Grant to fund SUNY Oswego study of women in science

The National Science Foundation recently awarded SUNY Oswego a $200,000 catalyst grant to assess the status of women faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Dr. Rhonda Mandel and Dr. Webe Kadima.Researchers aim to learn whether anything—from policies to practices—holds back women in STEM in terms of recruitment, hiring, retention and promotion. The award will help determine whether SUNY Oswego may be a candidate for a much larger “institutional transformation” grant.

Dr. Rhonda Mandel and Dr. Webe Kadima believe the college has done well recruiting and hiring women faculty in the sciences, but more can be done.

“This campus has a good reputation” for hiring and encouraging women faculty, said Mandel, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “We realized, looking at the numbers, that we’re doing a good job. But we can do better.”

For example, there currently are no women full professors in the sciences, Mandel said. And over a recent three-year period, while the number of women in departments that include STEM programs increased, their representation in those fields stands at 28.1 percent of faculty in 2009, from 24 percent in 2007.

Kadima, associate professor of chemistry, is principal investigator for the two-year study of the status of women faculty in the STEM disciplines. Co-principal investigators are Mandel, Lisa Langlois, assistant professor of art history and former director of women’s studies, and Preety Tripathi, assistant professor of mathematics.

“I do not believe there is bias on the part of people on campus,” Mandel said. “We’re looking for whether there is systemic bias.”

Science expansion

The grant application pointed out SUNY Oswego has proposed adding computer and electrical engineering to existing STEM programs in applied mathematical economics, biochemistry, biology, chemistry, cognitive science, computer science, economics, geochemistry, geology, mathematics, meteorology, physics, software engineering and zoology. The School of Education also offers technical education, technology education and technology management, the application noted.

“With the addition of two new engineering programs, the institution is poised to enter into fields where the number of women faculty is traditionally very low,” the application explained. “We would like to look at factors that will help us recruit, retain and promote women faculty members.”

There are four main objectives in the women-in-STEM project:

* To collect data to better understand the status of women in STEM areas and to determine any barriers to employment, retention and promotion.

That effort will include a contract with the Center for Survey Research at Stony Brook to gather data on “campus climate” with regard to women faculty. Another study—of policies, procedures and practices for hiring, incentive pay, the tenure clock, promotion and leave—will harness the work of SUNY Oswego’s Office of Institutional Research, Human Resources Office and that of a number of subcommittees already at work on portions of the project.

“We want to look at these (policies) historically, too,” Kadima said.

* To look at best practices at similar institutions that have obtained improved participation and advancement of women in STEM.

Kadima said her review of the literature on women in STEM, as well as her study of larger, mostly research-oriented institutions that have received institutional transformation grants, indicated significant successes.

“It really occurred to me that if we followed similar approaches, we could increase the success of women faculty in STEM here,” Kadima said.

Yet there is little data on women in STEM for comprehensive colleges like Oswego. “We think it’s pretty exciting we got this grant,” Mandel said. “It allows us to be in the forefront of data collection for schools like ours.”

* Publish and present the data in workshops and symposia, building campus understanding of the factors that may hold women faculty back.

* If the data warrant, to prepare and submit an NSF institutional transformation grant application.

PHOTO CAPTION: Study granted—Rhonda Mandel, left, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Webe Kadima, associate professor of chemistry, look over SUNY Oswego’s successful application for a $200,000 grant to study the status of women faculty in the STEM disciplines at the college. Kadima is principal investigator for the two-year project.

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(Posted: Sep 01, 2010)

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