SU ADVANCE Generates Gains for Women in STEM
On Oct. 25, members of Syracuse University faculty, administrators, students and friends gathered to celebrate the progress achieved by a seven-year initiative to advance opportunity for women faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The National Science Foundation’s financial support for the initiative, SU ADVANCE, may have formally ended in September, but faculty and administrators say the program has already generated significant changes in the way the University recruits, hires, supports and retains the most outstanding faculty scholars and teachers, regardless of gender.
The numbers attest to the progress made. This fall, for what is believed to be the first time, Syracuse University counts 100 women among its full-time faculty in the STEM disciplines. This includes four deans—Teresa Dahlberg of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, Liz Liddy of the School of Information Science, Joanna Masingila of the School of Education and Karin Ruhlandt of the College of Arts and Sciences—and Provost Michele Wheatly, a professor of biology and a longtime proponent herself of advancing access of underrepresented groups to STEM careers.
“Formulating solutions to today’s complex challenges requires a rich diversity of voices at the table and the brightest and best scholar-scientists in our classrooms and labs,” says Provost Wheatly. “This means ensuring that those who have long been underrepresented in the STEM fields, including women, have the encouragement, support and opportunities they need to achieve their full potential in this exciting arena. By increasing the number of women among our STEM faculty, we are making Syracuse a stronger university and encouraging future generations of bright young scholars, across all demographics, to pursue their own STEM careers. ”
Data compiled by the ADVANCE team offer a snapshot of the changed landscape at Syracuse. To consider just a few of the progress markers:
- From 2005-2010, 26.6 percent of tenure-track appointments were women. From 2011 to now, 40.4 percent have been women.
- In November 2010, women made up 20.4 percent of all STEM tenured or tenure-track faculty. In November 2016, they made up 27.2 percent. While growth of just under 7 percent seems small, the number of tenured and tenure-track STEM faculty overall grew by about 10 percent during that six-year span while the number of comparable women faculty grew by about 47 percent.
- In 2010, women made up just 14 percent of all full professors in STEM. In 2016, they made up 21 percent—a jump that represents a 53 percent increase in the number of women who are full professors in STEM.
“We really have made some notable progress in the last seven years,” says Marie Garland, whose role as executive director of SU ADVANCE since 2011 has now transitioned into a new position as executive director for faculty development, Office of Academic Affairs. “While the ADVANCE initiative can’t take full credit for these numbers by any means, I do think the ADVANCE program has helped search committees think about gender in the hiring process a bit more, and to consider how implicit bias can play a role in how applicants are viewed.”
Shobha Bhatia, a co-PI on the ADVANCE grant, remembers when she came to Syracuse University in 1980, the only female on the College of Engineering and Computer Science faculty at that time and the only female full professor in the college until 2008. Today the college counts 24 women among its full-time faculty—triple the number from 2010. Bhatia says that success can be attributed to many factors, including the support of University leadership for such efforts.
“We need to be very proud of these gains,” says Bhatia, a Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence in civil and environmental engineering. “The University has really made some phenomenal appointments—some really extraordinary STEM women hires in recent years.”
Wheatly and Garland both credit another Syracuse initiative, Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE), for laying the foundation for SU ADVANCE, and for sustaining a strong community among STEM women. That program, for which Bhatia was a long-time co-director, began in 1999 and continues today working to support advancement of women in STEM across their full academic career, from first-year undergraduate to faculty.
College of Arts and Sciences Dean Ruhlandt, Distinguished Professor of chemistry and another of the co-PI’s for the ADVANCE grant, spoke at the October event about some of the ways ADVANCE and WiSE have changed how the University recruits faculty applicants and supports them once they are hired. “We wanted to make change, to advance institutional transformation,” says Ruhlandt. “To do that, we needed to simultaneously address a wide array of challenges and capitalize on many opportunities.”
Among other things, changes implemented as part of ADVANCE included expanding applicant pools, giving female candidates the opportunity to meet with current women STEM faculty, creating a promising-researcher program to familiarize early-career scholars with the University, and working with search committees to help those tasked with making hiring decisions to better understand implicit bias.
The program also supported leadership development through such services as executive coaching, mentoring, professional development grants and creation of a dual career network.
Associate Professor of Physics Lisa Manning, a recent recipient of an early-career award from the American Physical Society, says she had some awareness of the ADVANCE initiative when she joined the faculty in 2011 but has since seen its impact first hand. “I recently chaired a faculty search committee in our department, and all of our candidates were able to meet with a dual career coordinator to provide them with confidential resources in case that was an issue for them,” says Manning, who last year was the first woman and first American to receive the Young Scientist Award from the Statistics Physics Commission of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics. “I heard from several of the candidates that this was impressive, and I think it played a role in our being able to hire a new female faculty member. This is great for the University as a whole, because it provides a network of mentors, teachers and scholars with diverse backgrounds who can connect with students who rely on those networks to excel.”
Garland says that although the SU ADVANCE project has completed its contract with the NSF, she and other ADVANCE staff will continue its work more broadly via the Center for Faculty Development and Institutional Transformation, with the support of Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs LaVonda N. Reed. They plan to use and adapt the strategies that worked for SU ADVANCE to further the goals of diversity and inclusion more broadly.
“It’s important not to think that we have now ‘succeeded,’ because it’s easy to go back,” says Bhatia of the gains made during the program’s run. “Now we have to work to continue these gains and retain these women faculty. We have to continue working to create a climate where they have opportunities to excel and are happy. And we have to work to duplicate this success more broadly.”
That’s a win-win for everyone, says Manning. “Perhaps unsurprisingly, the things that make a faculty job more desirable for a diverse set of candidates make the job nicer for everyone,” she says. “This program has really helped build community among faculty members. And I hope the University is able to continue the initiatives pioneered by the program on a long-term basis.”