Last year we needed someone fluent in USDA-speak and nimble enough to juggle 26 side conversations simultaneously. Fortunately, we already employed her.
Meri Nantz works in Food Science and Human Nutrition as a research administrator (RA). It’s her job to translate faculty research proposals into formal requests for funding.
It’s a job that doesn’t get much notice, but without it we wouldn’t be the nation’s leading university for agriculture, natural resources and conservation research expenditures per NSF rankings.
Nantz helped Drs. Keith Schneider, Renee Goodrich and Michelle Danyluk secure funding for the Southeast’s food safety training consortium. It’s a great collaboration that avoids duplication of efforts, but it takes coordination among land-grants in 13 states and Puerto Rico, non-profit organizations, historically Black colleges and universities, and a Hispanic-serving institution. That’s how we get to 26 conversations.
More time on science, less on funding
Schneider and Goodrich are on the road a great deal doing trainings. They teach. They collaborate on research teams expanding what we know about ensuring a safe food supply.
Without Meri, they’d have to spend a lot more time applying for funding and a lot less on education and training in how to safely handle food—work that
we’re reminded is potentially life-saving every time we read about a distant food-borne illness outbreak.
I’m thankful for the contributions of all our employees. This Thanksgiving I’m sharing how thankful I am to Meri and her colleagues because they did so much of the heavy lifting that enabled UF to make ever greater impact as it reached for the first time the billion-dollar mark in research spending.
Our RAs have also helped us beef up our research corps. In the past two years we’ve hired 15 AI faculty experts who are already generating plenty of grant activity. As we recruited these researchers, we were able to highlight grant support that would enable them to focus on revolutionizing agriculture through the development of technologies.
No RAs, no grants
One researcher told me there would be no grants for his lab without the kind of support his RA provides. He describes the pursuit of research dollars as a “funding maze” with rules that seem ridiculous and volatile.
I applaud Dean Rob Gilbert and his team for handing out certificates at this year’s research awards to RAs who helped faculty earn highly competitive grants. Meri, Connie Crawford, Tammy King, Tammy Siegel, Sean Buchanan, Sean York, Brooke Hinton and Ben Kahler were among those recognized that night at the Harn.
I don’t have any awards to hand out, just a heaping helping of gratitude for behind-the-scenes people who multiply our impact by helping our stars shine brighter. I might also take comfort as I fill my own plate that people like Meri support the science that makes every meal safer.