September 25, 2006

NSF Grant Aims to Boost Women in Science Fields

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) is giving Cornell a $3.3 million grant to increase the number of women in science and engineering faculty positions over the next five years.

The University is aiming to boost the percentage of women faculty in engineering, life science, physical science and social science departments to 20 percent by 2011, identifying 27 departments out of 51 that fall below this mark, according to a press release. They also hope to achieve one-third women in all such departments by 2015.

“We have an important opportunity to increase the number of women faculty in science and engineering,” Provost Biddy Martin said in the press release.

Martin will serve as the principal investigator for the grant, along with co-principal investigators Robert Harris, vice provost for diversity and faculty development; Prof. Shelley Correll, sociology; Prof. Sheila Hemami, electrical and computer engineering; and Prof. Marjolein van der Meulen, mechanical and aerospace engineering.
Correll explained that the cause of the lack of women in science faculty positions was “complicated,” involving problems both in the universities, and at a more basic, societal level.

“As a part of our grant, we plan to address both type of causes,” she said. “That is, we cannot let gender inequalities that exist outside of Cornell determine or limit our success at Cornell.”
Hemami and van der Meulen both said that their departments were well under the 20 percent mark.

“We have two women in our department out of 27 or 28 total faculty,” van der Meulen said. “In fact, all 10 departments in the College of Engineering lie below the 20 percent target. We will be working with five colleges of which we are the only college with all departments involved.”
The Associated Press is reporting that Brown University also received the same grant this year.

According to the press release, part of the grant will be used to create a new center called “Advancing Cornell’s Commitment to Excellence and Leadership,” or ACCEL, which will be a permanent part of the Provost’s office. ACCEL will be charged with creating “a campuswide set of initiatives” to reach the desired numbers of women faculty.

Jiyeon Hwang ’09, a sophomore in chemical engineering, said that she has noticed the lack of women faculty in her department
“It seems like we don’t have as many [women professors],” she said, adding that the few she had taken classes with had been “amazing teachers.”

The grant is funded by the NSF’s ADVANCE program, which was started after a 1999 report out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that dealt with ways to bolster the presence of women in science-related positions in academia.

“The goal of the ADVANCE program is to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers, thereby contributing to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce,” according to the NSF website.

Martin added, “With a National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant, Cornell can renew its leadership by demonstrating that reaching a critical mass of women scientists at an elite, research intensive university is not only possible, but critical to the quality of the institution. The presence of greater numbers of female faculty at Cornell will have a transformational impact at a national level.”

The grant takes effect on November 1.