U.Va. To Launch Program to Boost Female Faculty in Sciences and Social Sciences

January 24, 2013

Boosting the ranks of female faculty in science and social science fields will be the focus of a Feb. 7 meeting at the University of Virginia marking the beginning of a new program that U.Va. leaders are calling an investment in the future.

The all-day event will launch the University’s $3 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE Institutional Transformation program. The program’s goal is to promote women’s full participation in academic careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the so-called “STEM” fields. The grant program also extends to the social and behavioral sciences and economics – referred to as “SBE” – fields in which women also are underrepresented.

Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2012, will give the keynote address at 2 p.m. in the auditorium in the Harrison Institute and Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

His talk and several panel discussions on the value of collaboration across diverse fields of study, especially as it relates to women in STEM and SBE disciplines, are free and open to the public. Conference organizers encourage members of the community to attend not only to learn more about the initiatives, but also to learn how they might get involved.

Morning sessions will take place in third-floor rooms of Newcomb Hall (signs will be posted) and afternoon sessions in the Harrison/Small auditorium. A meeting schedule will be posted soon on the U.Va. ADVANCE website.

Hrabowski will discuss his perspectives on how universities can bridge the distance between diversity ideals and practice, especially when it comes to fully including women and minorities, in the academic science workforce, and how those perspectives might apply to U.Va.

“The success of this program depends on our engaging as many people as possible in identifying and addressing subtle sources of bias at the University, and on broad understanding of just how vital this work is to the future of the University,” said Gertrude Fraser, U.Va.’s vice provost for faculty recruitment and retention and leader of the grant program and working group.

She will lead a discussion on “Transformational Work, Gender and Diversity.” Sophie Trawalter, assistant professor of public policy and psychology in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and Archie L. Holmes Jr., professor of electrical and computer engineering, will each lead sessions on “Public Space and Women’s Belonging” and “Leveraging Difference in Research,” respectively.


“The grant is based on a balanced view, recognizing that U.Va.’s efforts thus far give it the capacity for transforming the policies, climate and resources needed to help women thrive in their academic lives,” Fraser said.

The program consists of five initiatives that aim to improve department climate, document the experiences of senior and retired women faculty, support search and selection, fund women’s research and scholarship, and encourage innovative approaches to addressing underutilization of women in STEM and SBE academic careers. 

The first year of the grant will focus on department-level projects, climate assessment and structural reforms.

In the second year, a University-wide Tournament of Ideas will encourage faculty members to think entrepreneurially about how U.Va. can more effectively reach, recruit and nurture STEM and SBE women. Winners will receive cash prizes for their ideas. 

In addition to these and other enhancements, STEM and SBE faculty will be encouraged to apply for small U.Va. ADVANCE grants at key moments in their careers.

“We were awarded the grant because we are in many respects a leader in this work,” said Pamela Norris, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and ADVANCE program director.  “U.Va. ADVANCE gives us the chance to dive deeper.” 

As of fall 2011, 13.7 percent of the teaching and research faculty in tenured and tenure-track positions and 11.9 percent of the non-tenure-track faculty in STEM disciplines are female – 42 women (14 tenure-track, 28 tenured) spread across 15 departments, and most of them are white. Departmental-level data show that six departments – physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics in the College of Arts & Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the Engineering School – approach or exceed national statistics for percentage of women on the faculty.

Research cited on the NSF grant website shows that women’s representation and advancement in the STEM-SBE fields are affected by many external factors unrelated to their ability, interests and technical skills. Nationally and at U.Va., women still lag behind men in terms of graduate enrollments and degrees conferred in the STEM fields.

The NSF program, started 10 years ago, encourages female and male faculty, department chairs and institutional leaders to work together to identify and ameliorate the often-hidden structural and cultural barriers to women’s full participation in academic STEM and SBE careers.

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications