Build and Broaden: A Chance to Increase Grant Proposals to the National Science Foundation


A virtual conference aimed to foster partnerships among Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), and research-intensive institutions. The goal was to have faculty participants learn from faculty mentors in developmental science  about how to submit a competitive National Science Foundation (NSF) grant proposal.

In response to the NSF’s Dear Colleague Letter, Build and Broaden: Enabling New Social, Behavioral and Economic Science Collaborations with Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), NSF funded a project titled, “Build and Broaden: Collaborative Research- African American Family Relationship Research through Partnerships with HBCUs.” The principal investigators included

Drs. Chalandra Bryant, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota, Jennifer Ross, associate professor of psychology and sociology at Tuskegee University, and Tera Jordan, assistant provost of faculty development and an associate professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University.

“NSF is interested in increasing the number of competitive proposals from various types of institutions rather than getting proposals from the same types of institutions,” said Dr. Bryant.

While NSF widely funds STEM projects, that is not all that is funded.

“Social scientists are quite welcome. It was nice to sort of spread that word because even people from the institutions that participated in the conference were surprised to hear that NSF does go beyond STEM,” said Dr. Bryant.

Once their team was formed, they began searching for mentors and possible participants. Dr. Ross reached out to social and behavioral sciences faculty at fellow HBCUs and MSIs across the United States. Since the conference was going to be virtual, a wider net was able to be cast.

“Just the ways in which we had to outreach to kind of put it in the hands of faculty in these types of institutional contexts, I think is different than what we are accustomed to at a historically white institution. The outreach alone was much more personalized and individualized,” said Dr. Jordan.

The response received from faculty was overwhelmingly positive. The mentors responded immediately, agreeing that this conference was needed for institutions around the country. The investigators planned the five-day conference and had a total of 28 scholars in attendance in June 2021.

Before the conference was finished, attendees were hungry for more.

“Before the conference even ended on that very last day, that last hour, many participants began asking,  ‘Okay, so when is part two coming? When are we getting back together?’,” said Dr. Bryant.

“That was actually a theme that kept coming up–even the mentors started referring to, ‘the next time we do this, we’re definitely going to have more of this, that and the other.’ Mentors and participants were looking forward to part two, even while part one was still happening,” said Dr. Ross.

The major benefit of this conference was giving institutions with fewer resources the ability to find mentorship and overall, more practice with writing and submitting federally funded grants.

“I think walking away from Build and Broaden that week, I probably received much more than I gave as a scholar. Number one, learning from the faculty mentors. These are some of the giants in the field, and you heard things that changed and evolved in their years. I even learned from  scholars that were about the same career level, but they had different strategies or different tools for securing grants. And you’re like, ‘Wow, I, I never considered that’,” said Dr. Jordan.

A second grant to build upon this work is pending with the NSF. For additional information about the 2021 virtual conference, visit the Build and Broaden 2021 Conference website.