Friday, December 2, 2022
Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,
Historically, women have been underrepresented in many STEM fields and in 2019 women made up 27% of the United States STEM workforce. That’s great progress since the 1970 census, when only 8% of the STEM workforce were women, but clearly there is much room for improvement both nationally and right here at S&T. Here at S&T, the percentage of tenured or tenure-track faculty who are women has improved from 22% to 24.3% in the last four years. A seemingly modest but significant trend. We must ensure continuous improvement by implementing proven approaches to close such a stubbornly persistent gender gap in this critical element of diversity.
To this end, Dr. Jessica Cundiff, an associate professor of psychological science, has established a national reputation focused “on the psychological processes that contribute to social inequality, with an emphasis on subtle forms of biases that are often unintentional and seemingly minor, yet consequential.” In fact, Dr. Cundiff was recently awarded the National Science Foundation’s prestigious ADVANCE grant to attract, retain and advance women in STEM programs at our university. The peer-reviewed, nationally competitive selection process awards research and implementation proposals that support NSF’s ADVANCE goals “to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers, thereby contributing to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce. ADVANCE encourages institutions of higher education and the broader science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) community … to address various aspects of STEM academic culture and institutional structure that may differentially affect women faculty and academic administrators.”
Here at S&T, our ADVANCE Program’s Distinguished Lecture Series opened by a presentation by Dr. Karan Watson, Regents’ Professor of Electrical Engineering and former provost of Texas A&M University. Next semester, our ADVANCE program will host the second speaker in this series, Dr. Erin A. Cech, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, whose research focuses on cultural beliefs and practices that contribute to gender gaps in STEM.
In addition to the lecture series, the S&T ADVANCE program will provide additional education and leadership development opportunities for our current and aspiring leaders at S&T. These include funding allocations to help individual academic programs develop new approaches to recruit and retain women faculty and establishing a faculty fellows program to support faculty to be champions of women faculty in STEM fields.
The perception across the nation well into the 20th century was that women were incapable of mastering the math and physical science requirements for mining and engineering degrees. Interestingly, however, women were enrolled as students during the earliest years of our university. In fact, women constituted 28% of our total student population in 1875 when 28 of the 101 students enrolled were women.
A recent study published in Inside Higher Ed found that mixed-gender research teams are more likely to produce innovative and impactful research than same-gender teams.
With the end goal of becoming an integrated, diverse and highly inclusive university, we are excited about the journey that the ADVANCE grant has enabled. With the leadership of Dr. Cundiff, the involvement of our faculty, staff, students, alumni and our other partners, and with the awareness that there is more work ahead, we look forward to when we can confidently say that we are aware of our unconscious biases, consider different perspectives and viewpoints in our decision-making processes, and foster a culture of inclusion where all faculty can thrive.
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