MURRAY, Ky. — The National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE Program has awarded a $250,000 grant to Murray State University for a project entitled “Differences and Deficits Affecting Women STEM Faculty: Creating a Framework for Change at a Rural Public University.” Research will begin on May 1 and explore the impact of gender-related beliefs and expectations on female STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) faculty, particularly in a rural public university setting.
The grant’s principal investigators are Mathematics Professor Dr. Maeve McCarthy, Psychology Professor and Department Chair Dr. Paula Waddill, Geosciences Professor Dr. Robin Zhang, Education Assistant Professor Dr. Echo Wu and Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology Dean Dr. Stephen Cobb.
“I have always been interested in improving the representation of women in science and mathematics,” said McCarthy. “The [ADVANCE] program has caused institutions throughout the U.S. to make great strides in improving conditions for women faculty in STEM. We are hopeful that we can help Murray State make positive changes that will have a lasting impact on the number of women faculty in STEM.”
Specifically, the group will examine factors that affect recruitment, retention and advancement of women faculty in STEM fields in western Kentucky — an area they report is deficient in STEM education.
“Our hypothesis is that our rural location adversely impacts the retention of women faculty in STEM,” said McCarthy. Referencing a 2014 study by the President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion (PCDI), she stated that 41% of all full-time Murray State faculty members that year were women, whereas females made up only 21% of the University’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology faculty members.
The hope is that through this grant, an increase in awareness and change will take place as advocated by Murray State.
“We can hope that this grant will bring the awareness and change,” said Zhang.
To conduct the research, the team will work with a survey research institute to perform a faculty climate study, which will include all genders within STEM and non-STEM fields. They will also review existing institutional data and policies, bring in speakers to conduct workshops on themes such as implicit bias and leadership development, and form peer mentoring circles aimed at female junior faculty members.
Once the research is completed, the team will make recommendations for administrative policy modifications in hopes of boosting representation of female faculty and retention of high-quality faculty as a whole, which in turn will affect the quality of education for students.
“Murray State is unique in that it is one of only a handful of regional comprehensives that have received this kind of funding,” added McCarthy. “We feel like Murray State can be a leader amongst regional universities in making positive changes for women in STEM.”