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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU to help other universities boost faculty diversity

With the aid of a National Science Foundation grant, New Mexico State University has more than doubled the number of women faculty hired into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields over the past five years.

Now the university has received another NSF grant to share its best practices with the state's other research universities, New Mexico Tech and the University of New Mexico, and help them diversify their STEM faculties.

The new $500,000 grant funded by the NSF's PAID (Partnerships for Adaptation, Implementation and Dissemination) program will be used to help the other universities in New Mexico develop the kinds of initiatives that have proven successful for NMSU, said Tracy Sterling, director of the NMSU program and a professor in the Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science.

In addition, the universities will work with the environmental science division of Los Alamos National Laboratory to create a training pipeline for students and postdoctoral fellows, Sterling said.

"We're calling it the Alliance for Faculty Diversity in STEM," she said.

The alliance will build on the successes of NMSU's ADVANCE Institutional Transformation program, funded by a five-year, $3.75 million NSF grant. Now in its final year of funding, the ADVANCE program has developed a variety of recruitment and retention enhancements for women faculty in STEM fields.

"There are four major reasons why women are under-represented in STEM disciplines," said Sterling, who also is director of NMSU's ADVANCE program. "One is the pipeline - not all fields have diverse pools of candidates. The other reasons are unconscious bias, a chilly climate for women, and work-and-family balance issues."

NMSU's ADVANCE program has addressed those obstacles with laboratory start-up incentives for new faculty, mentoring programs, promotion and tenure workshops, leadership development programs, department head training, assistance for dual-career couples and other initiatives.

The big-ticket item has been start-up packages - 20 women in STEM fields have received a total of nearly $1 million "to get laboratories started and to buy the state-of-the-art instrumentation required in these fields," Sterling said. On the retention and advancement side of the equation, $500,000 of the grant has been used to provide research and travel awards to women faculty members. But the other ADVANCE initiatives, such as mentoring and training programs, have been equally important, she said.

"We have had equal participation by men and women in our mentoring program, which involves senior faculty and administrators mentoring newer faculty," Sterling said. "It has been very well received and is very inclusive."

New Mexico State has become nationally known for its mentoring program, she added.

"Dr. Lisa Frehill (a faculty member in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology) was the founding director of our ADVANCE program," Sterling said. "She had the vision to create this grassroots initiative and it is nationally recognized."

Largely because of the ADVANCE program, 35 percent of faculty members hired in STEM disciplines over the past five years have been female, compared with 20 percent in the previous five years - an increase from nine to 23 female science faculty hired.

Only 10 percent of the universities that applied for the ADVANCE program received NSF funding, Sterling said.

"There is no renewal funding for ADVANCE," she said. "NSF intended for this program to enable institutional transformation and it put the responsibility on the institution to sustain it into the future."

The PAID grant provides funding for three years, beginning in January, to implement similar programs at UNM, LANL and Tech. The Alliance for Faculty Diversity in STEM will utilize mentoring, promotion and tenure programs, and department head training to help increase gender diversity in STEM areas.

"We are setting up faculty alliance committees at each institution," Sterling said. "We are focusing on a grassroots level, where a cadre of faculty and administrators would create an environment of buy-in that doesn't feel like a top-down initiative."