Montana State University

MSU’s ADVANCE Project TRACS wins national award for promoting equitable workplace practices

May 20, 2015

MSU ADVANCE Project TRACS program has won the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources’ 2015 Inclusion Cultivates Excellence Award for institutional initiatives and programs that have made a significant impact on inclusive and equitable workplace practices.

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Montana State University’s ADVANCE Project TRACS program, which works to broaden the participation of women faculty in STEM and underrepresented areas of social and behavioral science on the university’s campus, has won a national award recognizing its innovation and impact on equitable workplace practices at MSU.

The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources has awarded the MSU program its 2015 Inclusion Cultivates Excellence Award.  The award celebrates institutional initiatives and programs that have made a significant impact on inclusive and equitable workplace practices, particularly those that have brought about cultural change throughout the organization.  The award comes with a $6,000 award from The Chronicle of Higher Education, which MSU will contribute to a university endowment that will sustain ADVANCE efforts.

In announcing the award, the national organization cited the ADVANCE Project TRACS’ role in implementing policies and programs that support faculty including a sick leave donation pool, a dual career community placement liaison, a faculty partner accommodation program and a family care program. The group also praised the initiative’s institution-wide unconscious bias training, search committee training, the creation of a search committee toolkit focused on broadening the candidate pool and an equity advocate program. 

MSU President Waded Cruzado said the distinction honors the many people at MSU who have worked tirelessly to change the university’s culture since MSU received the $3.4 million transformational grant from the National Science Foundation in 2012.

“Equity, diversity and access are among this university's core values,” said Cruzado, who serves, with MSU Provost Martha Potvin, as co-principal investigators of the grant. “This award recognizes how far our university has come in achieving our plan of institution-wide cultural transformation, bringing appreciation of diversity to all corners of campus and creating enduring programs to help faculty, staff and students integrate work and life, cultivate community and achieve their fullest potential.”

Jessi L. Smith, MSU psychology professor and PI and director of the ADVANCE Project TRACS program, said that the award showcases the efforts of MSU’s work-life integration team and cultural attunement team in particular.

“Working with HR is critical to the success of transforming the campus to be more equitable and inclusive for all people - not just women in male-dominated STEM and social behavioral science fields,” Smith said. “The things we do to foster excellence among this underserved group, our data shows benefit the entire campus community.  I think this CUPA award shows that you don’t have to throw in the kitchen sink to make change.” 

Smith points to solid results from the grant. Prior to the ADVANCE Project TRACS implementation, 13 of MSU’s 21 STEM/social science departments had fewer than three women faculty, and two departments had none.

“But every year since 2012, at least 50 percent of new hires in STEM/SBS were women,” Smith said. Currently women faculty account for 22.6 percent of the university’s STEM departments and 34 percent of SBS departments, she said. 

Smith praised key members of the MSU team that made the award possible.

 “We owe a lot to the hard work and dedication of Lisa Buss in (MSU Human Relations),” Smith said. “Her knowledge and motivation was critical to us making changes to the sick leave policy and creating the sick leave donation pool.  And from the start, Terry Leist, vice president of administration and finance, was actively supportive of the ADVANCE mission. When you add in people like Al Zale (Cultural Attunement Team, ecology) and Sara Rushing (co-director of ADVANCE, political science) and all the other faculty and staff who are part of ADVANCE - you realize how much can be accomplished when you set your mind to it.”

MSU has two more years left of the NSF grant that funds the ADVANCE Project TRACS. Smith said the focus of the final two years will be on sustaining the efforts of the grant.

“(Provost Martha Potvin) is working with the HR team to revise their talent management plan which will solidify many of the positive changes we have made to the faculty search process,” Smith said. “We want to make sure that in 10 years from now, MSU is still a model for how to actively transform the culture of a campus. It takes a lot of work. And the minute we stop paying attention we run the risk of sliding backwards. I hope this award inspires everyone to stay vigilant and keep caring.”

To learn more about ADVANCE Project TRACS, visit

CUPA-HR provides knowledge, resources, advocacy and connections to achieve organizational and workforce excellence to higher education. Headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn., the organization serves more than 18,000 HR professionals and other campus leaders at more than 1,900 member organizations around the country and abroad. The association offers learning and professional development programs, higher education salary and benefits data, extensive online resources and just-in-time regulatory and legislative information.


































Jessi Smith (406) 406-994-5228,