National Science Foundation grant supports women in STEM

by Marketing and Communications,

Sarah Kirk to lead nearly million dollar, five-year grant project.

A National Science Foundation grant of $999,899 over five years will support the advancement of mid-career STEM women faculty across institutions and regions. Led by Professor Sarah Kirk of Willamette University, the Advancing STEM Careers by Empowering Network Development (ASCEND) collaboration involves six partner institutions and up to 75 participants from colleges and universities across three regions – the northwest, the midwest, and the southeast.

The focus of the project is twofold—to give individual faculty members the tools they need to advance their careers while also addressing the institutional and systemic barriers which prevent women at the mid-career level from being promoted to full professor or obtaining positions in academic administration.

“Unfortunately, women in STEM still face significant career inequities,” states Professor Kirk. “We, the PIs, have personally benefited from a strong network that has both empowered us to advocate for ourselves and to participate in positive change within our own institutions. We look forward to creating strong mentoring opportunities for others while working on larger systemic change.”

The project team will create three regional peer mentoring networks, which will meet monthly online and annually face-to-face. Participants will be provided with networking and collaboration opportunities, education, training resources, and professional support. Faculty will identify barriers specific to their professional advancement, such as too few leadership roles or insufficient scholarship productivity, and will develop a strategic plan to address them.

Meanwhile, administrators will collectively evaluate existing policies and practices, taking into consideration intersectional impact factors such as race, ethnicity, and disability status. Faculty and administrators will work together to strategically design and implement comprehensive campus-specific change plans that reduce barriers encountered by women in STEM fields, create more equitable communities, and foster the retention and advancement of a diverse STEM faculty population.

As a rising tide lifts all boats, ASCEND will develop faculty and institutions and has the potential to establish the critical mass needed to engender multi-institutional transformations by both developing women leaders among the faculty and also enabling administrators across genders to remove institutional obstacles to advancement for diverse faculty.

“Professor Kirk and her colleagues across the region and the country have designed a powerful program to advance women in STEM fields and to create more equitable academic communities,” says Carol Long, Provost of Willamette University. “The ASCEND project is poised to achieve multi-institutional transformation with the generous support of the National Science Foundation. Willamette University is honored to be a part of this important work.”

The project will be co-directed by Maria Bertagnolli of Gonzaga University, Chrystal Bruce of John Carroll University, Hala Schepmann of Southern Oregon University, Elizabeth Roberts-Kirchhoff of University of Detroit Mercy, and Patricia Flatt of Western Oregon University. Project leadership in the south includes Cheryl Swanier from Claflin University, Victoria Turgeon from Furman University, and Mary Katherine Watson from the Citadel. Several other institutions across the three regions will also participate.

For more information about the ASCEND program: http://www.wou.edu/ascend/.

For more information about the National Science Foundation: https://www.nsf.gov/

Willamette University

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