Posted on 27 September 2011.
The National Science Foundation has awarded a $598,354, five-year grant to a team of University of West Florida faculty researchers. Their goal: to support women faculty in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics departments.
According to a Sept. 17 press release, researchers include: Laura Koppes Bryan, professor and director of the School of Psychological and Behavioral Sciences; Pam Vaughan, associate professor of chemistry; Sherry Schneider, assistant professor of psychology; Susan Walch, associate professor of psychology; and Rosemary Hays-Thomas, professor of psychology.
“The overall purpose of the grant is to enhance a supportive and inclusive culture for recruiting, retaining, and advancing women faculty in STEM, and to provide a University-wide, systematic, sustainable approach for advancing faculty women in STEM fields, with special attention to women of color and leadership positions,” Koppes Bryan said.
Field Retention Lacking
Significant strides in females obtaining doctorates in the STEM fields have been made over the past four decades, but there is a catch.
“More women than ever are obtaining Ph.D.s in science, but these women are more likely than their male counterparts to leave the tenure pipeline before obtaining tenure at a college or university,” Koppes Bryan said.
Tenure provides job security for professors, protecting them so they can freely practice independence in their teaching.
Requirements for earning tenure vary from department to department at UWF, but all include presenting evidence of strong performance in teaching, research and service to the University, academic discipline or community. Research can include either creative activity or scholarly activity. Both research and scholarship must be externally reviewed, according to the 2011-2012 Tenure and Promotion policy posted on the Division of Academic Affairs website.
UWF math and science department mostly male
“A woman faculty member may be forced to choose between furthering her teaching career at a university and having a family,” Koppes Bryan said. “Our research will examine ways to better foster a positive work-life balance.”
Currently, there are no female professors in the physics or electrical and computer engineering departments at UWF, said Leo Ter Haar, director of the School of Science and Engineering.
Computer science only has three female faculty members out of 10, said Sikha Bagui, associate professor of computer science.
The mathematics department lists four out of 15 faculty members as females, said Kuiyuan Li, professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.
In contrast, the School of Psychological and Behavioral Sciences has 11 females among 18 full-time faculty members, according to the department’s website. The School of Education has 17 females out of 25 members of faculty, according to the department’s website.
It is obvious that the STEM departments are lacking female employees, but why is this so important?
UWF strives to recruit and retain talented, diverse faculty and staff members who demonstrate commitment to UWF ideals, according to UWF’s strategic priorities and measurable achievements plan.
UWF represents diversity in having a female president Judy Bense, and a female provost and vice president for academic affairs, Chula King. Also, two of three deans of the colleges at UWF are female: Jane Halonen, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Pam Northrup, dean of the College of Professional Studies.
“Persistent under-representation of women faculty may affect all students’ critically important relationships with mentors, participation as members of research and education teams, and self-identification as potential researchers,” Koppes Bryan said.
Now that the research group has been awarded the grant, members can begin planning how to ensure that the money is as influential as possible.
Researchers plan to use funds over next five years
“The team will meet to review the proposed activities and develop a work statement that outlines the tasks and timeline for completing the project over the next five years,” Koppes Bryan said. “We will also convene a meeting of a UWF Internal Steering Committee for the project for their guidance, and begin to create an External Advisory Board that will also provide advice and direction.”
Some ideas proposed so far include mentoring for STEM department students, building a website with resources and networking connections, and implementing strategies to foster a work-life friendly climate for female STEM students, Koppes Bryan said.