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January 21, 2005

UMBC Gets It: Women Science Faculty Thrive

As the national debate on gender and science in higher education heats up, UMBC is an excellent example of how a campus can increase the presence and success of women faculty in science and technology.

Led by President Freeman A. Hrabowski, UMBC is a public research university with a national reputation for academic excellence and diversity. Over the last six years, UMBC has expanded campus-wide initiatives to attract and support female faculty and graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

"Since 2000, when we first began studies on how to tackle the problem,the number of UMBC's tenured or tenure-track women faculty in the STEM fields has more than doubled from 17 to 36," said Lynn Zimmerman, Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives and Professor of Biology at UMBC.

UMBC now requires all departments to form diversity plans prior to starting faculty job searches. The campus also redesigned its family and medical leave policy to be more visible and attractive to women faculty.

"Good things can happen once there is a genuine commitment to the issue," said Zimmerman. "UMBC's work is by no means finished, but I am excited about our progress in such a short period of time."

Initiatives and Expert Sources on Women and Science:

Hrabowski is leading gender diversity efforts on the campus as the principal investigator for ADVANCE at UMBC, a $3.2 million, five year, National Science Foundation (NSF) institutional transformation grant. ADVANCE is designed to change the campus structure and culture to improve recruitment, retention, career advancement and mentoring for talented women STEM faculty.

"Programs like ADVANCE show that what's good for women is good for the entire university," said Zimmerman, who also leads the university's day-to-day efforts for ADVANCE and other science diversity programs.

In 2001, UMBC appointed Janet Rutledge Associate Dean of the Graduate School. Rutledge was instrumental in bringing the PROMISE program to UMBC. Through this $2.5 million NSF grant, UMBC leads an effort by Maryland's three public research universities to increase the number and diversity of Ph.D. graduates in the sciences and engineering who go onto academic careers.

As the first African American female to receive a Ph.D. from Georgia Tech's electrical engineering program, Rutledge knows firsthand the challenges that women and other minorities face in academia. "There's a feeling of invisibility," said Rutledge, who focused on the scarcity of minority science Ph.D.s at the NSF prior to coming to UMBC.

In 2000, Zimmerman and fellow biological sciences professor Phyllis Robinson founded UMBC's faculty group Women in Science and Engineering(WISE). The informal support group for women STEM faculty became the foundation for ADVANCE and other efforts at UMBC.

In 2004, UMBC was one of only five U.S. institutions to receive an award to establish a Clare Boothe Luce Professorship. The Clare Boothe Luce Program is among the most significant sources of private support for women in science, engineering and mathematics in the U.S. When hired, the new professor will make UMBC's Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering faculty over 50 percent female.

UMBC is home to the Center for Women and Information Technology (CWIT),which is dedicated to strengthening the nation's technology workforce by increasing the participation and advancement of women and girls in information technology (IT) and IT careers.

Claudia Morrell, Executive Director of the Center, has led a dramatic expansion at CWIT, including the development of a scholars program witha 93 percent retention rate and a $6.5 million increase in scholarships, research and program funding.

Anne Spence is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UMBC and a member of WISE and CWIT's Advisory Board. An aerospace engineer,Spence is used to the challenges of being a woman in a technical field.

"One of my college professors told me that women should not be engineers, so I got the highest grade in the class to prove him wrong,"she said. "When I graduated I had six job offers. I did encounter initial resistance, but I was always able to get rid of it by proving myself."

Spence is a volunteer for CWIT's annual educational outreach event, Computer Mania Day. The event works to break stereotypes by building interest in technology among middle school girls, their parents and teachers via hands-on education and mentorship. She is also an advisor for UMBC's chapter of Mentor Net, a national mentoring program for women studying engineering and computer science.

Posted by dwinds1 at January 21, 2005 12:00 AM