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WVU project forges pathways for underrepresented faculty

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WVU's Kasi Jackson and Sharon Bird are researching the barriers to STEM faculty careers for women and underrepresented minorities.

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Researchers at West Virginia University are helping universities nationwide overcome barriers to STEM faculty careers for women and underrepresented minorities.

While there have been increases in the diversity of faculty positions, the share of women and underrepresented minority faculty is considerably less than their share in the U.S. population or in the number of undergraduate students enrolled in science, technology, engineering and math, according to the National Science Foundation. 

To address these challenges, ADVANCE Center Director Kasi Jackson and Center for Women’s and Gender Studies Director Sharon Bird are leading a research team in evaluating colleges and universities nationwide to make recommendations for equity reform and organizational change. 

“Tomorrow’s STEM workforce is improved when women and historically underrepresented minority faculty are hired and promoted in our nation’s universities and colleges,” Bird said. 

The project team, which also includes WVU Associate Provost for Faculty Development and Culture Melissa Latimer and WVU Associate Vice President for Research Administration Katie Stores, is investigating which approaches, leadership roles and institutional contexts are advancing faculty equity in STEM. Examples include initiatives funded by the NSF’s ADVANCE and Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate initiatives, which focus on transforming institutional culture and implementing programs to help underrepresented graduate students reach their career goals, respectively. 

To accomplish this, the team is creating a toolkit that institutions can use to identify pathways to successful faculty diversity initiatives. It includes checklists and scoring guides for assessing organizational culture.

“Accountable leadership and sustained commitment to reducing career barriers and ensuring equal opportunities are among the most important criteria to create truly equitable higher education institutions,” Bird said. “Only then will they lead the way in educating students of all backgrounds and interests and in preparing the next generation of global leaders.” 

The team will pilot the toolkits with institutions interested in implementing equity reform on their campuses.

“The study results will enable universities and colleges to identify key leverage points for systemic equity transformation and the practices, policies and cultural changes needed for achieving campus equity goals,” said Jackson, who is also professor of women’s and gender studies in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. “They will provide a tangible way to on-board institutions into successful equity approaches.” 

The projected is supported by a nearly $300,000 Early-Concept Grant for Exploratory Research award from the NSF. 

“I am really passionate about graduate education,” Jackson said. “I’m interested in determining what training graduate students need across the disciplines to help them succeed and eventually go on to be faculty members who can create better climates for their students.”



CONTACT: Katlin Swisher
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

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