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Posted 10.12.06

 
 
   

NSF Grant Focuses on Providing Better Opportunities to Women Faculty

Study aims to create gender equity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Gender equity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is an issue for colleges and universities nationwide. At the University of Missouri-Columbia, a team of researchers and administrators is taking a proactive approach to address the issue.

Jackie Litt.MU has received nearly $500,000 from the National Science Foundation to conduct a three-year study aimed at developing a more diverse workforce through the advancement of women in STEM careers. The University will contribute additional matching funds to the project that will focus on 21 STEM departments within the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, College of Arts and Science, and College of Engineering.

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The study, led by Jackie Litt, associate professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Science and director of the Women's and Gender Studies Program, comes at a critical time. A recent report by the National Academies, which is composed of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine, states that women pursuing STEM careers in academia nationwide have been hindered by bias and "outmoded institutional structures" rather than lack of ability or "innate" biological and intellectual differences. MU applied for the grant prior to the release of the report.

Litt will collaborate with numerous researchers from around campus who will serve as co-investigators. They will collect data on the status and allocation of resources for women in STEM careers; administrators and faculty will be educated on the impact of unconscious gender bias toward women; a committee will be formed to discuss promotion opportunities and professional practices that can lead to an increase in gender equality; a mentorship program will be established pairing full professors with chairs, deans and administrators, and associate professors with full professors; and climate theaters, which are similar to interactive workshops, will be held to facilitate dialog and observe behaviors toward women in STEM careers.

Portions of the study will be modeled after similar studies at New Mexico State University and the University of Michigan, both of which previously addressed the issue.

"We already know from the data there's an under representation of women at high levels in these areas," Litt said. "We need the best talent pool here at the University, and that means a diverse talent pool."

Those working with Litt include: Jeni Hart, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy analysis; Meera Chandrasekhar, professor of physics; Sheryl Tucker, associate professor of chemistry; Suzanne Burgoyne, professor of theatre; Lesa Beamer, associate professor of biochemistry; Carol Deakyne, associate professor of chemistry; Carol Lorenzen, associate professor of food science; Marjorie Skubic, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Mike Middleton, deputy chancellor.

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