Texas Tech University

Interdisciplinary Researchers Awarded NSF Grant to Improve Faculty Equity, Success

Amanda Castro-Crist

November 13, 2020

NSF logo

The three-year, $976,103 grant from the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program is designed to fund initiatives that identify and eliminate barriers preventing the full participation and advancement of diverse STEM faculty in academic institutions.

A team of Texas Tech University researchers, led by principal investigator Stephanie J. Jones, has received a $976,103 grant from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Organizational Change for Gender Equity in STEM Academic Professions (ADVANCE) program. The grant will allow the team to study and implement strategies that foster a more equitable, inclusive and diverse environment to encourage full participation and advancement of diverse faculty within the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at the university.

The three-year grant, which began Sept. 1 and was awarded through the NSF-ADVANCE "Adaptation" funding track, will establish the team's project, "Advancing Equity through Systemic Strategies to Improve Leadership, Departmental Collegiality and Data Transparency at Texas Tech University."

Joining Jones, a professor of higher education in the College of Education, are four colleagues: Kayla Tindle, assistant vice president in the Office of Research & Innovation; Jaclyn Cañas-Carrell, a professor in the Department of Environmental Toxicology and director of the STEM Center for Outreach, Research & Education (STEM CORE); Kayleigh Millerick, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, & Construction Engineering; and Michael Galyean, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs.

"Faculty success is the central focus of our ADVANCE grant," Galyean said. "We will specifically work to identify barriers to success for women faculty and faculty of color in STEM fields, but the approaches that are developed to address these barriers will benefit all faculty on campus. Faculty success will in turn lead to improved research and scholarship, as well as greater student success through the retention of faculty members who serve as teachers and mentors to women and minority students in STEM departments."

Jones, whose current research focuses on access and equity within higher education organizational structures, said work to apply for the grant began after discussions with faculty and staff regarding their professional experiences at Texas Tech and other institutions. The team will work to address systemic issues at the university related to gender, race and ethnicity equity.

"I specifically focus on the barriers that hinder faculty and leadership success, with a predominant focus on the experiences of women," Jones said. "In 2016, a group of female professors and professional staff at the university came together to discuss their experiences of various equity issues they had faced within Texas Tech or other places they had worked. In addition, all of us were familiar with the experiences of other faculty at the institution that demonstrated systemic issues related to equity. We knew that, in order to address the culture and climate issues at the university, we would need to obtain funding that could be used to support targeted initiatives to address these issues."

Jones said leadership at the university has been and continues to be highly supportive of efforts to pursue NSF funding to support focused initiatives and research around the transformation of the culture and climate of the university to improve faculty work life.

The NSF-ADVANCE program funds initiatives that foster equity by identifying and eliminating organizational barriers that prevent the full participation and advancement of diverse faculty within STEM in academic institutions. The Texas Tech project addresses three challenges: the need for leadership development of department chairs; improving satisfaction with department collegiality in STEM departments; and increasing organizational infrastructure and professional development opportunities to support faculty success.

These issues were identified through self-evaluation as well as faculty satisfaction surveys conducted by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The goal is to address them through leadership development of department chairs through intersectional approaches; the enhancement of data infrastructure and operating policies to support data-driven decision-making, accountability and equity; the establishment of organizational infrastructure and by providing professional development for advancement and leadership.

"The NSF-ADVANCE program contributes to the National Science Foundation's goal of a more diverse and capable science and engineering workforce by building on prior ADVANCE work and other research and literature concerning gender, racial and ethnic equity," Jones said. "To be known as an ADVANCE institution sends the message to prospective faculty and administrators that Texas Tech values diversity, equity and inclusion. The strategies to address these areas are directed at institutional learning to ensure change occurs to eliminate barriers that historically have affected faculty, with specific focus on the experiences of faculty based on intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, employment status and disability.

"This grant is significant as it provides Texas Tech an opportunity to address equity issues that we are aware exist, but have not had the resources to address prior. Our project adapts systematic change strategies that have been implemented by other ADVANCE institutions."

The strategies include:

  • Training and mentoring of department chairs;
  • Developing a data dashboard system to support informed decision-making;
  • Reviewing and revising operational policies that impact faculty work;
  • Creating practices to ensure transparency about faculty workloads;
  • Establishing "Equity Advocates," faculty representatives in STEM colleges who will focus on ensuring equitable and fair practices in faculty work life; and
  • Establishing a Faculty Success Center and a Faculty Resource Network that each support faculty professional development and offer mentoring support.

"All faculty are entitled and deserve to work in an environment where they can be successful," Jones said. "Faculty will not continue to stay in environments where they are not welcomed and supported. If we cannot create a working environment where all faculty – including all genders, races and ethnicities – want to stay and can thrive, Texas Tech will be unable to diversify its faculty. But when successful, the project outcome will be that Texas Tech becomes known as an equitable institution that continually seeks to improve its organizational culture and climate, as evidenced through its policies and practices."