The Level-Up Grant: Reaching the Next Level in your Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities

Issue Date: December 8, 2020

The Division of Research and Innovation is pleased to announce the 2021 Level-Up Grant: Reaching the Next Level in your Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (RSCA), open to all SJSU RSCA disciplines. This grant is intended to provide internal resources for conducting specific RSCA work that will set the stage for writing an extramural grant proposal to leverage that work for future funding.

The primary goal is to help established Principal Investigators (PIs) become competitive for more complex and higher-dollar-amount extramural grant proposals, as well as to fund RSCA projects that build capacity for new PIs. The primary focus is on faculty with an established RSCA track record (at SJSU or a previous institution) to be able to leverage that work into an external grant that is larger than any past extramural funding. Faculty with less mature RSCA projects, or who are starting new RSCA pathways, might consider applying for the concurrently open SJSU RSCA Seed Grant Program (formerly the Central RSCA Grant Program).

There are three categories of grants under this Level-Up Grant program (see table below). In the Solo-PI category, faculty will need to discuss their existing successful RSCA and how it will combine with the proposed work to position them to take full advantage of the considerable financial support offered by the Level-Up Grant Program and subsequently a competitive extramural grant proposal. In the Multi-Investigator category, the proposal will need to discuss how the proposed work leverages each contributing faculty’s existing RSCA to create a project resulting in a competitive extramural proposal. In the Multi-Institutional category, the goal is to use Level-Up funds to allow SJSU faculty to create additional data or work to be able to submit a competitive proposal with researchers from another institution; however, all Level-Up funds must be used for SJSU expenses. Level-Up funds can be spent on summer salary or for direct RSCA project expenses. Given the continued COVID-19 restrictions, money for supporting travel is not permitted.

All proposed RSCA projects must be compatible with the SJSU RSCA Adapt Plan [pdf] as laid out for Phase 2 [pdf], given that any research compatible with Phase 2 can be conducted under Phase 3 or 4. This requirement may be revised prior to the final deadline if conditions change significantly.

All proposals must identify a specific “target” extramural grant request for proposal (RFP), to which the PI will apply based on the work accomplished with the Level-Up Grant Program. Acceptable target extramural grant RFPs include those issued from federal, state, and local agencies as well as private foundations. If the target RFP is a limited submission, you are still required to go through the normal SJSU limited submission process. A completed extramural grant proposal for the target RFP is one of the deliverables of this Level-Up award, and the complete proposal package must be finished by the end of the Level-Up award period. The exact submission date can be up to six months after the closing of the Level-Up award period, but must be clearly identified in the proposal. Submission by that date will be a requirement for successful completion of the Level-Up Grant award.

Table 1. Funding Categories, Amounts and Requirements

Proposal Category Number of Available Awards Maximum Amount per Award Requirements

Solo PI


$10,000 - 20,000

The target RFP must be for a minimum budget of $200k. Grants to private foundations are welcomed. Co-PIs are not permitted.

Multi-Investigator Team 2-3 $20,000

All PIs and Co-PIs must be at SJSU. Multi-Disciplinary teams are encouraged, but not required. However, the proposed work must explain in detail the need for the specialized expertise of each faculty member on the team.

Target RFP must be for a minimum budget of $500k.

Multi-Institutional Collaboration 2-3 $30,000

The aim of this category is to set SJSU faculty up to submit a proposal to an extramural RFP with specified collaborator(s) from another institution. All Level-Up funds must be spent at SJSU (expenses and faculty support). The target RFP proposal, in contrast, will include faculty and expenses from both (multiple) institutions but must have at least $250k coming to SJSU. Preference will be given to proposals where SJSU is the primary institution, as opposed to being a subaward on another organization’s proposal.

These projects are not required to be multi-disciplinary, but should define the Co-PI expertise needed for the proposal.

Eligibility Requirements

PIs must be tenured or tenure-track faculty at SJSU; Co-PIs may be Unit 3 faculty members. Each faculty member may be the PI or Co-PI on only one proposal under this program. Non-SJSU collaborators are not allowed on the Level-Up project portion of the proposal in any of the three categories. Non-SJSU collaborators will however be required to be identified for the target RFP for category three (Table 1).

Faculty who received a 2020/2021 Level-Up grant are not eligible to apply.

