Montana State University


Montana State University
P.O. Box 173095
Bozeman, MT 59717-3095

Tel: (406) 994-4690
Location: 319 Leon Johnson

Primary Contacts

Jessi L. Smith, Ph.D.
Special Assistant to the Provost/
Director of ADVANCE

Sara Rushing, Ph.D.
Co-Director of ADVANCE/
University Family Advocate

Theresa Marchwick
Project Manager

Micaela M. Young
Grant Submission Training Coordinator

Becca Belou
Equity Data Analyst


Waded Cruzado, Ph.D.
Montana State Univerity

Martha A. Potvin, Ph.D.
Provost & V.P. for Academic Affairs

Montana State University | ADVANCE Project TRACS


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

Montana State University (MSU) is 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 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”. Provost Martha Potvin created a new Director of Faculty Development and reinstated funding for the Women’s Faculty Caucus. Put simply, MSU is poised for change, and change is needed. Women faculty leave MSU at twice the rate of men; 13 of our STEM/SBS departments have fewer than three women and two departments have zero. At MSU Bozeman, with over 300 faculty in STEM/SBS, fewer than 19% are women. The aim of this proposal is to broaden the participation of women faculty in STEM and SBS fields at MSU Bozeman. As First Lady Obama articulates, 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.

  1. Enhancing Research Capacity and Opportunity institutionalizes systematic support for women in STEM/SBS fields through grant training, establishing a mentoring network of successful grantees and creates policy infrastructures to facilitate women engaging in inter-disciplinary research. 
  2. Enhancing Work-Life Integration generates new programs, such as a sick childcare network and dual career assistance program, and builds on existing programs, such as providing more flexible solutions for work-life integration in general, and during major life transitions specifically.
  3. Enhancing Cultural Attunement is respectful communication, sensitivity, and respect for the values and beliefs of others. It comes from the active and vigilant practice of maintaining cultural humility. To realize this, we will implement diversity depth hires, build an equity search toolkit and equity advisor program, and continue to engage the MSU community in unconscious bias education.

Broader Impact: We will 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 will make concrete, data-driven recommendations to other multi-campus (land-grant) institutions for how to change the university culture in order to foster sustainable inclusion and innovation.   We will 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:

  • Recruitment
  • Retention
  • Advancement
Project TRACS graphic 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.
Figure 1

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).
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Enhancing Research Capacity and Opportunity

What we will do

Institutional Commitment

Hypothesized Need-support

Implementation Timeline

Hire new Grant Training Specialist

Supported with additional .25 FTE by VP of Research to make available to all faculty

Relatedness Autonomy

Fall of Year 1

Create “Grant Facilitators” Mentoring Network

Supported with 50% more facilitators by INBRE, with commitment by the Director of Faculty Development to coordinate program


Spring of Year 1

Diversification mini-grant award program

Completely supported by VP of Research


Fall of Year 1

Interdisciplinary-Joint appointments policy toolkit

Commitment to assist in policy creation and adoption by the VP for Research, Director of the Institute of the Environment, and AFMSU


Fall of Year 4

Grant Training Specialist

The retention and advancement of STEM/SBS faculty women is enhanced when they are grant successful. We will designate a Grant Training Specialist to work with women STEM/SBS faculty to train them to identify, solicit, and obtain external funding. These efforts will include, but are not limited to training and assistance with: identifying funding sources, generating high quality grants, budget development, paperwork submission, responding to reviewers, researching unusual circumstances related to possible grant activities, and facilitating interdisciplinary collaborations. The VP for Research has committed to making this position half time (with ADVANCE supporting .25FTE), and if successful (see Research Supplement), sustaining the position long term.

Grant Facilitators (Mentors)

A list of successful grantees will be populated and provided to STEM/SBS women working on a grant to identify a possible mentor. The Grant Specialist will make the first contact to the potential “grants facilitator” and offer the person a small incentive for serving as a reader/revision advisor. The Director of Faculty Development is enthusiastic about organizing and expanding this grant mentoring network. The Montana INBRE program (NIH IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence) has committed to sponsoring 50% of the program

Diversification Mini-Grant Award Program

Completely funded by the VP for Research office, proposal solicitations will be announced each year to women in STEM/SBS, anticipating 4 awards per year. The mini-grants can be used to diversify one’s research or teaching and could include requesting funds to collect pilot data, collaborate on an interdisciplinary project, develop multi-department research proposals or courses, pair new faculty with senior faculty across departments, request funds for retreats, workshops, or speakers, travel to other campuses and conferences, add a diversity component to existing research and courses, etc. Awardees will be required to submit a follow-up proposal to a national organization during the year of the grant. Preference will be given to interdisciplinary projects.

Interdisciplinary-Joint Appointments Toolkit

Women in STEM/SBS doing interdisciplinary work who transition to joint appointments may broker new connections in interdisciplinary research across colleges and within departmental institutes. This engagement will reduce feelings of isolation and increase opportunities to build professional networks. However, policy and protocol for how to review and implement an Interdisciplinary Joint Appointment is needed. With assistance from the Research Council and the AFMSU we will develop a tool kit applicable to all faculty that will:

  • Establish policies and procedures for reviewing interdisciplinary faculty research and teaching at retention, tenure, and promotion evaluations
  • Establish policies and procedures to support, facilitate, and reward interdisciplinary teaching
  • Establish policies and procedures for formative, adaptive evaluations of effectiveness of interdisciplinary activities generally, and specifically their role in advancing women and underrepresented minorities in STEM disciplines