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CULLEN COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING

University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering

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UH Receives $3.3 Million Grant to Promote Women in STEM Fields

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By: 

Melanie Ziems

The University of Houston was awarded a $3.29 million grant over five years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE to increase the number and success of women faculty in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The focus of the NSF “ADVANCE” program is to “increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers, thereby contributing to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce.” This award will allow the university to establish a “Center for ADVANCING Faculty Success” to oversee the goal of increasing female STEM faculty recruitment, especially among women of color, as well as enhancing UH’s infrastructure to make gender equity and diversity campus-wide priorities.

The Cullen College of Engineering spearheaded the grant proposal with support from the College of Technology, the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, the College of Education, and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. Renu Khator, chancellor and president of the University of Houston, is the principal investigator on the grant. Co-investigators include Joseph W. Tedesco, dean of the Cullen College of Engineering; Bonnie Dunbar, M.D. Anderson Professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, director of the UH STEM Center and the aerospace engineering program; Dan Wells, interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics; and Holly Hutchins, associate professor of human development and consumer sciences in the College of Technology.

Joseph W. Tedesco, the Elizabeth D. Rockwell Endowed Chair and dean of the UH Cullen College of Engineering, said that establishing UH as an ADVANCE institution is crucial to the future of the engineering profession in the city of Houston and beyond.

“The future of the engineering profession in the U.S. depends on women and minorities,” Tedesco said. “In order to attract more women STEM students, and especially women of color, we need more minority and women STEM role models in leadership positions throughout our STEM colleges. This grant will help UH to achieve that goal, and I’m extremely proud that the Cullen College of Engineering took a leadership role in this process.”

The UH grant proposal included several goals in addition to attracting more women STEM faculty at senior mid-career and junior levels. The center also hopes to increase the support and representation of women STEM faculty in administrative leadership positions at the department, college and university levels. They also hope to enhance the university infrastructure to make gender equity and diversity campus-wide priorities by improving awareness and climate as well as institutionalizing successful ADVANCE activities.

To achieve these goals, UH will establish mentorship programs between senior female STEM faculty members and their mid-career and junior counterparts. The newly established ADVANCE center will also launch search committee and diversity training and workshops for STEM chairs, deans and faculty members. Other programs to be implemented include leadership training for administrators, work-life integration activities for female employees, and a “STEM in the Americas” speaker series.

Paula Myrick Short, senior vice president of Academic Affairs for the UH system and senior vice president for Academic Affairs and provost of UH, will serve as the center’s director. Lisa Robertson, executive director of external relations and strategic partnerships at the Cullen College, will serve as interim managing director. Other faculty and administrators from around the university who will play major roles in the Center are the UH ADVANCE social science co-leaders Lisa Penney (associate professor, Industrial Organizational Psychology) and Alan Witt (professor, psychology; director, Industrial Organizational Psychology), and Elizabeth Gregory (professor, English; director, Women’s Sexuality and Gender Studies). Deans Tedesco, Wells, William Fitzgibbon (dean, College of Technology), Robert McPherson (dean, College of Education) and John Roberts (dean, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences) will compose the UH ADVANCE Dean’s Group in an unprecedented inter-college effort.

In addition to creating an environment favorable to women STEM professionals, the proposal also establishes an ADVANCE Regional Network (ARN), linking Prairie View A&M University, Rice University, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas – Pan American with UH.

ARN is unique in that it is the first-ever regional, multi-institutional ADVANCE network. Each of the ARN partners brings to the network a broad set of ADVANCE expertise that will be shared through mentoring programs, networks, workshops, special events and webinars.  ARN will provide a platform from which ADVANCE centers can reach out to other institutions to engage in dialogue about women faculty’s experiences and help catalyze activities at those institutions to improve success of women STEM faculty.

Several of the ARN institutions are designated as minority-serving institutions, this regional approach will be especially helpful for women of color who are STEM faculty members. When women STEM faculty – and particularly those from underrepresented minority groups – find themselves alone or nearly alone in their departments, it can cause feelings of isolation and dissatisfaction. ARN will allow women STEM faculty to connect with one another, share experiences, develop mentorship relationships and provide one another with a platform to succeed in their academic and professional careers.

The period of performance for the NSF grant will run from September 1, 2014 through August 31, 2019.

To learn more about the UH ADVANCE Center, please visit: www.uh.edu/advance.

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