Tuesday, September 2, 2014

SLCC grants specialist also handy with a lasso

Ann Crissman has been known to lasso a budget or two while employed at Salt Lake Community College since November 2011 as a grants and contracts officer in the Office of Sponsored Projects.

And she can also handle a lariat for real, able to rope an ornery chair at 20 paces.

Crissman’s job at SLCC focuses on securing and managing federal funding by writing and monitoring grants that tap into funds from, for example, the U.S. Department of Labor. Other money streams she manages flow from the State of Utah through agencies like the Department of Workforce Services.

She handles grants that range in value from as little as $4,000 to two current federal grants each worth about $2.8 million, designed in part to help laid off or displaced workers train for new jobs or retrain to evolve in an existing job.

“My role in it is leading the program managers,” Crissman said.

Her big thing with grants is compliance, making sure managers of the programs at the college know what they can and can’t do with the money, relying on “volumes and volumes” of rules set by the school, state and federal government.

“I monitor all of that and help the grantees conform to, meet and exceed the grant requirements,” she said.

Some of those regulations are embedded in her mind, but her expertise is in being resourceful and knowing where to find the answers.

“Because if I were to try and stick all of that into my head I would explode,” Crissman laughed. “I don’t know how else to say that.”

If you benefit from a grant, you want Crissman on your team.

She will look at an existing grant and what its expected outcomes are in terms of types of curriculum offered, number of participants and finishers in the program and the percentage that will get jobs upon completion. After her careful analysis, she’ll meet with the program managers and go over their performance with the grant.

“I’m able to sort of get into it and give them different ideas on how to increase recruitment or outreach or even to say, ‘Hey, have you thought of trying this?’” she said. “Grants are a lot of work (to manage alone).”

It helps, Crissman added, when someone like her comes from the “outside” with knowledge of similar grants and then approaches a program manager with new ideas on how to make the grant work better.

“I have a hefty background in fixing things,” she said, referring to her previous employment with Unified Fire Authority, which when she started needed help with a backlog of issues with grants. To clarify the word “fixing,” she described it like taking something that’s going 5 miles per hour and getting it up to 60 mph, or to get that acceleration speed up to “boom.”

Her experience working with firefighters prepared her for a kind of baptism by fire just days after she started at SLCC when she was handed a grant that was floundering. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that people knowledgeable about the grant had recently moved on from SLCC, leaving Crissman and a colleague to handle it on their own.

“We spent every night on the phone,” she said. “It was the day before Christmas Eve and everyone was walking out – they were letting everyone go at noon. … We had an audit deadline that day. … Through it all, it was really kind of fun.”

Getting that grant in order meant that more contractors, electricians, home builders, people in construction and anyone with a “green energy” component to their business was getting the training and education they needed to stay current or ahead of regulations and client expectations.

And for Crissman, mother of two grown children, it was fun. Really.

Outside of analyzing grant budgets at work she finds fun on the golf course (she’s a “good” golfer who could be “great” if she could improve her putting), researching family history (she’s gone all the way back to the time of Charlemagne’s rule in Western Europe, finding Methodists and Quakers in her background along the way) and practicing her lassoing skills on the family dog.

“I can’t do it off of a horse,” said Crissman, a burgeoning roper. “But if I’m just standing … the chair, dog, sometimes my own head when you really screw up.”