Caution: Please note that faculty will only be able to apply to either the 2021/2022 SJSU RSCA Seed Grant Program (formerly the Central RSCA Grant Program) or this 2021/2022 Level-Up Grant program - not both. If applications are received for both competitions, the Office of Research will, at its own discretion, select only one of the proposals to review. It is wise to focus your energies on only one proposal.

To help you decide, think of the SJSU RSCA Seed Grant Program as an initial seed grant for your RSCA, while the Level-Up grant is to take your existing, relatively mature RSCA to the next level. Solo investigators should also consider that the majority of funding in the 2021 Level-Up Program will be going to the Multi-Investigator and Multi-Institutional categories; a maximum of three Solo-PIs will be funded. (For additional information on this topic, see “Available Funding” section below.)

Level-UP Grant Proposal Requirements

Proposals have three required components:

  1. A completed Level-Up Grant Application Form [pdf] and accompanying Level-Up Budget Request and Justification Form (download),
  2. Level-Up Grant proposal narrative, and
  3. If your RSCA work will require access to SJSU, field work, or human subject research, a completed COVID-19 RSCA Project Plan detailing how all RSCA work associated with this grant program will comply with Phase 2 of the SJSU’s RSCA Adapt Plan [pdf], including the need to conduct as much work remotely as possible, and an EH&S Checklist [pdf]. This plan will have to be approved by the VPRI, College Dean, and Environmental Health and Safety before the final Level-Up award is made. Note: if your RSCA work can be conducted 100% while sheltering in place, you do not need to complete the COVID-19 RSCA Project Plan. Instead, please include an extra page in your proposal, which will not count toward the page limit, titled "COVID-19 RSCA Project Plan Exemption Narrative," and briefly describe how you will conduct all of the proposed RSCA work while sheltering in place.

Required Component 1

The Level-Up Grant Application Form [pdf] requires several pieces of information including:

  • An ORCiD ID number for the PI and all SJSU Co-PIs,
  • Identification of the target extramural grant RFP, the maximum fundable amount, the F&A or indirect rate allowed by the RFP, the amount you expect to apply for, and a link to the RFP or attachment of a complete copy of the RFP. If you are applying for a Multi-Institutional Collaboration you must also specify whether SJSU or the partnering organization will be submitting the proposal as the prime.
  • List of previous internal and external funding obtained by the PI within the last five years as PI, Co-PI or consultant,
  • Detailed budget and budget justification (download) for Level-Up project work, and
  • Dean and Chair approval.

The budget may include funding for summer salary*, equipment, supplies, and/or graduate or undergraduate student stipends**. Expenses to private companies (e.g. private spaces/laboratories or consultants) are allowable, but faculty are encouraged to create research partnerships in lieu of these expenses if at all possible. If not possible, the expense has to be justified clearly. Travel expenses are not permitted. A detailed plan of how all activities, especially any student RSCA, will comply with Phase 2 of the SJSU RSCA Adaptation Plan, must be explicitly addressed in the required COVID-19 RSCA Project Plan.

The requested funds may complement the University Faculty RSCA Assigned Time Program and other currently funded active internal RSCA awards. However, the applicant will have to demonstrate within the proposal narrative the exclusive need for this additional internal grant to achieve the specified outcomes, along with written approval from the appropriate Dean and Chair. As stated above, faculty will only be able to apply to either the 2021/2022 SJSU RSCA Seed Grant Program or this 2021/2022 Level-Up Grant program - not both.

* Summer salary (maximum of $5,000) is allowed for either June or July 2021.

** The SJSU RSCA Adaptation Plan for Phase 2 requires explicit VPRI, Dean, and EH&S approval through the RSCA Project Plan and EH&S Checklist for all RSCA projects. This requirement will be in effect for the Level-Up proposals as well. In Phase 2, in-person undergraduate participation requires special approval, so please consider undergraduate student involvement in your proposal very carefully.

