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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

July 23, 2009

Self assessment: ISU ADVANCE heads into fourth of five years

by Anne Krapfl

Q: Your task is a big one. How has the ISU ADVANCE team tackled it?
We are doing it with a combination of what we call bottom-up and top-down strategies.

The best example of bottom-up is the focus group discussions with faculty in -- so far -- six departments in three of our colleges. Three more departments will begin their work this year. The discussions -- about promotion, a balance between work and home, and other issues -- are a first step to making fundamental changes in our academic culture, our academic climate. Those changes in culture, structure and practices will improve things for everyone, not just women, not just tenure-track faculty.

Q: Which departments are participating in this process?
The first six departments are animal science; chemistry; civil, construction and environmental engineering; ecology, evolution and organismal biology; genetics, development and cell biology; and materials science and engineering. The three we'll add this fall are physics and astronomy, chemical and biological engineering, and plant pathology.

Q: Has the department work yielded any outcomes yet?
Yes. For example, we feel that discussion at the department level over the last two years about modified duties for faculty when a child arrives in the family influenced the Faculty Senate discussion and passage of that policy this year. Another issue that has bubbled up is the need for mentoring associate professors as they progress toward full professor.

Q: What are some of the more fruitful "top-down" efforts you mentioned?
Top-down initiatives, spearheaded by the provost, associate provost and deans in the three participating colleges (the largest STEM colleges: Agriculture and Life Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Engineering), have included dozens of workshops and speakers for all faculty, critical assessment of college-level policies for their commitment to quality and diversity, and several satisfaction surveys that have provided important data for us. (Assistant professors were surveyed in 2005 and will be again this fall; all faculty were surveyed in January 2008 and will be again in the next two years.)

Each year, the provost's office has sponsored a faculty fellow in the ISU ADVANCE program who has developed resources for faculty, chairs and deans around a key topic. The resources include "best practices" tip sheets, checklists and workshops. People tell us they are using them. The topics addressed so far were:

  • Faculty recruitment
  • Faculty career flexibility (completed resources to be shared this fall)

Our new fellow this fall will address support for associate professors as they advance to full professor.

Q: What else is planned for these final two years of the grant?
After 18 months of planning and an inaugural year in 2008-09, the ADVANCE scholars program will continue. It's a mentoring program for women faculty of color in a STEM field at the assistant or associate professor level, and it's intended to give them additional exposure to eminent scholars in their disciplines. Each participant identifies a scholar off campus in her field for interaction and research collaboration. ADVANCE funds support travel for the ISU faculty member and scholar.

We'll add our final three departments to the grassroots program, while the first six continue their work. We'll be looking for ways to, in the near future, transfer what we learned and processes that worked to more ISU departments in a manner that is less time-intensive and costly.
But it's important that we do continue this because we can see the process of transformation beginning in departments and colleges. We must succeed at this if we want to continue to recruit and retain a diverse, high-quality faculty. We know from the questions faculty recruits ask at interviews that they expect to perform well while enjoying balance in their lives.

Q: And then what? Will there be an opportunity to renew the NSF grant?
No, the funding is not renewable. We need to position ourselves for sustainability, and a big part of that is building connections with other programs -- and we have done that with groups such as the University Committee on Women, Women's Leadership Consortium, Program for Women in Science and Engineering and the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate.

The president and provost support this initiative, as do the deans of the three colleges involved in the department transformation program. Actually, there are representatives as well from Human Sciences and Veterinary Medicine on ISU ADVANCE committees, even though this grant is not providing funding to their colleges.

We feel that with this broad support and momentum, the initiative can live on, though it will require continued institutional support.

Editor's note:

ADVANCE, an initiative sponsored by the National Science Foundation, is about increasing the numbers as well as the promotion of women faculty in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields in higher education. Next month, Iowa State begins the fourth year of a five-year, $3.3 million NSF grant to address the challenge. Inside talked with associate provost and principal investigator Susan Carlson and ISU ADVANCE executive director Bonnie Bowen about what's been accomplished and what's still ahead.