Unsung Heroes of KU Research
Behind every successful award are teams of KU research development and administration staff who help investigators identify opportunities, prepare and submit complicated proposals under strict deadlines, and then help manage finances and compliance for funded projects. They are the unsung heroes of KU research, greasing the wheels of innovation and discovery.
In each issue of KU Discoveries, we shine a spotlight on a KU staff member deemed particularly outstanding by colleagues.
'Indispensable' grant coordinator helps KU researchers shine
Beth Benfield | Grant Coordinator Senior | Strong Hall Shared Service Center
Maggie Witek’s Ph.D. in analytical chemistry serves her well as an associate research professor in the Soper Research Group at KU, where she develops micro- and nano-scale lab-on-a-chip devices for biomedical applications.
But she occasionally feels clueless about Excel spreadsheets containing project budgets.
That’s why Beth Benfield is her hero. Benfield, grant coordinator senior in the Strong Hall Shared Service Center, expertly monitors accounts and approves spending on complex sponsored projects so that Witek and other investigators in the Department of Chemistry can focus on their research.
“Beth has a huge amount of patience for us as PIs,” Witek said. “She comes to our building every month, holds our hands and explains whether we’re in the red or in the black and how to fix that. She cleans up all the messes we make, and she does it with a smile.”
Benfield’s long history at the University of Kansas enhances her effectiveness, according to colleagues. She worked in the chemistry department for 18 years before moving to the SSC in December 2013 when KU centralized transaction-based activities.
“A lot of weird questions come up when someone has a grant and you’re trying to make sure they follow all the rules,” a co-worker said. “Because she has a lot of experience and connections at KU, Beth is able to see the big picture and put together pieces that make things easier for people.”
Benfield is also a conscientious educator who understands when to get closely involved with teaching new skills and trouble-shooting problems, and when to take a step back because someone is confidently moving forward with a project. That’s true for researchers, the two staff members that she supervises, and other colleagues.
“She is excellent at checking in with people and giving them the time and attention they need,” a co-worker said.
Witek agreed: “Beth is absolutely indispensable for us.”
Development officer catalyzes KU research funding success
Nancy Myers | Research Development Officer | IPSR
Ward Lyles cannot imagine having applied for and received the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for early-career faculty without the support of Nancy Myers.
“Her expertise, skills, encouragement and full array of talents and personality were invaluable every step of the way,” said Lyles, an associate professor of urban planning who won a five-year, $500,000 NSF CAREER award in 2018. “From the outset, she gave generously of her time and insights to help me craft the proposal.”
Multiply that sentiment over the 800-plus proposals that Myers has coordinated or supervised as grant development officer at the Institute for Policy & Social Research, and the magnitude of her positive impact on the University of Kansas research community starts to become clear.
During 19 years at IPSR, Myers has helped grow the center’s client base from fewer than 10 to more than 150 affiliates in a wide range of disciplines, including business, law, education, journalism and the social sciences. She and her team have helped secure over $40 million in grants and contract funding for KU investigators exploring social problems and policy-relevant questions.
What drives those impressive quantitative results, according to colleagues, is Myers’ qualitative excellence.
“Nancy brings excitement and energy to the workplace, which is undoubtedly a factor in her success and the success of faculty she supports,” a co-worker said. “In a job with tight deadlines and a need for the highest quality work that requires deep collaboration with diverse faculty, she and her team have achieved what is hardest to achieve: calm, high-level performance.”
Lyles noted that Myers’ professionalism and commitment elevate KU’s reputation beyond campus borders: “Colleagues from other institutions – some with much bigger research infrastructures – have made a point of telling me how impressive IPSR, and Nancy, are.”
'Go-to' manager leads gracefully under pressure
Joanne Eden | Grant Officer | Post-Award | KU Office of Research
Knowledgeable. Respectful. Helpful. Consistent.
The words Joanne Eden’s colleagues use to describe her read like a hiring manager’s wish list. As a veteran grant officer in the Office of Research Post-Award unit, Eden has been around the University of Kansas long enough (31 years) to recall the origin and evolution of projects and practices.
“She’s just a bank full of knowledge,” said a co-worker. “She remembers details from 10 or 15 years ago. And she truly believes in not just giving you the answer, but also giving you the history to help you connect the dots.”
As the Grant Management Team lead, Eden supervises 10 employees who manage more than 2,600 awards from a diverse range of sponsors. No two awards are exactly alike, and Eden guides her staff through the nuance of budget allocations, cost transfers, revenue balancing, financial reporting and more with a steady hand. Appreciation for her expertise extends beyond the Office of Research.
“She has a great reputation with the different funding agencies,” a colleague said. “She also counsels many of the faculty and program officers on campus. When she has an opportunity to meet with them, it’s always positive.”
Through it all, Eden models calmness, kindness and positivity. She brings flowers to brighten the office at least once a week, and she stocks the freezer with treats. “She understands the stress of the job,” one team member said. “Any time we’re having a hard day, we know we can indulge in an ice cream cone to soothe the beast.”