secured a highly competitive National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to pay for much-needed enhancements to the journal’s operating system.

Ball teaches classes in multimodal composition, digital media, composition theory and digital publishing in the Department of English. She is also the editor of Kairos, which has been online for 17 years, making it the longest-running journal of its kind and a model for other online publications. However, the outdated technology behind the journal makes content management cumbersome. 

“Because Kairos is an open-access journal with no advertising, we have no real budget,” said Ball. “The NEH grant allowed us to hire a programmer to adapt a new operating system to better handle multimedia content. The programmer is developing a plug-in for the open-source Open Journal System editorial review system that will incorporate interactive screens where reviewers can make edits and comment on web-texts. We are currently using a listserv for the peer-review process and that is very awkward technology.”

In addition to improving the technology behind Kairos, the $50,000 digital humanities start-up grant from NEH has also helped to further enhance the journal’s reputation. Already a leading publication in the field of digital media, Kairos has received a great deal of attention from large university presses and smaller journals looking to learn more about online publishing. Ball has also been invited to serve on the boards of various digital media projects as a result of being a principal investigator on the grant. 

“Getting the NEH grant on the first try was a real surprise,” said Ball. “The process is very competitive and it is common for proposals to be rejected the first time around. The support I received from Research and Sponsored Programs throughout the process was the key to securing the grant.”

Ball came to Illinois State in 2007 and was contacted by RSP staff members as part of that office’s grant advisement program for new faculty members. She began working closely with the office to learn more about funding sources and the overall grant-writing process. A real breakthrough for Ball occurred while she worked on a proposal for a smaller digital humanities grant during a weeklong summer RSP grant-writing workshop. 

“I realized during the workshop that my original idea was not very good, and that I would need to shift my focus,” she said. “The feedback I got during the workshop helped me to write a much better grant proposal. The number of faculty members in the humanities with grant-writing experience is smaller than in other areas, so I was very glad to have the support of the RSP staff.” 

Ball also took advantage of an RSP-sponsored, grant-mentoring program and received travel money from the office for a Washington, D.C., visit to meet with her co-principal investigator and with an NEH program officer. “Research and Sponsored Programs provided the strategic support I needed to make the grant happen,” said Ball.

The Office of Research and Sponsored Programs offers a number of services to help faculty members identify and secure external grants. Services include support for new faculty members seeking grant funding; a program to assist multi-disciplinary research teams prepare grant proposals; a mentoring program in which faculty members with demonstrated success in the grant-writing process provide guidance to less experienced faculty members; and a program to help faculty members revise and resubmit proposals after an initial rejection by a granting agency. For more information on these programs, visit the Research and Sponsored Programs website.

Illinois State faculty and staff members apply for and secure millions of dollars in external grant funding each year to support research, teaching and service initiatives.  That funding comes from federal and state agencies and private organizations. There has been significant growth in this area over the last few years. The amount of funding awarded through the third quarter of fiscal year 2012 is $2.76 million ahead of the amount received at the same time last fiscal year. The total amount received through the third quarter, at $21.8 million, also represents an all-time high since fiscal year 2000 – accounting for and excluding one large award of $15.2 million during fiscal year 2011.

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