Montana State University

MSU’s success in closing gender gap in STEM faculty featured in national publication

October 12, 2016 -- MSU News Service

Celebrating MSU’s success in closing gender gap in STEM faculty hiring are female faculty members and administrators involved in MSU's ADVANCE Project TRACS. They are, front row from left: Sara Rushing, political sciences (co-director of ADVANCE); MSU President Waded Cruzado, (co-PI of ADVANCE)l Martha Potvin, former executive vice president of Academic Affairs and Provost (co-PI of ADVANCE); Mary Hubbard, chair of earth sciences; Amy Trowbridge, land resources and environmental sciences. Back row: Adie Phillips, civil engineering; Susy Kohout, cell biology and neuroscience; Connie Chang, chemical and biological engineering; Jennifer Green, mathematics; Jamie McEvoy, earth sciences. Photo by Chatanika Stoop, used with permission.

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Montana State University’s ADVANCE Project TRACS program, which has broadened the participation of women faculty in STEM and underrepresented areas of social and behavioral science on the university’s campus, was highlighted recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a national weekly journal that covers higher education.

“How One University Closed the Gender Gap in STEM-Faculty Hiring,” written by Chronicle reporter Audrey Williams June, headlined the faculty section of the Oct. 7 issue of the professional news magazine.

“Every year since 2012, the university has hired an equal number of men and women — or close to it — for tenure-track jobs in those fields,” the story says of MSU’s shift in hiring an equal number of male and female STEM faculty.

“Of 72 hires, 36 have been women,” the journal notes.

Williams writes that the ADVANCE Project TRACS team, which was fueled by a $3.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation in 2012, and “purposeful tweaks in the search process” contributed to the turnaround.

“They developed and carried out an intervention that included training faculty to recognize implicit bias, sharing tips on how to recruit diverse candidates, and making sure finalists could have a confidential conversation about Montana State’s work-life policies with a ‘family advocate’ unaffiliated with the search,” the article noted.

Jessi L. Smith, an MSU psychology professor who is the principal investigator of the grant, said such positive national attention is gratifying, particularly because the ADVANCE Project TRACS program is in the last year of the NSF grant. She said that MSU’s turnaround was due to the efforts of faculty and staff across campus.

“We are so proud to have our efforts featured in such a prestigious professional journal for educators,” Smith said. “It means we can inspire others to do this type of work at their institution, and it means that all involved here at MSU can feel acknowledged and validated for what is sometimes grueling hard work. This piece really captures the long-game efforts of carefully and strategically transforming a university piece by piece.”

The article said that the turnaround was all the more notable given the national statistics of inequality in STEM faculty.

According to the CHE story, “In the male-dominated STEM fields, the gender gap has been particularly stubborn. More women are earning Ph.D.s in science and engineering fields — about 17,000 in 2014, roughly double the number in 1994 — and they now represent 42 percent of those new doctorates. But the faculties in some STEM fields don’t reflect their presence. In engineering, for instance, women made up about 15 percent of the faculty in 2013, the latest year with available data. And about 20 percent of computer science professors are women.”

The article highlighted MSU’s Department of Computer Science, which prior to ADVANCE Project TRACS intervention techniques, had tried four times unsuccessfully to hire more female faculty. John Paxton, chair of the department, said that after the grant, rather than just posting job openings and waiting for people to apply, the department reached out personally to potential candidates. In the last year, the department hired two female faculty members.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is just the most recent of national attention gained by the success of the ADVANCE Project TRACS intervention. MSU received the 2015 Inclusion Cultivates Excellence Award from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.  

The prestigious journal “Science” and the journal “Bioscience” also featured MSU’s turnaround in hiring female and diverse STEM faculty in 2015.

Smith said while the recognition has been flattering, she is hoping that the lessons learned by the effort are lasting.

“Of course, I also hope that such a high public profile helps to solidify the sustainability efforts so all that we have been able to do does not slip back to the pre-ADVANCE status quo,” Smith said.

“The rubber band that is our MSU culture could snap back in an instant if we don’t keep tugging on it… slowly but continuously stretching it out so that it takes a new shape. This is our last year of ADVANCE and knowing our successes are reaching such a wide audience gives me hope that MSU will be able to continue to attract even more diverse faculty and students to our gem of a university.”

To learn more about ADVANCE Project TRACS, visit http://www.montana.edu/nsfadvance/index.html.

Jessi Smith (406) 406-994-5228, jsismith@montana.edu