For student Amelia Miller, service to others was “a way of life,” whether volunteering in her pastor dad’s church, the animal shelter or a local library. She loved being able to help out the community and its people.
She also loved writing and how it allowed her to communicate what she was feeling and thinking.
“The combination of the two is so cool and so fun,” said the Grand Canyon University junior, who this past year discovered grant writing, a course within her professional writing major.
She knew right away it was a fit, using writing to serve. Earlier this fall, she had her first success, hearing the news that the grant she helped write for the nonprofit Beyond Building was successful. The West Valley organization that serves children with disabilities was awarded the money to fund boat outings on nearby lakes on the strength of Miller’s grant proposal.
Miller is an intern with Building Beyond, who was connected to the organization by professional writing instructor Kimbel Westerson and Dr. Thomas Skeen, associate professor of English and career specialist in grant writing at GCU. The organization’s leaders had read about other GCU students’ successes in writing grants and contacted Skeen.
“It was a neat experience to see writing turn into something that is going to help people in a tangible way,” Skeen said. “It was a good experience for Amelia. She did a great job organizing the project.”
A grant proposal is really storytelling, he continued.
“You’ve got to get the story across about how it can help, what is the need and who will benefit – articulating those things. And you have to match it to a funder.”
The proposal is also a form of argumentation, doing research to speak to the needs of the client but also the potential donor.
“Another skill is being able to provide details to make an opportunity seem urgent and important, give it presence. That is a writer’s job, to take things the audience can’t see and try to make it visible to them.”
Show don’t tell.
Miller said for her it was like writing an essay, showing why water sports are helpful. Living in Colorado before her time at GCU, she took it for granted, jumping on a nearby lake in a boat, but realized not everyone has that chance.
“The boat gives them the opportunity to have fun and relax for a day in a safe way and a supported way, and it makes it easier to connect with other people,” she said. “It creates a magical moment.”
Miller showed the donor how it aligned with its mission and how they could create that magic.
“I love words. I love being able to – I’m much better at writing than speaking – communicate what is in your head, and things you think and you feel, and being able to give that to others,” Miller said. “For persuasive writing, it’s being able to say this is something I care about, and you should care about it, too.”
Building Beyond founder Trace Jahner said that Miller's "communication, organization and personable skills" helped the application process, which led to a grant that will provide the boat, equipment, storage, gas, safety courses, registration and insurance to create fun days at the lake for people with disabilities and their families.
Other GCU students have found internships in grant writing.
“We are blessed to have grants administrator interns support our efforts in GCU’s Office of Research and Grants,” said Dr. Scott Greenberger, assistant vice president.
Emily Buus, a professional writing major, researches and identifies grant opportunities and writes and edits grant proposals. Camila Somarriba, an entrepreneurial studies major, organizes awarded grants for compliance and researches potential grants.
In just three years, the course is connecting students to a rewarding field.
“Giving students experience is something GCU always wants to emphasize, and these are great opportunities for professional writing students,” Skeen said.
Miller’s success is continuing at Building Beyond, extending her internship into the fall, researching potential funders and creating a grant proposal for a passenger van to take the children on field trips.
Service and writing came together nicely to create a new career goal.
“When I took the class, I was like, ‘it sounds like it could be cool.’ But now with the internship, I have done it, and it’s something I can pursue.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]