Lehigh University
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Lehigh achieves notable progress in hiring women in STEM fields

With the aid of a grant from the National Science Foundation, and as a result of a concerted university-wide effort to increase campus diversity, Lehigh has succeeded in its efforts to better identify, recruit and hire top women faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

In the fall of 2013, Lehigh successfully recruited 12 new faculty in STEM fields. Of those, six (or 50 percent) were women, even though women made up only approximately 25 percent of PhD’s in those disciplines, according to NSF statistics.

The numbers show dramatic improvement from even two years ago, when 12 new STEM faculty members were hired at Lehigh, with only 2 (or 16 percent) being women. That year, women made up 25 percent of the national candidate pool. In 2012, when 10 new STEM faculty were hired, three (or 30 percent) were women, out of an available national pool of 28 percent.

“The ADVANCE grant has been extremely effective in one specific sector of that relatively broad set of challenges around the ideas of diversity and inclusion,” said Patrick Farrell, university provost and vice president for academic affairs. “I think in many respects the ADVANCE grant has helped us develop some original ideas, pushed us to try new things, and given us the impetus to talk to people who we may have not have talked to before.”

In 2010, Lehigh was one of seven institutions selected to receive an NSF ADVANCE (Advancing Women in Science and Engineering) Institutional Transformation Grant. Lehigh’s proposal, “Building Community Beyond Academic Departments,” focused on harnessing its interdisciplinary strengths to enhance recruitment, retention and advancement of women faculty in STEM fields.

At Lehigh, STEM fields include the NSF-funded disciplines of biological sciences, chemistry, earth and environmental sciences, mathematics, physics, psychology, sociology/anthropology and economics, and the disciplines in the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering of Engineering and Applied Science.

Through ADVANCE, Lehigh has sought to evaluate its climate and policies, conduct social science research and make recommendations for best practices to transform the university over the course of a five-year grant and beyond.

Now in its fourth year, that process is yielding real results. At a recent meeting held on campus to discuss the ADVANCE effort, Farrell and Lehigh President Alice P. Gast joined faculty members and members of the ADVANCE external advisory committee to speak of the positive impact the program has made not only for the colleges that hire STEM faculty, but also for the university as a whole.

Through the efforts made under the ADVANCE banner, they said, Lehigh has learned valuable lessons about how to identify and hire the best candidates for STEM positions.

“We are making progress,” said Henry Odi, vice provost for academic diversity. “It is a journey that we expect will provide concrete deliverables. We are trying to assess every step we take in the search process, to analyze and find out where we are and how we are doing.”

“ADVANCE gave us the opportunity to focus on the hiring process and put in some useful material that can really build a strong pool,” Farrell added. “Strong pools are extremely important for recruiting STEM fields, and many of our departments still lack diversity in some dimensions. In that respect, the ADVANCE grant has fit well within the broader campus picture.”

Lehigh’s progress has not been limited to STEM fields alone. In fact, of the 27 new faculty members hired across all fields last year, 13 were women. That success was noted by the Women In Academia report late last year.

Moving forward, Lehigh will continue to look at ways of improving its faculty recruitment policies. Areas of focus will include efforts to understand the experiences of recent hires, to analyze the environment for hiring interdisciplinary faculty, and to continue working with search committees to guarantee they are building large, representative pools to ensure successful searches.

“One thing we are trying to emphasize is that we are pushing people to think proactively about recruiting in the long term,” said Marci Levine, Lehigh’s ADVANCE project manager. “It’s not just about the hire I have to make right now. It’s about looking forward. If I can grow a diverse network now, that can only help in the future.”

Story by Tim Hyland

Posted on Friday, April 04, 2014

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