$3.3 million National Science Foundation grant will help advance women's careers in science, technology, engineering and math at ISU

AMES, Iowa -- The National Science Foundation has awarded a five-year, $3.3 million grant to Iowa State University to focus on institutional transformation in advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering and math, or "STEM" fields.

The grant from NSF's Directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences will fund research, development and implementation of programs that will support the recruitment, promotion and retention of women scientists at ISU.

NSF's ADVANCE program serves to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers. Iowa State joins a select group of universities -- including the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Georgia Tech and the University of California at Irvine -- in receiving an institutional transformation grant.

Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Susan Carlson is the principal investigator of ISU ADVANCE. Co-principal investigators represent four Iowa State colleges: Agriculture, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Human Sciences. They include:

  • Sharon Bird, associate professor of sociology
  • Bonnie Bowen, executive director of Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, adjunct assistant professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, and adjunct assistant professor of natural resource ecology and management
  • Jill Bystydzienski, professor of sociology and former director of women's studies
  • Diane Debinski, associate professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology
  • Carla Fehr, associate professor of philosophy and religious studies
  • Carolyn Heising, professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering
  • Frankie Laanan, associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies
  • Judy Vance, professor and chair of mechanical engineering

Bowen will become the ISU ADVANCE program director on Oct. 1. She has been a project team member since 2002.

Other team members are Michael Larsen, assistant professor of statistics; Florence Hamrick, associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies; and Sandra Gahn, senior research analyst, institutional research.

"This grant recognizes Iowa State's leadership role in and commitment to improving the representation of women in STEM fields," Carlson said. "The project's innovative approach to institutional change will make ISU a model for other universities facing similar challenges. Our excellence in science and technology will be enhanced and sustained. We will see benefits not only for the faculty working in these fields, but for the students they educate. A great team of researchers made this grant a reality, and we are thrilled to have this opportunity."

According to the National Science Foundation, women comprise only about 25 percent of the science and engineering workforce, and less than 21 percent of science and engineering faculty in four-year colleges and universities. Women from minority groups underrepresented in science and engineering constitute only about 2 percent of science and engineering faculty at four-year colleges and universities.

The environment at Iowa State mirrors the national trend. A 2001 study by ISU's Office of Institutional Research found that, in 18 of 32 science, technology, engineering and math departments, women represented less than 16 percent of tenure-track faculty. And a 2002 report by the University Committee on Women found that newly hired, tenure-track women faculty had higher attrition rates than their male counterparts, particularly in the first three years of their employment.