Campus Closeup: Andrew Smentkowski

Andrew Smentkowski (Grants and Research) said Monday’s first blast of winter reminded him of the day he interviewed for his NMU post in November 2005. The snow and dicey road conditions might have been enough to dissuade others, but he accepted the position despite the weather. It helped that he was living in Duluth at the time and had grown accustomed to lake effect snow and frigid temperatures.

Smentkowski came to NMU from the College of St. Scholastica, where he started as a secretary in the grants office and then served as a grant writer for six years. That experience, combined with his work as a freelancer and music reviewer for an arts and entertainment newspaper, helped to hone the writing skills he now uses to help NMU faculty and staff secure external grant funding for research and other initiatives.

“Writing grants isn’t rocket science, but it’s convenient for faculty and staff to have someone familiar with the process to help expedite their requests,” he said. “I subscribe to a lot of listservs and newsletters that give me insight into potential funding sources and supported projects. I also have boilerplate material written up so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we’re asked to describe, say, research at Northern or arts and culture at Northern.”

Smentkowski spends most of his time on prospect research, meeting with faculty, program development, managing currently funding grants and other tasks. He estimates that less than a quarter of his time is spent actually writing grants. Before investing any time or effort in a formal application, he calls the funding officer at the respective agency to ensure that the project is a good fit. If so, he assists the faculty or staff member in “program development”—putting the project in concrete terms, directly answering questions, identifying specific goals and quantifying how progress toward them will be measured.

Prior to Smentkowski’s arrival, he said Northern averaged roughly $3 million in external grants each year. That number has climbed to as much as $6 million recently, in part because of WNMU-TV’s successful funding requests to aid its digital conversion.

“This job takes perseverance,” Smentkowski added. “You might get turned down multiple times before being funded. That’s especially true of the National Institutes of Health, where the average age of first-time grant recipients is in the 40s. The level of available funding hasn’t gone up, yet the process is increasingly competitive.”

Being rejected by a funding agency and having to relay that news to a faculty member is the worst part of Smentkowski’s job. His favorite aspect is working with new faculty.

“Their level of enthusiasm makes it fun to get on board,” he said. “Research grants aren’t always big-money grants, but a lot gets accomplished. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting a course release so they have time to get the work done.”

When he is not at the office trying to generate external funding for campus projects, Smentkowski and his wife, Mavis, keep busy raising their two-year-old daughter, Lilly. He also serves as co-chair of the Marquette Area Skate Plaza Committee, which has made local headlines for its efforts to establish a skateboard park at Harlow Park on Washington Street.

Smentkowski manages to reserve some time to pursue his passion for music. He sings and plays banjo, guitar and slide guitar. He and Ted Appert, a graduate teaching assistant in English, will perform as the duo “Rusty Borealis” in a 321 House of Muses concert tonight (Nov. 19) at the U.P. Children’s Museum.

“We wanted a name that sounded like it was from the U.P. and kind of broken down,” he laughed.

The grants and research office is no longer affiliated with continuing education and has moved across the hall to 402 Cohodas.  Smentkowski said he encourages faculty and staff to contact him with any grant-related questions at ext. 2456.


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Updated: November 19, 2008

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