Lehigh has received a $2.6 million five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE-Institutional Transformation program as part of a national push to increase the ranks of women in academic science and engineering careers. The university is one of seven schools to receive funding this year.
Historically, a gender gap has existed in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Data published in the 2009 National Research Council’s Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty shows that while women have increased in academic science and engineering in recent years, they remain less than one-quarter of faculty in most STEM disciplines.
Efforts to include women in the STEM fields have focused on increasing their admittance to undergraduate and graduate programs, with considerable success: 45 percent of doctorates in Biology and 32 percent in Chemistry are earned by women. Yet only 26 percent and 18 percent of these Ph.D.s apply for academic jobs. Many opt for positions in industry. The purpose of the NSF ADVANCE Program is to attract more of these young scientists and engineers to faculty positions where they can serve as role models for undergraduates and graduate students.
“We have the opportunity for institutional transformation by aligning the ADVANCE program with the larger goals and directions of the university,” says Pat Farrell, provost and vice president for academic affairs. Farrell serves as the lead principal investigator (PI) on the NSF ADVANCE grant. “Taking advantage of the best minds in the STEM fields requires removing barriers to ensure all groups have the opportunity to excel in these areas.”
Diane Hyland, associate dean for faculty and staff in the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of psychology; Jackie Krasas, associate professor of sociology and director of women studies; Jeff Sands, professor of biological sciences; and Sibel Pamukcu, professor of civil and environmental engineering, will be co-PIs on the project. Jean Soderlund, professor of history, helped to write the grant and will serve as the project director.
In the past several years, Lehigh has revised policies and developed programs for faculty, including increased flexibility through tenure-clock extensions, a fully paid Family and Medical Leave policy and a university mentoring program for assistant professors, and has provided research support for new parents. Still, barriers to faculty career advancement remain and recruitment of female faculty remains difficult.
“The ADVANCE Program will work with Lehigh faculty to expand candidate pools and reconfigure programs/policies to foster success of early- and mid-career faculty in STEM departments and interdisciplinary initiatives,” Soderlund says. Results from the Lehigh ADVANCE program are intended to be shared with other universities.
About the NSF Advance Program
The goal of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) ADVANCE program is 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, including professional societies and other STEM-related not-for-profit organizations, to address various aspects of STEM academic culture and institutional structure that may differentially affect women faculty and academic administrators. As such, ADVANCE is an integral part of the NSF’s multifaceted strategy to broaden participation in the STEM workforce, and supports the critical role of the Foundation in advancing the status of women in academic science and engineering.
Since 2001, the NSF has invested more than $130 million to support ADVANCE projects at more than 100 institutions of higher education and STEM-related, not-for-profit organizations in 41 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, including 24 EPSCoR jurisdictions.