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Herrmann offers faculty tips for federal engagement

Federal Relations


Posted March 29, 2021 by Ashley Washburn

Jessie Herrmann, director of federal relations, offered faculty advice for building and leveraging relationships at the federal level to advance their research programs. Her presentation was part of a March 23 Faculty Connector hosted by the Office of Research and Economic Development.

Jessie Herrmann

Herrmann joined the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in January to elevate Nebraska’s federal relations work. In her role, Herrmann regularly interacts with the state’s congressional delegation, federal program officers, government relations professionals within the University of Nebraska system, and faculty.

Faculty should not hesitate to engage at this level, Herrmann said. Building relationships with federal program officers can pay dividends later. It is not unusual for program officers to reach out to institutions or individual researchers with whom they have relationships when new opportunities arise, she said. Other major institutions are prioritizing networking – and getting results.

“Federal agencies want to hear from you,” she said. “It’s part of the process.”

Conversely, Herrmann said, those relationships can help researchers see the bigger picture and how their work fits into agencies’ funding priorities – or doesn’t. There is value in learning how program officers think and evaluate projects, she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not reduced the need for networking, and if anything, the pandemic has made it simpler for researchers and program officers to connect virtually. Building those relationships and advocating for your research program now could open up new opportunities in the post-pandemic era, Herrmann said. New COVID-19 funding opportunities for researchers will be available via the American Rescue Plan Act, which includes support for the National Science Foundation, National Institute for Standards and Technology, National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Herrmann offered these networking tips to faculty.

Establishing the relationship

  • Request a meeting with an agency program officer. Herrmann can serve as a liaison if faculty are hesitant to “cold call” an officer.
  • Develop a strong pitch about your research, and be prepared to discuss your project in detail, including specific aims, how it fits into the agency’s goals and priorities, and how it fills a specific knowledge gap in the discipline.
  • Expect questions from the program officer. They are engaged and want to learn more from people working directly in the field, Herrmann said.
  • Make a plan to follow up after the initial meeting.

Networking after the meeting

  • Immediately send the program officer a thank-you email, making sure to highlight what you learned from the conversation.
  • Understand that the initial meeting is the start of an ongoing relationship. “Don’t fall victim to a ‘one and done’ meeting,” Herrmann said. Keep reaching out: send the program officer an article that would interest you both, offer to serve on an advisory council or even offer a holiday greeting that affirms the partnership.
  • Following up may feel uncomfortable, but Herrmann encourages researchers to understand that it’s an expected part of building relationships at the federal level. “I promise that you are not annoying them,” she said.

For more information or questions, contact Herrmann, director of federal relations, 402-472-3554.