WMU among recipients of nearly $1M NSF grant to boost women in STEM fields

Contact: Erin Flynn
A young woman works on a machine in an engineering workshop.

An engineer works on a machine in an engineering workshop.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University is leading the charge in diversifying science, technology, engineering and math fields.

The University, in collaboration with three other research institutions, was awarded a three-year, $996,000 ADVANCE grant from the National Science Foundation to develop strategies to increase the number of female STEM faculty across the country.

"It is so exciting," says Dr. Carla Koretsky, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at WMU. "I think it is something that can really create such significant, systemic, institutional change at Western Michigan University and other institutions like it."

Promoting change

Two women write mathematical equations on a white board.

"We know from talking to students it really matters to them when they step into the classroom and they see someone that looks like them," says Koretsky.

Koretsky and other WMU faculty will be working with lead institution Iowa State University, as well as Michigan Technological University and North Dakota State University, to focus on challenges facing women of color and women with family responsibilities.

"There's a lot of research on some of the biases and issues that are disproportionately faced by women. We know that women are very often given larger service loads. We know that there are often biases with respect to things like start-up packages and the sizes of lab space," says Koretsky. "All of these things are challenges that are more significant for women than men. So, understanding and addressing them and finding strategies to really retain and promote women is so important—and women of color, in particular."

The project will examine a number of strategies including developing and implementing training programs for campus leaders, training and developing campus advocates and allies, and developing mentor communities to support female faculty members.

Fostering diversity

A biologist looks in a microscope.

In 2018, Dr. Erika Calvo-Ochoa, a WMU biologist, was one of 40 researchers in the nation to be awarded a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in biology.

"As a woman in a STEM field that is one of those largely male-dominated STEM fields, this is something I've always been interested in," says Koretsky, who is a professor of geological and environmental sciences. "So many girls and women get turned off, get the wrong idea about science, don't see role models, and this is such a great opportunity for us to really change that and take advantage of all of the talent that's out there."

The group is in the beginning phases of its collaboration. The goal is to begin implementing some of the strategies next year. Evaluators both within and outside of the universities will collect and analyze data to determine which strategies are having the most impact and have the potential to be successfully implemented at other institutions.

"We know from talking to students it really matters to them when they step into the classroom and they see someone that looks like them," says Koretsky. "I think it's so important that we develop that and we recruit more diverse people into STEM higher education."

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.

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