LOWELL, Mass. – Women earn nearly half of all college degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. But only about a quarter of the professors teaching them are women.
A team of women faculty at UMass Lowell led by Chancellor Jacquie Moloney
, Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Julie Chen and Center for Women and Work
Director Meg Bond are out to change that, thanks to a new $3.5 million award from the National Science Foundation.
The grant will fund a major effort by UMass Lowell to remove barriers that face women faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The new initiative, called “Making WAVES (Women Academics Valued and Engaged in STEM),” is designed to help all higher-education institutions establish an environment that supports faculty who are women, as well as those from other underrepresented populations, in achieving their highest potential.
For Making WAVES, that translates into combating microaggressions that communicate derogatory or negative messages toward such faculty. Those actions are brief verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities that can be difficult to detect by those they are not directed at and may even be unknowingly committed by the person initiating them, according to the researchers. However, they are a significant factor in deterring women from pursuing or staying in STEM faculty roles and there are few models available to provide practical steps to address the problem.
UMass Lowell’s team of faculty researchers plans to develop a variety of new approaches to prevent such microaggressions and the subtle biases that are discouraging women from succeeding by undercutting their productivity and well-being.
“UMass Lowell is known for its innovation in science and technology in the lab and in the classroom. But this NSF grant recognizes that we also are leaders in innovation in changing the culture of higher education in those fields,” said Moloney. “It is a strong vote of confidence in our institution’s ability to create an inclusive culture for faculty that benefits students by ensuring they are learning from the best in their fields, regardless of gender, ethnicity or orientation.”
“The National Science Foundation’s grant to UMass Lowell for the Making WAVES program is an important investment in closing the gender and diversity gap among faculty in STEM-related disciplines, as well as in all professions. A model that is successful in breaking down barriers in academia not only has a positive impact on the next generation, but could also potentially be translated to other fields where many of these less visible, and sometimes unintentional, actions can significantly hinder the advancement of diverse talent, especially in senior roles,” said Chen.
In addition to Moloney and Chen – the first women in the university’s 121-year history to hold their jobs – and Bond, the research team includes faculty members Margaret Sobkowicz-Kline (plastics engineering), Marina Ruths (chemistry and nanomanufacturing), Michelle Haynes-Baratz (psychology); and Jill Lohmeier (education). Others associated with the Center for Women and Work, which will house the project, will also participate in the research and Brita Dean will serve as project manager.
“This grant is particularly exciting because it represents the commitment our campus has to addressing some of the most subtle and entrenched barriers to the success of women and members of underrepresented minority groups in STEM,” said Bond.
U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas congratulated UMass Lowell on the grant. “Our region is quickly becoming a leader in the STEM fields thanks to our top-quality academic institutions like UMass Lowell. Talented women across the country and right here in our own backyard are driving America’s advances in STEM industry and are critical to future success in these areas. I look forward to seeing the far-reaching impact of this funding take hold, as more women engage in pioneering research and development at UMass Lowell and beyond,” Tsongas said.
Making WAVES aims to create a program that promotes alternative patterns for interaction and addresses areas of organizations that can breed bias through a variety of interventions including survey-feedback cycles, information campaigns and training on confronting microaggressions at the interpersonal and institutional levels. The model will also include new opportunities for networking among STEM faculty who are women or from underrepresented populations, and accountability initiatives for areas such as decision-making on faculty workload and committees to reduce the likelihood of bias.
UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 17,500 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers. www.uml.edu