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AU Receives National Science Foundation ADVANCE Grant

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The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant of $300,000 to American University for an analysis of gender and racial equity among its STEM faculty, with the aim of increasing AU’s number of women and underrepresented minority STEM faculty. The two-year grant will fund a rigorous, university-wide assessment of structures, policies and procedures at AU affecting equity in hiring faculty in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Gender and racial disparities among STEM faculty at medium-sized, urban, private research universities are not well understood; thus, the results of AU’s work will shed light on faculty diversity efforts for peer institutions in urban and metropolitan areas.

“Before we can achieve equity in STEM faculty at American University, we need to first examine the structures in place that are impeding progress,” said Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, a co-principal investigator on the grant, dean of AU’s School of Education and an expert in diversifying faculty in higher education. “This grant will allow us to start the process and to determine next steps for improving the recruitment, hiring and retention of women and underrepresented minority STEM faculty.” STEM for the purposes of the grant includes disciplines in the physical sciences, life sciences and social and behavioral sciences.

In addition to Holcomb-McCoy, the research team overseeing the project includes co-principal investigators Mary Clark, AU deputy provost and dean of faculty; Monica Jackson, College of Arts and Sciences associate dean of undergraduate studies and professor of mathematics and statistics; and Meg Bentley, senior professorial lecturer in the Department of Biology. A committee with members from across the university’s STEM areas will provide guidance on the project, with an emphasis on identifying priorities for a hiring plan.

In 2018, AU launched AU’s Plan for Inclusive Excellence, a far-reaching effort to build a truly inclusive community at the university. Work for the ADVANCE grant will help AU meet its goals to diversify its faculty, including underrepresented minorities, or those who identify as Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx, Native American/Native Alaskan, or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

What’s Known About STEM Faculty at AU

Half of full-time faculty at AU are women. However, when breaking down the numbers further, only 9.3 percent of female STEM faculty are underrepresented minorities. Also, there is a gender gap among tenured/tenure-track STEM faculty: 60 percent are men, whereas about 40 percent are women.

The grant will allow the investigators to analyze the reasons behind the lack of equity and examine the differences in the experiences of tenure-line and non-tenure line STEM faculty, and the experiences of women faculty. At the end of the grant, AU will develop a plan to ensure equitable opportunities in hiring, enhance faculty retention practices, and improve the work environment for women and underrepresented minority STEM faculty.  

Investments in Science and Inclusive Excellence

The analysis is taking place at a time when the university is investing in both science and in diversity and inclusion initiatives. Growing a diverse STEM faculty is important for many reasons, including to help women and minority STEM students feel represented in their field of study, which is a priority for AU. The number of students pursuing STEM is growing. Over the last six years, STEM enrollment in AU’s College of Arts and Sciences has grown by 27 percent.  

One of the goals of AU’s Inclusive Excellence Plan is to improve access and equity, and to transform recruitment and hiring at AU. Of the new, tenure-line faculty hires for the 2019-2020 academic year, 31 percent identified as being from an underrepresented minority group.  

American University continues to rapidly strengthen its status as a research institution. University leadership has invested in STEM disciplines such as neuroscience, data science, environmental science, health and game design in the past decade. Other recent investments include the Hall of Science, slated to open in 2020, a new facility for the life sciences, and the university plans to recruit new faculty in STEM fields. In 2016, The Don Myers Technology and Innovation Building opened its doors, featuring 70,000 square feet of high-tech laboratories, classrooms and shared research space and home to the AU Game Lab, AU Center for Innovation and its Entrepreneurship Incubator, and the Design and Build Lab.

According to the NSF, 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. ADVANCE is an integral part of the NSF's multifaceted strategy to broaden participation in the STEM workforce, and supports its role in advancing the status of women in academic science and engineering.