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Chancellor-led center aims to boost women's numbers in STEM academia

9.7.2012

By Andy Fell

Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi will lead a new project aimed at increasing the participation of women, especially Latinas, in academic science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

The project is funded by a grant of $3.725 million over five years from the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program.

Katehi's seven co-investigators include Adela de la Torre, interim vice chancellor for Student Affairs, and Maureen Stanton, vice provost for Academic Affairs. De La Torre is a professor of Chicana/o studies, and Stanton is a professor of evolution and ecology.

The other co-investigators: Professor Yvette Flores, Chicana/o studies; Professor Laura Grindstaff, sociology; Professor Susan Rivera, psychology; Professor Ray Rodriguez, molecular and cellular biology; Associate Professor Kim Shauman sociology.

"The UC Davis ADVANCE program is rooted in the premise that multiple perspectives from both gender and cultural diversity can increase UC Davis’ contributions to STEM research," Katehi said.

A key goal of the early phase of the project will be a national survey of Latina/o doctoral students to measure their career choices and perceptions of academic versus nonacademic careers.

Said Stanton: "There is great concern that minorities are attracted to nonacademic over academic careers. That’s a very valid career choice, but academia has a larger and longer-term goal — to train the next generations of innovators, engineers and scientists. To accomplish this goal we must broaden the spectrum of talented individuals entering academic careers.”

De La Torre added: "Given California's growing Latino population and UC Davis' significant place in building our future work force, the NSF ADVANCE grant positions us in building the needed infrastructure to not only to increase diversity in STEM, but also to strengthen opportunities for science education for all Californians.”

The survey will be carried out in collaboration with national organizations such the Society for Advancing Chicano and Native Americans in Science, and the Society of Hispanic Professionals in Engineering.

Findings will help to guide a process of reviewing and revising personnel policies and practices at UC Davis, aiming to promote diversity and reduce unconscious biases. That might include, for example, changing the way that search committees are trained and updating language in the Academic Personnel Manual, Stanton said.

This is the first grant to UC Davis under the NSF ADVANCE program. Katehi chairs the steering committee for the systemwide ADVANCE program at the UC Office of the President, and Stanton is a member of that committee. Five other UC campuses have ADVANCE programs: Berkeley, Irvine, Merced, Riverside and San Diego.

Through collaborations with ADVANCE projects at other campuses, successful policy changes could spread to other UC campuses and research universities, Stanton said.

The NSF review panel noted that the UC Davis project could serve as a high impact model for other universities struggling to be inclusive of women of color in their faculty.

The grant will establish the Center for Advancing Multicultural Perspectives on Science, or CAMPOS, to be both a physical location for networking and exchanging ideas, and a faculty hiring initiative to increase diversity in key STEM fields.

In making up to 16 new faculty hires, CAMPOS will aim to build coalitions of STEM faculty who want to apply their research to serve underrepresented communities, Stanton said. And UC Davis is the ideal location for this approach, she said.

"UC Davis is known for excellent scientists who want to apply what they know to serve the community," Stanton said, citing strengths in health, transportation and nutrition. "There are ample opportunities for mentoring."

The effectiveness of the program and policy changes will be measured through a rigorous social science research program.

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