Montana State University

MSU receives $3.4 million to help broaden participation of women faculty

September 25, 2012 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Jessi L. Smith, Special Assistant to the Provost, Director of ADVANCE, will direct a new grant that will help broaden the participation of women faculty members by improving the work environment for the entire MSU campus. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN - Montana State University has received a $3.4 million grant to help broaden the participation of women faculty members by improving the work environment for the entire campus.

An open house to celebrate will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3, in Leon Johnson 319. MSU President Waded Cruzado invites the entire campus and community to join her and the grant team there.

Announced Sept. 15, the five-year ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Grant from the National Science Foundation focuses on ways to broaden the participation of women in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and the SBS fields of social and behavioral sciences. Those are two areas where MSU women are outnumbered by men.

"It's a really exciting opportunity for this institution," said Anne Camper, associate dean of the MSU College of Engineering, who helped spearhead the grant proposal.

Jessi L. Smith, an associate professor of psychology and Special Assistant to the Provost, Director of ADVANCE, said MSU has three goals for the program. One is to implement strategies, programs and policies that enhance research opportunities. The second is to improve work-life integration, and the third is to create a climate of "cultural attunement" which emphasizes the value and appreciation of diverse perspectives.

Examples of ways in which each goal will be realized is hiring a grant training specialist to assist women when they apply for research grants. Another project would establish a childcare network that people can use when their child is sick.

"Women shouldn't need to act like men to succeed, and in male-dominated fields, research shows this can often be the norm," Smith said. "Women shy away from mentoring because they don't want to look weak. Women don't want to stop the tenure clock for having a baby because they don't want to be perceived as slacking off for a year.

"My hope is we get to a place where we are culturally attuned in a way that allowed women to embrace opportunities and feel as if they are valued as a whole embodied person," Smith said.

The overall aim of the grant is to broaden the participation of women faculty in STEM/SBS by enhancing recruitment, retention and advancement, Smith said.

"We are using social science research to inform our best practices and to test how effective our programs are," Smith said. "We can then make our findings available to other land-grant universities.

"We need women and men to reach down and lift people up the ladder with them as they climb into leadership roles," Smith continued. "There has long been an old-boys network. We don't aim to replace that with an old-girls network, but rather an inclusive, fair, equitable and diverse network where everyone is given the tools they need to succeed."

MSU is one of only four institutions out of 108 classified by the Carnegie Foundation as having very high research activity to have women in the top two leadership positions, Smith said. Waded Cruzado became president in January 2010, and Martha Potvin became provost and vice president for academic affairs in January 2011.

Since Cruzado's arrival, she has created a President's Commission on the Status of University Women and brought in an expert to conduct training on gender equity in the academy. Potvin created a Director of Faculty Development position and reinstated funding for the Women's Faculty Caucus.

"Put simply, MSU is poised for change, and change is needed," Smith said.

Women faculty currently leave MSU at twice the rate men do, Smith said. Thirteen departments in the STEM/SBS fields have fewer than three women, and two departments have none. With more than 300 faculty in STEM/SBS fields, fewer than 19 percent are women.

Smith said faculty members are all on a running track of sorts, but women may find themselves on an outside lane with hurdles to overcome and a longer distance to run than men. Among those hurdles are organizational constraints, bias, stereotypes and family demands.

"Although it looks as if men and women have an equal chance of success, we quickly realize that the track is an oval, not a straight-away, and that we must acknowledge that women working in male-dominated fields are necessarily racing against masculine norms of competence and success," Smith said.

To remove hurdles and the accumulation of disadvantage, MSU will use its new grant to institute an approach called "Project TRACS," Smith said. TRACS refers to Transformation through Relatedness, Autonomy, and Competence Support.

"Project TRACS does not aim to give special favors to women in STEM and SBS, nor does the advancement of these women faculty come at the expense of any other group," Smith said. "Instead, we are advancing women faculty in STEM/SBS to an equal and fair starting line. By offering need-support to these women, we will transform MSU and benefit all faculty."

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or