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UMass Boston awarded NSF grant to assess gender and racial equity among its STEM faculty

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded UMass Boston a two-year $300,000 ADVANCE Catalyst grant to conduct a self-assessment regarding gender and racial equity among science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) faculty at UMass Boston, with the ultimate goal of developing a Five-Year Strategic Plan for STEM Faculty Equity.

To identify barriers and facilitators of faculty equity, UMass Boston’s grant recipients and the two graduate students funded by the grant will be looking at survey data and institutional documents and conducting individual and group interviews with faculty and administrators. The project focuses on all the disciplines that fall under the NSF’s definition of STEM, which includes both the natural and social sciences. The central emphases in the work will be on hiring, tenure, promotion, work experiences, and sense of belonging among women faculty and faculty of color, with special focus on underrepresented racial minority (URM) faculty in STEM fields. The goal is for STEM faculty to reflect both the student body on this majority-minority campus, and the Massachusetts workforce the faculty are preparing students to enter.

“The National Science Foundation’s investment in the quality of our faculty and the importance of diversity is a great step forward for UMass Boston,” noted Interim Chancellor Katherine S. Newman. “As we grow in STEM disciplines, it is critical that we build leadership and scholarly excellence that reflects the student community we serve.  We need to lead in these essential fields.”

The grant’s principal investigator, Associate Professor of Higher Education Katalin Szelényi, says that UMass Boston faces similar challenges as many other research universities in the underrepresentation of women and racial minorities in STEM fields.

“In spring 2019, women made up 44 percent of faculty across natural and social science departments included as STEM fields in this project. Women full professors, however, made up only 8.4 percent of tenure-track faculty in these departments, compared to 19.2 percent for men full professors,” Szelényi said. “Racial inequities are evident more broadly, with underrepresented racial minorities accounting for just 10 percent of all STEM faculty. In addition, underrepresented racial minority full professors made up 2.1 percent of tenure-track faculty in STEM departments, compared to 25.5 percent for non-URM full professors.”

One of the grant’s three co-principal investigators, Professor of Biology Adán Colón-Carmona says the grant presents an opportunity to change those numbers.

“If we look at our student demographics and who we serve on this campus, it’s critical that the faculty reflect the student body. Ultimately that’s what this mechanism is trying to do. We’re trying to create a situation on our campus where our faculty look like our students,” Colón-Carmona said. “My hope is that our self-analysis study will influence hiring and promotion processes for the whole university, which may lead to cultural change at UMass Boston and within academia in general.”

The other two co-principal investigators are Associate Professor of Sociology Andrea Leverentz and Professor of Chemistry Hannah Sevian. Associate Provost for Institutional Research, Assessment, and Planning James J. Hughes will be the project’s internal evaluator. Together they will work with two advisory groups, one internal and one external. Professor of Economics and Faculty Staff Union President Marlene Kim is part of the internal advisory group.

“This will be an important study that will examine underrepresentation by race and gender in the STEM fields,” Kim said. “I am looking forward to participating as an advisor in this timely research.”

Depending on the results, the grant recipients will potentially be applying for an Institutional Transformation grant to enact their strategic plan after the Catalyst grant ends on August 31, 2021.