By Amy Brundeen
DeeAnna Oliveira , who has worked at UNT since 2011, recently began a new role as program director for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) at UNT. She’s the dedicated manager overseeing the growing and complex bucket of federal funds related to COVID-19 relief – the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 and the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
“This new initiative is so big, it needed to have a focus all by itself. We needed someone like DeeAnna to guide us through to make sure the many thousands of different projects and programs that will launch under HEERF and the American Rescue Plan are executed properly,” UNT Vice President for Research and Innovation Mark McLellan says.
In 2020, the CARES Act provided students with emergency financial aid and funds for the university to cover expenses like additional janitorial services and personal protection equipment. More funds are pending from ARPA. All these funds come under the Department of Education’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. Both acts allocated an additional amount to UNT because of its designation as a Minority-Serving and Hispanic-Serving Institution. Together, the funds are expected to total approximately $150 million. Administering federal funds requires complex paperwork before and after awards are made and auditing after the fact. Because there are so many programs across campus affected by the funds, it became clear that a single point person was needed to manage them.
“I’m like an air traffic controller, if you will – who knows who's in the air, what's everybody doing — and make sure none of the planes hit,” Oliveira says.
Oliveira began her career at UNT in Research Services, now known as Grants and Contracts Administration. Reorganization took her to the College of Information and the College of Education before she joined the Division of University Advancement as director of corporate and foundation communications in 2020.
Oliveira’s previous roles have given her experience in grant writing and editing, grant management, training, audit appeals, financial reporting management and compliance, focusing primarily on grants from the U.S. Department of Education.
“We looked inside the family for someone with a unique talent,” McLellan says. “We’re incredibly proud of DeeAnna, and we’re excited to have her as part of the research and innovation family.”
The HEERF funds are key to UNT, both for helping students succeed by remaining enrolled and meet basic expenses and for keeping the university moving forward following the pandemic.
“I have been really struck at the level of care and concern the administration has for the students and what they're going through during this time,” Oliveira says adding that creating new ways to help students succeed, such as developing courses to better engage students in virtual settings and make courses more inclusive, will continue long after the pandemic has passed.
“I don't think we're going to go back to where we were two years ago, but there's a real mindset of ‘How do we leverage this and change this into something that's really beneficial for students?’” she says. “It’s cool to be part of that conduit and see how it's helping our students.”
Oliveira has a broad background, working in innovation systems and business design before she went back to college to study literature to become a Russian literature professor — something she put on hold when she started working at UNT. What she says she brought both to all these areas is her ability to see patterns.
“My passion is seeing patterns. If something interests me enough, I just keep digging and digging,” she says. “I think that's why I ended up getting into audits or other things that people in my role don't usually pursue. I'm inquisitive. I need to know.”
Themes pop out to her in the research world too. In her current role, she is seeing patterns related to ways innovation may be permanently changed going forward.
“We’re in an amazing time because there all these inventions that are that are being forced. Crisis forces us to grow. We're not going to be able to put that genie back in the bottle. FDA is not going to be able to go back and slow walk people for years to get approvals before they release vaccines in the future,” Oliveira says. “I think at UNT we're on that precipice too, where we have such an ability to grow the research enterprise.”
Oliveira is very excited to be able to a part of all this change and to help students succeed.
“I'm just happy that I can give back to UNT,” she says. “It’s certainly not just about me. I'm just one person in this wheel.”