Syracuse University is one of seven universities funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) 2010 ADVANCE competition. SU will receive a five-year, $3.4 million grant to ensure that women faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) fields have a greater presence at the University. The University has underscored its commitment by pledging support during the initial five years, and for an additional five years for a total of 10 years to achieve and institutionalize change.

To date, NSF has awarded a total of 50 ADVANCE grants to universities throughout the country since the program’s inception in 2001. Specifically, the foundation’s ADVANCE Institutional Transformation program seeks to develop a more diverse science and engineering work force—and by extension the nation’s global competitiveness—by encouraging institutions like SU to develop systemic approaches to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers.

SU’s multi-disciplinary project, titled “The Inclusive Connective Corridor: Social Networks and the ADVANCEment of Women STEM Faculty,” aims to change the face of the next generation of faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“The recruitment, retention and advancement of women in these fields are critical priorities not only for higher education, but for the nation as a whole,” said SU Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor, principal investigator for the project. “Changing the overwhelming underrepresentation of women across these areas will take deep and broad collaboration, so we have assembled an esteemed and experienced team of faculty leaders from across the sciences, engineering, the iSchool and the Whitman School to lead the charge in forging the expansive intellectual and social networks it will take to turn the tide.”

The core team leading the research and implementation of project initiatives includes Shobha Bhatia, Karin Ruhlandt-Senge, Jeffrey Stanton and Pamela Brandes.

The four project initiatives include:

  • a corridor initiative that provides professional development and opportunities for partnership with industry;
  • a recruiting initiative that includes women of color and women with disabilities;
  • a practices initiative that supports leadership development inclusive of all faculty members; and
  • a networking initiative that links women faculty to each other and to potential mentors and other campus resources.

“In addition to human capital creation, we will also observe how sustainable these professional development elements are and if faculty members are able to actively create and maintain their social networking ties to advance their careers,” says Ines Mergel, assistant professor of public administration in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, an expert on social networking, and the scientific advisor for this transformative project. “It will be interesting to see how the networking pattern of successful careers emerges and what kind of ties female faculty members develop that can make a difference for them.”

The project is inspired by the fact that SU is below the national average for women faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. At SU, the STEM disciplines reside in 12 departments across three academic units within The College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (LCS) and School of Information Studies (iSchool). Female faculty members in these disciplines comprise 21 percent of the faculty compared to the national average of 33 percent. While some departments within STEM areas show relative parity between men and women faculty members, others do not. To create a baseline, faculty participation surveys will begin in the spring semester of 2011. The surveys will also be given in the third and fifth years of the program to check progress and ensure that the most beneficial initiatives are supported now and in the future.

“The program will finish in five years, but the permanent changes that will take place will change the culture of the institution for years to come,” said Ruhlandt-Senge, Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry.”We would like to create a campus culture and composition reflective of society, and currently STEM is not reflective of society.”
The researchers will investigate ways to increase the number of female faculty in the STEM disciplines through hiring, promotion and improving retention. “They will see a supportive environment, and benefit from people, programs and initiatives that will help them succeed,” says Bhatia, Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in LCS.

The research team will also look at training search committees and determine other ways to improve recruiting of women of underrepresented populations and women with disabilities to STEM faculty positions. One example initiative starting in the second year is a Chancellor Visiting Assistant Professorship. This professorship will be awarded to a promising woman candidate in STEM for one year to help launch her career in academia. The position would be jointly funded by the Chancellor’s Office and the hiring department and would include substantive support, mentoring and coaching.

The research team will also explore a wide range of relational factors that contribute, or conversely present obstacles, to faculty success. This study will look at challenges unique to women faculty members, identify key relational drivers of their professional and career success, and identify best practices for developing inclusive environments.

“We will look at STEM faculty members’ internal and external relationships to determine how these drive career outcomes,” said Brandes, associate professor of management in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management. “We will look at STEM faculty members’ relationships with peers, department heads, deans and social networks and assess meaningful patterns associated with professional success.”

This project is expected to not only impact the SU campus, but campuses across the nation as well. “Across the U.S., we have not been training enough women scientists and engineers. Research shows that having women professors in the STEM classroom is a clear benefit in attracting and retaining female students. Our ADVANCE project will have long-term benefits for our students as well as our faculty,” said Jeffrey Stanton, associate dean for research and doctoral programs and associate professor in the School of Information Studies (iSchool).

The project carries with it an extensive evaluation component that seeks to determine effective strategies and policies for individual faculty members and the institution. To this end, results and products generated over the next five years will be studied, published and distributed to other universities. At the conclusion of their research, the professors hope to unveil scientific approaches to what is going on and determine solutions that will help facilitate sustained changes at SU.