NSF grant expands CWRU-directed program to promote gender equity in STEM faculty positions

A program to promote gender equity in academic science and engineering careers across universities in northern Ohio is being expanded to western Pennsylvania.

With a new three-year, $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advance Program, Case Western Reserve University will lead an effort to develop, share and evaluate approaches and policies that lead to more women in full-tenured professorships in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

The new round of funding builds on a consortium of northern Ohio institutions created six years ago in a program called Institutions Developing Excellence in Academic Leadership (IDEAL).

IDEAL was a three-year, nearly $1 million grant NSF awarded in 2009 to Case Western Reserve and five other northern Ohio universities to develop and share approaches to achieving gender and minority equity in STEM positions. The other institutions are Bowling Green State University, Cleveland State University, Kent State University, University of Akron and University of Toledo.

NSF Advance funding for IDEAL-National (IDEAL-N) expands the effort to four institutions in western Pennsylvania: Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University, Indiana University and University of Pittsburgh.

“There’s still so much important work to be done,” said Lynn Singer, Case Western Reserve’s deputy provost and vice president for academic affairs and professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, pediatrics, psychiatry, and psychology. Singer is the grant’s principal investigator (PI).

Gender equity in STEM careers—and developing world-class talent in those fields—is considered vital to the nation’s ability to compete globally. NSF Advance was created in 2001 to increase the representation and advancement of women in the academic STEM workforce.

According to NSF, women represent 35 percent of all science and engineering faculty, with just a 6 percent growth in those numbers from 2000-2010. And just 19 percent advanced to become full-tenured professors.

“IDEAL-N will spur institutional transformation in the STEM disciplines across northern Ohio and Pennsylvania,” said Diana Bilimoria, KeyBank Professor and chair of the Department of Organizational Behavior at Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School of Management. “This innovative partnership will generate benefits for each university as well as advance regional and national efforts to foster science and technology careers and reverse the drain of talent from academic STEM.”

Bilimoria and Deanne Snavely, dean of Natural Sciences and Math at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, are co-PIs on the expanding program.

IDEAL-N not only expands the program geographically, but also will, among other activities, involve:

  • Creating academic “change leaders” to apply and track new approaches to promote gender equity and career development in STEM faculty positions at each participating university.
  • Using innovative, cost-effective technology for continuous, convenient communication among the participating universities.
  • Developing a gender-equity index to assess results.

“The gender-equity index would be a simple way for universities to track their progress over time and compare themselves to national averages,” Singer said. “It gives you an idea where your university stands.”

Since 2001, the NSF has invested more than $130 million to support Advance projects at more than 100 institutions of higher education and STEM-related non-profit organizations.

“CWRU is pleased and privileged to lead this new and expanded IDEAL program,” said William A. “Bud” Baeslack III, provost and executive vice president and professor of materials science and engineering. “It will bring together universities from Ohio and Pennsylvania to develop new, innovative strategies for promoting the advancement of women to senior faculty positions in STEM fields.”