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College of Engineering Included in $3-Million Grant from NSF to Foster New Paths for Equity and Inclusion in STEM Fields

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Professor David McLaughlin of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department is a co-principal investigator on a five-year, $3-million ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Grant awarded to UMass Amherst from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The huge award will support the development of an innovative professional advancement model for underrepresented faculty in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). According to the NSF, the ADVANCE program seeks to develop systemic approaches to increase the participation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers.

See Inside UMass article: Campus Awarded $3 Million by NSF to Foster New Paths for Equity and Inclusion in STEM Fields

“A key strategy to achieving gender equity across engineering is to significantly increase the number of women faculty we hire and invest in their success,” says College of Engineering Dean Tim Anderson. “The NSF ADVANCE program will provide the strategic focus and resources to advance this strategy.”

According to Paula Rees, the College of Engineering’s assistant dean for diversity, “We know from the literature that students are motivated by seeing people like them amongst the faculty. We hope that by helping us recruit and retain underrepresented faculty in science and engineering fields, this grant will also impact the number of underrepresented students enrolled in and graduating from our programs.”
Through the grant, an interdisciplinary team from the College of Engineering and three other UMass Amherst colleges will focus on using collaboration as a tool for fostering equity for women in science and engineering fields.

“This highly competitive grant will be a tremendous boost for our continuing efforts to create a campus environment that supports the success of all members of our community,” says UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. “I commend the faculty team for developing a winning proposal that envisions a new and bold way for the university to promote the success and professional growth of our faculty.”

Dean Anderson explains that, despite significant increases in the proportion of women pursuing STEM doctoral degrees, women are significantly underrepresented as faculty, particularly in upper ranks, and in academic administrative positions, in almost all STEM fields.

“The problems of recruitment, retention, and advancement that are the causes of this underrepresentation vary by discipline and across groups of women faculty (e.g., by race/ethnicity, disability status, sexual orientation, foreign-born and foreign-trained status, and faculty appointment type),” explains the dean. “The ADVANCE program is designed to foster gender equity through a focus on the identification and elimination of organizational barriers that impede the full participation and advancement of all women faculty in academic institutions.”

As Dean Anderson adds, organizational barriers that inhibit equity may exist in areas such as policy, practice, culture, and organizational climate. “For example, practices in academic departments that result in the inequitable allocation of service or teaching assignments may impede research productivity, delay advancement, and create a culture of differential treatment and rewards. Policies and procedures that do not mitigate implicit bias in hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions could mean that women and underrepresented minorities are evaluated less favorably, perpetuating their underrepresentation and contributing to a climate that is not inclusive.”

Dean Anderson explains that the goals of the ADVANCE program are threefold:

  1. to develop systemic approaches to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers;
  2. to develop innovative and sustainable ways to promote gender equity that involve both men and women in the STEM academic workforce;
  3. to contribute to the research knowledge base on gender equity and the intersection of gender and other identities in STEM academic careers.

“The ADVANCE program contributes to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce because of the focus on equity for STEM academic faculty who are educating, training, and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral scholars,” as Dean Anderson concludes. (October 2018)