Montana State University

MSU College of Engineering dean nationally recognized as advocate for women in engineering

July 1, 2016 -- MSU News Service

Brett Gunnink, dean of MSU’s College of Engineering, was honored with the Advocates and Allies Award from the Women in Engineering Proactive Network. The award recognizes a man, or group of men, for mentoring, supporting and advocating for the success of women in engineering or for climate and culture change that supports such success. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham

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BOZEMAN – In recent years women have gained a larger presence in Montana State University’s College of Engineering. Since 2012, women faculty have nearly doubled in number from 13 to 25. The number of women faculty on the tenure track is up 143 percent, increasing from seven to 17. The college’s two associate deans are women, as are more than half its new hires. The number of female undergraduate engineering students is also up, increasing from 432 in 2012 to 631 in 2015.

Also growing, say some women who work in the college, is a welcoming and inclusive culture that supports their success.

These are just a few points mentioned by the faculty, staff and administrators who nominated Brett Gunnink, dean of the College of Engineering, for the Advocates and Allies Award, a national award given by the Women in Engineering Proactive Network.

Gunnink was named the inaugural winner of the award, which honors a man, or group of men, for mentoring, supporting and advocating for the success of women in engineering, or for climate and culture change that supports such success.

Gunnink said he is grateful to have received the award, which represents the hard work of many others in the college.

“There are many faculty, staff and students who work diligently day in and day out to advance the college toward a future when its people are more diverse and its culture is more inclusive,” Gunnink said. “Diverse, inclusive and collaborative teams are what drive creativity and innovation.”

In 2012, Gunnink was selected as acting dean of MSU’s College of Engineering and, following a nationwide search, was subsequently named its dean in December 2013. He officially assumed the role in January 2014. Previously, he had served as head of the Civil Engineering Department for 10 years.

“Before Brett became dean, the College of Engineering was already a great place, but just 16 percent of our undergraduates were women and there was a lack of female role models among our faculty,” said Christine Foreman, associate dean for student success in the College of Engineering, in her nomination letter for the award.

Gunnink set a goal to increase the number of female faculty and students in the college, seeking advice from experts in diversity and gender issues to recruit and retain women at every level, Foreman said.

“With the help of NSF ADVANCE Project TRACS Director Jessi Smith and Co-Director Sara Rushing, Brett asked departments to reexamine their practices for recruiting faculty,” she said. “The departments received specific training on how to use inclusive language, how to better advertise to attract a diverse pool of candidates and how to avoid unconscious bias in the review process.”

The ADVANCE Project TRACS program is a National Science Foundation-funded effort to broaden the participation of women faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and underrepresented areas of social and behavioral science.

After attending an ADVANCE workshop in 2012, Gunnink walked into the office of Sarah Codd, professor of mechanical engineering, and announced he was going to increase the percentage of female faculty in the college to 25 percent in five years, Codd recalled in her nomination letter.

“I politely listened as he outlined his plan, but honestly thought he would not be able to change the culture that rapidly,” she said. “I am excited that I was very wrong. We are on track to reach that goal of 25 percent by August 2016.”

Gunnink’s efforts to attract and support women in engineering also emphasize interpersonal relationships, work-life balance and an open ear to workplace issues, Codd said.

“Each year, he hosts the female faculty and restates the importance he places on their ‘relatedness, autonomy, and competence,’ – the key tenets the ADVANCE grant is based around,” she said. “He speaks individually with each woman, commends them on their accomplishments and asks them how they are feeling about their workplace environment.”

He also addresses the 400-plus female students who attend the annual Women in Engineering dinner, where “his empowering words make them feel like they are the future of engineering,” Codd said.

“He does this humbly, without any recognition of the role he is playing behind the scenes to ensure that future will welcome them,” she said.

Codd said the formal and informal faculty search policies Gunnink has implemented with the support of the college’s department heads and ADVANCE have made it easier to attract qualified female applicants.

“Many of us believe that the strongest reason for our growth is that we have rock-solid evidence that our culture welcomes women,” she said. “When women faculty interview and ask how well they will be supported in the tenure process, we provide evidence that all women we have hired in the last 10 years have been successful at retention and tenure and many have done this while starting families.”

In her nomination letter, former Provost Martha Potvin wrote of Gunnink, “Since his appointment as dean four years ago, Brett has made it among his highest priorities to not only add more women faculty and enroll more women students but to support their work and professional development in ways that favor lasting success.

“He is committed, successful, and the culture for women in our College of Engineering is being transformed,” Potvin said.

Brett Gunnink, or (406) 994-2272

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