Midwest schools join forces to promote success for women in STEM fields

Sept. 4, 2019

Cinzia Cervato knows – and has lived – the challenges women faculty in science and technology fields can face in their departments and their families: Only tenure-track woman in her department. Check. Carefully made day care plans falling through. Check. Asking herself, “Where am I going to get the support?” Check.

Cervato, a Morrill Professor of geological and atmospheric sciences at Iowa State University, is leading collaborators across campus and from three other Midwestern research universities who will develop strategies and tools that could help women of color and women with family responsibilities find faculty success in science, technology, engineering or math fields (STEM).

The idea is for the four Midwestern universities to join forces, collect data, determine useful strategies, develop an Integrated Equity Support toolbox and start a caucus to promote and distribute that toolbox.

The project is supported by a three-year, $996,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program dedicated to advancing gender equity in academic STEM careers.

In addition to Iowa State, partner universities are Michigan Technological University in Houghton, North Dakota State University in Fargo and Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

Their goal: “The long-term outcome of this project is expected to be increased retention and career advancement at Midwestern universities of underrepresented women and women with family responsibilities in STEM departments,” the researchers wrote in a summary of their project.

“Our focus is the issues that women with families and women of color face at Midwest research institutions,” Cervato said. Or, Cervato said, women of color can feel isolated in the mostly white college towns of the Midwest. In both instances, frustrations can lead to women leaving Midwestern universities.

The partner schools will address that by developing a four-part system: a mentoring community across the universities; a system of male advocates and allies on the campuses; professional development for department chairs; and a caucus that will support the project and promote it beyond the original universities.

The project will be implemented in three phases, including adapting existing programs on the campuses, sharing those programs across the campuses, creating a pilot program at Western Michigan and sharing the project’s findings and tools.

The researchers intend to measure their progress by analyzing data, assessing outcomes and inviting in external evaluators.

In the end, the researchers hope they can start to build a new checklist: Faculty success in STEM fields for underrepresented women at Midwestern research universities. Check. Faculty success in STEM fields for women with family responsibilities at Midwestern research universities. Check.

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