Project TRACS Summary
Project TRACS: Empirically Investigating Transformation through Relatedness, Autonomy, and Competence Support
“If we’ re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, then we have to open doors to everyone. We can't afford to leave anyone out. We need all hands on deck. And that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”
--First Lady Michelle Obama, Sept 26, 2011, promoting NSF’ s new Career-Life Balance Initiative
This short film showcases how MSU Advance Project TRACS broadly cultivated the recruitment, retention and advancement of STEM/SBS women faculty at Montana State University.
At the time we received the grant in 2012, Montana State University (MSU) was one of only four institutions classified as ‘Very High Research Activity’ by the Carnegie Foundation to have women in both of the top leadership positions. Since arriving, President Waded Cruzado had created a new President’ s Commission on the Status of University Women and brought Dr. Virginia Valian to campus to conduct training on “gender in the academy”. At that time, Provost Martha Potvin had created a new Director of Faculty Development and reinstated funding for the Women’ s Faculty Caucus. Put simply, MSU was poised for change, and change was needed. Women faculty were leaving MSU at twice the rate of men; 13 of our STEM/SBS departments had fewer than three women and two departments had zero. At MSU Bozeman, with over 300 faculty in STEM/SBS, fewer than 19% were women.
The aim of this proposal was to broaden the participation of women faculty in STEM and SBS fields at MSU Bozeman. As former First Lady Obama articulated, invoking the metaphor of a “runner’ s track,” women faculty may find themselves on an “outside” track with hurdles to overcome and a longer distance to run. Our proposal initiatives aim to transform MSU by removing those hurdles, advancing women to an equal staring point, and thus reducing the “accumulation of disadvantage” (Valian, 1998). Our proposal has distinct intellectual merit in operationalizing a highly innovative approach to the selection, implementation, and importantly, the empirical understanding of the transformation process. We apply Self-Determination Theory (SDT, Deci & Ryan, 2000), which specifies three “needs” that, when supported by a given environment, foster sustainable performance, persistence, and organizational loyalty. These needs are:
- Relatedness - the experience of having satisfying and supportive social connections.
- Autonomy - the experience of acting with a sense of volition and fully embracing one’ s actions.
- Competence - the belief that one has the ability to influence important outcomes.
SDT is a well-established theory and offers validated measurements used to assess not only the outcomes of the transformative initiatives (did the program work?) but the process of transformation (why did it work?). We have developed three hypothesis-driven initiatives centered on SDT’ s basic tenets. We will evaluate each component longitudinally, and many elements experimentally, using a mixed-method design. The overall goal of each initiative is to transform the culture of MSU-Bozeman system to best allow diverse faculty to flourish.
- Enhancing Research Capacity and Opportunity
- Enhancing Work-Life Integration
- Enhancing Cultural Attunement
Broader Impact: We broadly cultivate the recruitment, retention, and advancement of STEM/SBS women faculty at MSU Bozeman, as well as substantially contribute to SDT theory and the understanding of the institutional transformation process. We do not aim to change women faculty to “fit” into the university. Instead, we make concrete, data-driven recommendations for how to change the university culture in order to foster sustainable inclusion and innovation. We use a sophisticated dissemination plan to ensure that our findings are heard by those most able to make a difference.
Goals and Objectives
“Our recommendations focus not on fixing or improving the women, but fixing the institutions.” - Dr. Londa Schiebinger, Stanford University, 2009
Objective 1: Transform the culture of MSU by implementing sustainable strategies, programs, and policies that allow diverse faculty to flourish. Specifically, we will:
- Enhance Research Capacity and Opportunity
- Enhance Work-Life Integration
- Enhance Cultural Attunement
Objective 2: Foster psychological need support for women STEM/SBS faculty – and thereby all faculty at Montana State University. Informed by SDT, these needs are:
- Relatedness - the experience of having satisfying and supportive social relationships and connections.
- Autonomy - the experience of acting with a sense of choice and volition and fully embracing one’ s actions.
- Competence - the belief that one has the ability to influence and master important outcomes.
Objective 3: Broaden the participation of women faculty in STEM/SBS by increasing women’ s:
Project TRACS: “Metaphors matter because they are part of the storytelling that can compel change” (Eagly & Carli, 2007, p. 64). As First Lady Obama articulates (above), invoking the metaphor of a “runner’ s track” suggests women faculty in STEM/SBS frequently find themselves on an “outside” track with hurdles to overcome and a longer distance to run than their male counterparts. Our proposal initiatives aim to transform MSU by removing those hurdles, advancing women to an equal staring point, and thus reducing the “accumulation of disadvantage” noted by Valian (1998). Even if we assume a very small, subtle form of bias toward women faculty in STEM/SBS (accounting for as little as 5% of the variance) research shows that such “death by a 1000 cuts” results in a loss of opportunity for 29-50% of those women (Martell, Lane & Emrich, 1996). A $100 monthly pay difference might not seem like much, until one considers the lifetime loss of income.
We challenge the notion that universities are a place where “meritocracy” rules the day. Certainly, this is the assumption – if someone excels, he or she will be hired, retained, advanced, and rewarded. As seen in Figure1, placing men and women faculty on a straight “meritocratic” starting line in our runner’ s track, however, easily reveals that this presumption of equality is misguided. 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 (Eagly & Carli, 2007; Smith et al., 2007). 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. 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 (AAUW 2010).
Want more info? ADVANCE@montana.edu or call 994-4690