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UNM awarded NSF ADVANCE grant to create institutional transformation across STEM fields

March 30, 2017 - By Steve Carr

For decades, women have been significantly underrepresented in the faculty ranks, especially in the higher levels of academia in nearly all science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Some say not enough attention has been paid to the recruitment, retention and advancement of women and minorities.

Now, with the help of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, The University of New Mexico will benefit through innovative programs that will impact the entire institution as part of the NSF’s ADVANCE Institutional Transformation (IT) program. The goal of the NSF’s ADVANCE IT program is to increase the representation and advancement of women faculty in academic science and engineering careers, thereby contributing to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce. 

At UNM, the essential goal of the five-year, $3.3 million NSF grant, of which only eight percent were funded in this round, is to implement and utilize a managerial engagement model to transform the institutional climate in an effort to promote diversity and facilitate advancement for women.

“One of the things that is important about UNM is that we’re both a Hispanic Serving Institution and Carnegie Very High Research University,” said Julia Fulghum, director, Advance at UNM. “There’s a lot more women faculty in the humanities and we’re doing pretty well in the social sciences, which are part of STEM for NSF. However, when you start looking at the natural sciences, math and engineering, there’s not as many women, particularly minority women faculty as we’d like to see particularly as you get up to the more advanced ranks

Additional goals of the Advance at UNM project include:

• create a more inclusive, egalitarian, and supportive institutional climate;
• increase the participation of women, particularly minority women, STEM faculty in leadership positions;
• improve satisfaction with, and perceptions of fairness of, the tenure and promotion process among women, and especially minority women, STEM faculty;
• increase the number of women, particularly minority women, at all levels in STEM departments; 
• increase the national and international recognition of scholarship by all women STEM faculty at UNM    
In addition, the NSF required UNM to have an external and internal advisory board as well as a social science research project that works in parallel with the overall institutional transformation project.
Mala Htun, a UNM political science professor who is the deputy director of Advance, said the research project will lead to valuable information about women and minority STEM faculty.
“The social science research team will analyze whether the "managerial engagement” model of diversity promotion developed by sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev works in the university context.

Through a survey administered in three waves, in-depth personal interviews, and ethnographic immersion, we will explore how ADVANCE activities affect the campus climate, and the achievements and perceptions of women and minority STEM faculty,” she said.

The NSF also required internal and external evaluators, and the UNM project includes a faculty professional development committee, additional faculty leadership and a communications advisory committee.

“This is a huge effort that incorporates a wide range of faculty from all across main campus in different roles,” said Julia Fulghum, director of Advance at UNM. “Receiving the grant shows both that the institution needs to change, and that the institution is ready to change. One of the things you have to do is persuade the NSF that you understand your own institution, both as an institution and in the context of higher education in the U.S.
“We not only had to persuade the NSF that we understand ourselves and know how we need to change, but that we are ready to change. It provides exciting opportunities for the campus to look broadly at faculty careers and faculty work, and find better ways to help all faculty be successful.”

 As part of the implementation of Advance at UNM, the project team will adapt and apply the managerial engagement model using three clusters of program activities. They include: the mobilization and engagement of administrators, deans, department chairs, and senior faculty as partners in institutional transformation; greater access and connections for and among women and minority women STEM faculty; and improved transparency of policies and processes.

UNM’s diverse demographics also played a part in the grant award, which will benefit minority women and men alike.

“Our faculty diversity comes nowhere close to our student diversity, which is higher than many other research universities,” said Fulghum. “We do have a more diverse faculty than most Carnegie Very High Research Universities, and that’s something important to the NSF. Although the Advance program focuses on women STEM faculty, because of our demographics we get to incorporate working with minority men and women as part of our overall charge.”

One of the universities where the Advance program has had an enormous local and national impact is the University of Michigan, a program that was funded in the first cohort about 15 years ago when the NSF implemented the Advance Institutional Transformation program.

“The University of Michigan has done a phenomenal job of sustaining it,” said Fulghum. “There are a number of departments at UM and a number of university policies that have changed dramatically due to that Advance program. One of the great things for us is we’re getting help from Abby Stewart, who was the director of UM’s Advance program for 15 years.”

Over the years the NSF has learned from Advance programs funded early on that institutional transformation takes 7-10 years. It can’t be done in five years. “What we can do is put a lot of things in motion that can contribute to it and have a big impact on the university not just over the next five years, but the following decade if we do this right,” said Fulghum.

UNM has already moved forward with the development of its program including a location in the Communication & Journalism building and establishing an on-campus presence for Advance at UNM.  The workspace environment is designed to include collaborative work and meeting space for faculty in addition to the program office. A website, Advance at UNM, that includes a section titled MetaMentor, where the Advance team can help faculty navigate career questions, has also been created. Additional career resources are also available on the website. The team also is using social media, including its Facebook and Twitter pages.

“There’s a lot of moving pieces because it’s about institutional transformation,” said Fulghum. “The cool thing about it, because it’s institutional transformation, we get to do things that engage all faculty and that are open to all faculty. I think department chairs, faculty and deans, and the University leadership broadly, are really excited about this program.

“It absolutely cannot be more timely for UNM given the budget situation
because we can do things to help faculty and to help faculty feel valued and supported by UNM at a time where this is going to be a real challenge for department chairs and deans. We can immediately be allies and obviously be valued partners because we’re really at a critical juncture on main campus.”