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By Natalie Varma

Susan FratazziLike many other desk jobs, grants management — the oversight of research funding — involves sitting at a computer all day. Grant managers are responsible for overseeing research projects funded by a larger appropriation, which as you can imagine, involves a lot of time spent staring at a screen. And while the daily tasks of grant management may seem mundane, Susan Fratazzi, the Collaboratory’s newest team member, finds that she is motivated by her work because she is engaged with the research.

Although Fratazzi started at the Collaboratory in September, she is no stranger to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In fact, she’s worked here for 18 years, having held positions in grants management at the Institute for the Environment, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and School of Nursing.

“If I personally feel engaged with what the purpose of the research is, then I’m happier.”

During her time in grants management at the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of the Environment (IE), Fratazzi developed a connection to the environmental research that she worked with. “I find that some of the duties of a grants manager can get repetitive, so if I personally feel engaged with what the purpose of the research is, then I’m happier,” she said.

Fratazzi was the research administrator for the Center for Environmental Modeling for Policy Development (CEMPD) for 15 years, under which one of Fratazzi’s all-time favorite projects to work on was housed.

The EPA supported the project, which developed an air quality modeling network. The resulting program, the Center for Community Modeling and Analyses System, was imperative in helping shape data-informed air quality policies by encouraging data sharing and collaboration between researchers globally. “It was very rewarding,” she said, “Very challenging, but very rewarding.”

Before delving into grants management, Fratazzi earned a bachelor’s degree in applied behavioral science with a minor in psychology from Ashford University. Although it’s not directly grants management, she feels that her degree provided her with a robust base education that she uses daily at work.

Susan Fratazzi with a horse
Fratazzi with one of her horses, a six-year-old mustang named Envy, that she rescued from the wild this summer.

Outside the office, Fratazzi is a dedicated equestrian who loves working specifically with wild horses. She is passionate about gentling and rehoming mustangs, feral, free-roaming horses of the Western U.S., and has adopted two: Envy and Casper. “It’s really cool to see a wild horse finally settle down and be one with humans,” Fratazzi said. “It’s like a switch goes off.”

Aside from her passion for wild horses, there’s another thing Fratazzi feels strongly about – environmental research.

Fratazzi said that although she’s worked in grants management for years, her role at the Collaboratory still allows her to do something new.

“It’s a different twist on the same thing that I’ve done for years,” Fratazzi said.

According to Fratazzi, she’s worked with sponsored research – when the university receives money to further a research goal – for years, but the Collaboratory is different in that they delegate that money to researchers.

At the Collaboratory, Fratazzi is a grants manager for research projects supported by funding from the State as part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which seeks “to provide direct relief to Americans, contain COVID-19, and rescue the economy.” A one-time appropriation from the NC General Assembly allotted $50 million in ARPA funds to the Collaboratory in November 2021.

One of the projects this funding supports is the Highly Treated Wastewater Pilot Program. This project aims to support wastewater plant improvements across the State and produce higher-quality effluent water – water that leaves treatment plants and flows into rivers and streams.

Other ARPA-supported projects include the VISION study, which looks at the long-term clinical effects of COVID-19, and the learning recovery network, a collection of over a dozen research studies focusing on pandemic-related disruptions in statewide education.

Projects like these are what draw Fratazzi to her work. Her decision to accept a position at the Collaboratory stemmed from her love of environmental policy, which she developed while working at IE. She was specifically looking for a position where she could remain involved in the field. “I really missed working with environmental research,” Fratazzi said. “That’s my passion.”

With Fratazzi in the office, the Collaboratory is excited to have an engaged, experienced, and well-rounded team member who brings passion for research to the table.

Natalie Varma is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in media and journalism. She has worked as a communications intern with the North Carolina Collaboratory since the Fall 2022 semester.

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