Top Tactics to Secure Funding for your 3D Printer

April 26, 2016

Refining your mission, telling a good story that meshes with funding goals and reaching out to the community spell success when you’re seeking grants to cover the costs.

Now is a prime time for educators to seriously consider 3D printing for their classrooms. On the device front, printer prices are coming down and the technology has advanced so far as to make the machines relatively easy for students to use. On the learning front, 3D printing segues seamlessly into the increased emphasis on STEM subjects. And in an era of growing parental impatience with new learning standards and assessments, there’s something about the 3D design and production process that is captivating and engaging.

The biggest hurdle to procuring a 3D printer is always funding the equipment, materials and required professional development. A 2014 Onvia study found the average size of 3D printing contracts issued in K-12 was $38,981. Those who have successfully integrated 3D printing and related activities into their districts have learned how to tap the power of grant funding to cover the expenses and extend their programs in new and innovative ways. This report will provide advice for making your own “grant grab” to bring the benefits of 3D printing to your students.

Hone Your Mission

As with any educational technology, a 3D printer serves as a means to an end. Defining your purpose for bringing 3D printing into your school is an essential first step for developing your grant applications. Evaluators who are selecting grant winners know precisely what their goals are in distributing funding. The closer your mission fits theirs, the greater your chance of success.

TELL A GOOD STORY

A big part of obtaining funding is telling a cohesive story. The federal grant application put together by Minnesota’s District 196 consortium specifically tied the state’s demand for H-1B Visa STEM workers—foreign workers— to the skills and credentials it would develop through its Apple Valley High E3 STEM program. The intent was to produce a local workforce capable of doing the same jobs. The application clearly laid out the entire pathway students would follow from grade 11 through grade 14 (via post-secondary credits earned during high school), including the role played by new technologies such as those in the school’s Fab Lab.

Target Optimal Grant Sources

There’s an abundance of grant sources. Refining your mission will also help you sift through funding opportunities to identify the ones that are the best fit for your program. Where do you go from there? Depending on the scale you hope to achieve, the spectrum runs from the federal level to the most local of grant programs.

Cultivate an Advisory Board

GET THE BALL ROLLING

Contacts beget other contacts. Although attracting your first big sponsor may be a challenge, Lynch reports it gets easier after that. The Stratasys relationship at District 196 led to a partnership with UTC Aerospace Systems. Because UTC was a sponsor, a parent
volunteer convinced his employer, General Dynamics Mission Systems, to ante up as well. So they also wrote a sponsor check.

GET STUDENTS INVOLVED

Involve the students. With his background in FIRST Robotics, Lynch knew the students would be invaluable spokespeople to communicate the value of the programs they were attending. When he arrived at Apple Valley High, he helped get a newrobotics team started that just happened to be all girls—the team name was The Iron Maidens. “They have been an unbelievable engine for promoting STEM out there in our community,” he says. “They’ve done massive amounts of outreach to students in elementary and middle schools. They’ve testified in our state senate and house of representatives on STEM bills.” While the girls were freshmen when they started, they’re now sophomores and most have joined the grant-funded program. Not only are they attracting more business to sponsor their robotics efforts, but they’ve helped start two more teams, which are now doing outreach as well.

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