Montana State University

MSU program to broaden participation of women faculty recognized in magazine

October 12, 2015 -- MSU News Service

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A Montana State University program that works to broaden the participation of women faculty in science, technology, engineering, math and underrepresented areas of social and behavioral science on the university’s campus has been featured in an article in a respected publication targeted to higher education human resources professionals.

MSU’s ADVANCE Project TRACS program was featured in the fall issue of The Higher Education Workplace, a magazine published by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, or CUPA-HR. ADVANCE Project TRACS is funded by a $3.4 million transformational grant from the National Science Foundation, received in 2012.

The extensive story quotes Jessi Smith, MSU psychology professor and principal investigator and director of ADVANCE Project TRACS, who noted that through the program, Montana State is “making an impact not only at MSU, but throughout the state of Montana.

“By putting in place programs and offering resources to enhance research capacity and opportunity, work-life integration and cultural attunement at our university, we’ve successfully deployed a holistic workplace intervention to diversify our faculty ranks within STEM and SBS,” Smith said.

“The culture shift and transformation we’ve seen as a result has been palpable.”

MSU also received CUPA-HR’s 2015 Inclusion Cultivates Excellence Award for its ADVANCE Project TRACS initiative. The award came with a $6,000 contribution to MSU’s endowment or a scholarship fund. The award was presented this week at the CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo held in Orlando, Fla.

“Thanks to ADVANCE Project TRACS, MSU has been able to implement several policies and programs in support of faculty (especially women faculty), including a sick leave donation pool, a dual career community placement liaison, a faculty partner accommodation program and a family care program,” the magazine noted. “The initiative also paved the way for 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 Chief Human Resources Officer Dennis Defa also was recognized in the publication’s same issue with a Distinguished Service Award. In addition to leading MSU HR, Defa has served in several leadership roles in CUPA-HR, and he has encouraged MSU staff to become involved with the association.

Defa has more than 30 years of experience in human resources at institutions of higher education, including the University of Utah, Central Washington University and MSU. His first association with CUPA–HR was in 1982, when he served as a presenter at a regional CUPA conference. Since then, he has held numerous leadership positions with CUPA, including CUPA state coordinator for the state of Washington; member of the board of directors of the Northwest region; director of communication and chair and co-chair of the Northwest region; and member of the national board of directors representing the Northwest region.

Defa “is constantly inspiring his staff to participate in CUPA-HR and to utilize the association to learn from others and to share their expertise….” said Terry Leist, MSU vice president of administration and finance, in a story in the magazine. “He also strongly believes that HR should be a strategic business partner to the organization and should be involved at the highest levels of decision making. He has truly helped position human resources as such at Montana State and has helped raise the profile of HR across campus.”

For more information about ADVANCE Project TRACS at MSU, 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.

Contact: Sara Rushing, (406) 994-5165 or; or Dennis Defa, (406) 994-3651 or