ASCEND: Advancing STEM Careers by Empowering Network Development

Project Summary


This proposal seeks to increase the advancement of mid-career women STEM faculty and to drive institutional transformation to create environments where diversity is encouraged and supported. Three regional inter-institutional peer mentoring networks for university administrators and mid-career women STEM faculty will be formed among a diverse set of primarily undergraduate institutions (public, private, rural, urban, HBCU and military institutions) in the midwestern, southeastern, and western United States. Each Regional Network will be composed of an Administrator Alliance and five discipline-specific Faculty Alliances (four to five participants per Alliance). Through monthly online meetings and annual face-to-face regional meetings, participants will be provided with networking and collaboration opportunities, education, training, resources, and professional support. Faculty participants will identify barriers specific to their professional advancement (e.g., too few leadership roles, insufficient scholarship productivity, poor teaching evaluations), and will develop and pursue a strategic plan to address these obstacles and advance their careers. University administrators will evaluate existing policies and practices at their collective institutions, taking into consideration intersectional impact factors. In collaboration with faculty, administrators will strategically design and implement comprehensive campus-specific change plans that reduce barriers encountered by women in STEM fields, create more equitable communities, and foster the retention and advancement of a diverse STEM faculty population. As a rising tide lifts all boats, this regional approach develops faculty and institutions and has the potential to establish the critical mass needed to engender multi-institutional transformations by both developing women leaders among the faculty and also enabling women and men administrators to improve sociocultural environments and remove institutional obstacles to advancement for diverse faculty.

Intellectual Merit:

This project employs inter-institutional mentoring as a means of effecting systemic change through regional Alliances of diverse faculty and administrators; it is designed specifically for mid-career women STEM faculty and their university administrators. The project will determine the effectiveness of this regional peer mentoring model in improving the persistence and advancement of mid-career women STEM faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions, and will assess its impact on their professional development, productivity, job satisfaction, personal agency, collaborative activities, overall well-being, and career advancement. Furthermore, it will ascertain if Administrator Alliances, working in close association with Faculty Alliances, are an effective strategy for creating institutional policies and infrastructure that promote gender equity. In collaboration with an external evaluation team, outcomes will be assessed using participant surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Additionally, online and regional meeting observations will be conducted as well as analysis of individual and institutional metrics. Issues of intersectionality will be considered in data collection, analysis, and reporting.

Broader Impacts:

The far-reaching goal of this project is to create academic STEM communities that reflect the diversity of the general population. As a step towards meeting this goal, a diverse peer-mentoring network (60 faculty/15 administrators/15+ institutions/3 regions) coupled with a strategically-designed professional development program will be established for administrative leaders and mid-career women STEM faculty to create a collaborative community empowered to effect positive and sustainable institutional changes through the development and implementation of policies and procedures that create a culture of equity and inclusion. It is anticipated that the relationships formed during this project will extend beyond the grant period and impact institutions outside those participating in the grant, thus creating satisfying and successful careers for women in STEM across the country. Additionally, improving the academic landscape will better meet the expectations and needs of future faculty and students and provide needed role models for diverse communities. This project has the potential to transform the academic culture and climate within a region. Eventually, the dissemination of the methods and findings online, at national conferences, and in peer-reviewed publications will lead to an increase in the representation of underrepresented groups in STEM leadership, faculty, and student populations.


This grant is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE Grant Number: 1936070