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Updated 3:30 PM January 3, 2006




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Women in science, engineering: U-M makes ADVANCE permanent

A U-M project to bridge the gender gap in science and engineering has been so successful that officials have decided to make it permanent with funding commitments approved at least through 2011.

The number of women hired annually for science and engineering faculty positions has increased three-fold since the National Science Foundation (NSF) first supported the five-year ADVANCE project in 2001, a program aimed at improving recruitment and retention of women faculty in science and engineering. The University's commitment to extend the program of institutional transformation guarantees the effort will be at least a 10-year mission.

In the years before ADVANCE, 14 percent of tenure-track hires in science and engineering went to women. Now the number is 34 percent.

"We were all inspired," a NSF site evaluation team concluded after reviewing U-M's ADVANCE efforts and dubbing Michigan a national leader. "There is enthusiasm among most of those we talked to, and belief that real change has transpired and can be sustained. We commend the University of Michigan for the resources, energy, commitment and imagination it has already dedicated to this transformation," the team noted.

President Mary Sue Coleman and interim Provost Edward Gramlich announced that a number of the functions and activities developed through the NSF-supported ADVANCE will be integrated into an ongoing institutional structure when the NSF funding ends in December 2006.

"Michigan was the first large American university to admit women in 1869 and ADVANCE continues to blaze new paths toward a more diverse university," Coleman said. "Its mission will continue to focus on using social scientific theories and evidence about both organizational and individual processes to improve our institutional capacity to recruit, retain and advance women scientists and engineers."

The new structure for U-M ADVANCE is designed "to provide help for departments in the self-study of their climate, help with the continuous training and learning for all aspects of [faculty] recruiting, promotion and retention, and be a resource to other programs."

Lotte Bailyn, management professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management and co-director of the MIT Workplace Center, who headed the NSF site team that visited Michigan, recommended the University institutionalize its efforts after a fall 2004 visit.

The ADVANCE office will report directly to the provost and be housed in the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. The program also increasingly will broaden its mission to address comparable goals for faculty in all disciplines and other underrepresented groups and constituencies, such as graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.

"We're committing further resources to this project because we see good evidence that we're making real progress toward important institutional goals," Gramlich said.

Besides raising the number of women hired for faculty positions, nine women scientists and engineers have been appointed to leadership positions and a January 2005 campus survey found an improved work environment for women science and engineering faculty.

Internal resources partially will replace the combination of external and internal funding that has supported the first five years of ADVANCE's activities. Internal support of $800,000 per year has been committed through June 30, 2011.

The planned funding includes support from LSA; the Medical School; the College of Engineering; and the STRIDE committee (a group of senior science and engineering faculty who lead workshops and provide departments with information and advice about recruitment). The units will share responsibility for the salary of the faculty director.

The overall funding level is designed to ensure three elements: leadership, core staff and support for campus-wide STRIDE committees.

Other activities will be planned and undertaken by the project in consultation with the Steering Committee, composed of the deans of LSA, the medical school and engineering, and the faculty leadership of the project—currently Abigail Stewart, project director of ADVANCE and professor of psychology and women's studies, and Pamela Raymond, professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology. 

By January 2007, they will appoint an expanded advisory committee, drawing on faculty across the disciplines, and from a wide range of schools and colleges.

During the period following the NSF funding, the leadership of the project will select elements from among the current activities of the ADVANCE project to continue, to modify or expand, and to drop. In addition, it will identify new projects and activities.

It will also take advantage of opportunities to seek external funding of projects within its mission.

"One important benefit of a secure infrastructure is that it can support applications for particular projects, and provides strong evidence of institutional commitment to the aims of the ADVANCE program," Stewart said.

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