|September 22, 2008|
Union, Skidmore receive $500K NSF grant to research careers of women in science, technology
A $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will support a three-year study by Union and Skidmore college researchers on recruiting and retaining female professors in the fields of science (including social science), technology, engineering and math – the STEM disciplines.
Brenda Johnson, professor of mathematics at Union, and Alice Dean, professor of mathematics at Skidmore, are co-principal investigators for the project, titled “Skidmore Union Network (SUN): Supporting Women Faculty in STEM at Liberal Arts Colleges.”
Work begins this fall on both campuses.
Brenda Johnson, professor of mathematics
The two were the only liberal arts colleges to receive grants from the NSF through this round of its Advance Partnerships for Adaptation, Implementation and Dissemination. (PAID) awards program. The program seeks to increase representation of women in academic science and engineering careers by encouraging the use of effective existing innovative materials and practices.
Union and Skidmore scholars will consider how successful programs at some larger, research-oriented universities could be adapted for use and also make recommendations specific to the unique concerns of female faculty at smaller, liberal arts colleges.
Local analysis of national trend
Union and Skidmore mirror national trends, which show that women are underrepresented as teachers and scholars in the STEM fields, while men continue to dominate the higher faculty ranks.
At both colleges, women constitute slightly more than one-third of tenure-track and tenured faculty in the STEM disciplines. One-third of STEM full professors at Union are women; Skidmore’s percentage of female full professors is one-fourth.
The Skidmore-Union project will target women faculty in these disciplines at two specific career stages: tenure-track (early career) and tenured associate professors who have been at the rank for seven years or more. A central goal is to give women resources and support to achieve tenure and promotion.
“We’re hoping to learn more about where gender imbalances exist and why,” Johnson said. “Although it is hard to separate the personal from the systemic, our hope is to learn more about the systemic issues and make improvements.”
Key goals of the study are to learn more about the climates and biases on both campuses that affect hiring, development and promotion of women in these fields, and to develop environments that will eventually result in a more balanced gender ratio for faculty in the STEM disciplines. The researchers will share findings and recommendations with the larger community of liberal arts colleges.
Gender issues, said Dean, “are more of a problem in some areas than others. However, there are certain responsibilities, including child care and family issues, which fall primarily on women.”
The researchers plan to develop a structure that includes such tools as mentoring and other support to enable new faculty to succeed in meeting the challenges of juggling family and work responsibilities.
Those tasks include activities that will provide information and training on recognizing and combating bias, as well as initiatives that will foster relationships among STEM women faculty to increase opportunities for mentoring, collaboration and advanced training.
Project activities outlined
Dean of Engineering Cherrice A. Traver
This year, focus group interviews will be taken on both campuses, followed by climate surveys, training workshops for hiring and promotion, public events to raise awareness on each campus and educational activities for undergraduates. Since many female faculty members in the STEM professions begin their careers with their choice of undergraduate major, scholars agree that students need to be aware of these issues.
In addition, mentoring networks and research collaborations, which have succeeded at large universities, will be developed to enhance promotion opportunities for mid-career female faculty.
“This may be the best part of the project,” said committee member Cherrice Traver, Union dean of engineering and professor of computer engineering. “Building relationships with another college through mentoring will offer opportunities for everyone to gain professionally.”