Required Component 2

The Level-Up Grant proposal narrative must not exceed three pages and should be written in a style that is easily accessible to a reviewer from outside the author's discipline or area of expertise, and should address the following elements:

  • A statement of the need or problem to be addressed.
  • The likely impact of this work on the fields involved.
  • The scope of work for the proposed project including methodology.
  • A description of how this work will expand your capabilities and set you up to reach the next level in research complexity and funding for your RSCA projects, including discussion of your RSCA work established to date.
  • A discussion of why this work is a good fit for the identified target RFP - we strongly suggest you include information from discussions with the program officer associated with this RFP.
  • Extramural grant proposals from PIs in the Colleges of Engineering or Science are required to target RFPs which allow the full SJSU on-campus F&A rate of 46.5%. Proposals from MLML must target RFPs with their on-campus rate of 52.5%. PIs from all other colleges are encouraged to seek RFPs with the full on-campus F&A rate of 46.5%, but this will not be considered as part of the review criteria. Instead, these proposals will be assessed based on the fit of the proposed work with SJSU’s institutional mission.
    For the Multi-Investigator and Multi-Institutional categories, why each contributing faculty’s RSCA is required to be supported in the proposed Level-Up work, and how it will contribute to making a more competitive proposal to the target RFP.
  • For Multi-Institutional Collaboration proposals, the degree to which the work fosters new and innovative collaboration across institutions.
  • A project timeline indicating major RSCA milestones, including the writing, completion, and submission of your proposal to the target RFP - submission date can be up to six months after the Level-Up award period.
  • References/works cited, as appropriate - one-page maximum; not counted as part of the 3-page limit.

Required Component 3

All proposals must include a completed COVID-19 RSCA Project Plan, including the EH&S Checklist [pdf], detailing how all RSCA activities associated with the proposed project will comply with Phase 2 of the SJSU RSCA Adapt Plan [pdf].

Available Funding

Grant funds will be distributed to the three different categories in the amounts as guided by Table 1. The goal is to fund faculty RSCA across a range of colleges at SJSU. Only qualified and highly-competitive proposals will be awarded. However, funds may be distributed differently among the three grant categories; the majority of funds will go to the Multi-Investigator and Multi-Institutional categories with a maximum of three solo investigator grants awarded.

Successful Applicants

All PIs who successfully receive funding from the Level-Up Grant program will be responsible for the completion of the required extramural grant proposal for the target RFP originally identified in their Level-Up proposal narrative. After submission, a copy of the extramural grant proposal must be sent to the Office of Research ( Depending on the official RFP submission date, the extramural grant proposal submission can be after the Level-Up Grant award period ends, but no later than six months.

Successful applicants must also abide by the terms of the University IP Policy (F98-3) and cooperate with efforts to protect and promote any intellectual property related to the funded work. You understand that the funding is provided as extraordinary resources to support your research, scholarship and creative activity (RSCA) and to advance the innovation goals of the University.

Submission Details

Completed applications should (if possible) be compiled into one PDF file and must be submitted electronically no later than 5:00 p.m. on February 3, 2021, to the Office of Research at [note this is a different email than last time] with a copy to your college (see email submission addresses below). See Level-Up Grant Proposal Requirements above for the requirements of each section. To help us identify your submission under this grant, please use the keywords Level-Up in the subject line of the email. Late proposals will not be accepted.

Tenured/Tenure-Track Faculty College College Email Address
Health and Human Sciences
Humanities and the Arts
Professional and Global Education
Social Sciences
University Library

Selection Criteria

The following criteria will be considered in evaluating proposals:

  1. Clarity of the proposal and quality of the argumentation.
  2. The degree to which the proposed work is innovative and contributes to new or transformative knowledge and scholarship in the fields involved.
  3. The degree to which the proposed work builds on existing RSCA and elevates the PI’s research to a new level with increased extramural funding potential.
  4. The degree to which the proposed work conforms to RSCA limitations for Phase 2 of the SJSU RSCA Adapt Plan [pdf].
  5. Feasibility of the proposed activity within the timeline and budget.
  6. Appropriateness of the proposed budget and consistency with the narrative.
    Feasibility of extramural funding plan (including the fit of the chosen RFP with the work proposed) and the likelihood of proposal readiness and competitiveness at the end of the Level-Up Grant award period.

Grant awards are selected administratively by the Division of Research and Innovation based on internal committee evaluations. The Division of Research and Innovation reserves the right to select or deny, at its sole discretion, any, all, or some of the applications for award.

Process Timeline

Submission Window: January 7 - February 3, 2021

Review Period: February 3 – April 1, 2021

Notification Date: April 2, 2021

Award Period: June 1, 2021 – May 31, 2022

Contact Information

If you have questions about the Level-Up Grant Program, please contact the Office of Research in care of Dr. Julia Gaudinski, Director of Research Development, at or (408) 924-2431.

For any matters related to the submission process, please contact the Office of Research in care of Project Coordinator, at