Tiara Gilman with her $1,000 check

Applied Learning Pays Off for Students in Buffalo State’s Grant-Writing Course


Buffalo State University knows that applied learning pays off—sometimes literally, as it did for Tiara Gilman when she successfully received funding using skills learned in ENG 409: Writing Grants and Proposals. Gilman, who graduated in May with a degree in English education, entered the Buffalo State Small Business Development Center’s inaugural Bengal Entrepreneurship Program (BEP) Competition in November 2023 and was awarded first prize: $1,000. 

Michele Ninacs, the Buffalo State associate professor who teaches ENG 409, said that Gilman is one of many students who have successfully applied skills from the course to receive funding. “When I hear that students have been able to actualize their learning and obtain funding, I’m thrilled,” Ninacs said. “That means we’ve set them up for success.” 

The course is required for Buffalo State’s technical writing certificate, a 12-credit-hour certification program that helps students develop their ability to write and revise for a variety of business environments and tasks, such as grant applications and writing professional documents. ENG 409, which is open to all students, covers all aspects of grant and proposal writing, including researching opportunities, determining eligibility, understanding grant components and requirements, and learning how to concisely and precisely articulate goals and objectives for an audience that may not have any background knowledge of a project. 

“Students have to think about what kind of information to include so that the audience will understand and approve their funding,” Ninacs said. “There are a lot of people out there trying to obtain funds; funders are looking for things to be articulated in clear, specific ways.” 

Each student must write a grant application during the course, but Ninacs does not dictate content. “Students have to come up with scenarios for projects they’d like to pitch or support,” she said, “then look for grants that would support that project. Some students write purely hypothetically, while others have things they actually want to write grants for. I encourage them to do something that is as close to authentic as possible because I want it to have meaning; I want them to have the experience of writing a proposal and realize, ‘You can do this; you can go out and obtain funding for projects you feel strongly about.’”

Ninacs said class participants are a varied group, including science majors who know grant funding will play a large role in their future ability to do research, students with familial or community ties to nonprofit organizations who write real-life applications, and entrepreneurs like Gilman.

Gilman, owner of the wig business TiaraLikeTheCrown LLC, said she enrolled in the course to expand her financial literacy and learn how to effectively write about her business to help it receive funding. 

“I wanted to learn how my business could stand out,” Gilman said. “The class was perfect for me, especially [to learn] what judges who are giving out money are looking for.”

In her BEP Competition application, Gilman was required to discuss business components like mission, net profit, and target demographic.

“The course prepared me by allowing me to detect ways to convince judges my business is promising and deserves money,” Gilman said. “Since receiving the funding in January, I have purchased more inventory; sold wigs in Brooklyn, New York, and in Buffalo; and increased my net worth in my business to $16,000.”

Gilman said that while the course was challenging, she encourages all student business owners to enroll. “It’s worth it,” she said. “I’ve always been a words-only girl; when I see numbers, I get very fearful and anxious. This course was a mixture of both, but I worked hard, and I am proud of myself.”

And for Ninacs, that’s what it’s all about.

“I look at the opportunities it affords students,” she said. “That’s all I want: to give my students options, and to make sure they are prepared to succeed in the world.”

SBDC advisor Olivia Harbol (left) and Tiara Gilman.