Wayne State awarded NSF grant to increase equity among STEM faculty

WSU GEARS project will focus on eliminating barriers that exist in hiring and retaining women in natural, physical and social sciences; technology; engineering; and mathematics disciplines

Wayne State University has received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will help create systemic change to increase equity among women faculty, particularly underrepresented minorities, in STEM disciplines. The three-year award, totaling $992,495, will support the ADVANCE Adaptation: Gender Equity Advances Retention in STEM (WSU GEARS) project (NSF #2017586).

The importance of representation among faculty is an ongoing conversation in higher education, and universities across the nation are working to improve diversity within their STEM disciplines. The number of women faculty members in STEM at Wayne State increased to 20% in 2018, up from 14% in 2010, showing an upward trend reached through efforts to increase gender equity. Yet, only 13% of the university’s STEM faculty members are underrepresented minorities, and from an intersectional perspective, only 2.6% of STEM faculty members are underrepresented minority women as of 2019.

The grant will enhance Wayne State’s commitment to faculty success with an understanding that all faculty are valuable and their expertise and backgrounds create an academic environment where their students and peers can learn thrive. The WSU GEARS project will play an important role in identifying and overcoming unique barriers faculty face to create a more inclusive, equitable environment on campus.

While Wayne State continues to make improvements in faculty equity, information gathered in campus climate and support survey responses indicate that some barriers disproportionately impact women and underrepresented minorities in STEM, including toxic work environments, work/family/life strains, and unequal workloads. WSU GEARS aligns with the mission of Wayne State’s Social Justice Action Committee to identify bias that may disproportionately disadvantage historically marginalized people and then work to create positive change within the campus culture.

WSU GEARS will approach these barriers with a holistic approach, using three integrated tracks:

  • Wayne Drives will include nuanced data collection related to faculty members’ experiences with toxic work environments, harassment and bullying, work/family/life issues, and unequal and hidden workloads.
  • Wayne Shifts will enhance existing programs to better promote and support the success of women and underrepresented minority faculty members, including training for chairs and deans and a pilot tool to measure unequal workloads.
  • Wayne Accelerates will create new programs that expediate systemic change toward equity, including harassment bystander intervention trainings; a Family Advocacy Network; and Networking for Women, which will include discussion groups, workshops, and a virtual community.

“WSU GEARS offers a unique opportunity for faculty to share their experiences and create spaces of meaningful dialogue about these issues toward an inclusive, energetic and rewarding work environment. Organizational change can be difficult, but is not impossible,” said Krista Brumley, associate professor of sociology and co-principal investigator. “This grant will facilitate data-driven recommendations at both the policy and cultural levels to dismantle the ‘chilly climate’ that many women and underrepresented faculty experience in academia.”

In addition to supporting positive shifts in the campus climate, WSU GEARS will help identify other potential barriers for women and underrepresented minorities in STEM, and findings will be shared broadly within higher education and interdisciplinary networks such as the ADVANCE PI and ADVANCE Resource and Coordination (ARC), the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), the Understanding Interventions that Broaden Participation in Science Careers (UI), the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and the Association for Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU).

“In working together to support solutions for our STEM faculty, this project can serve as an example of true allyship where faculty and administration work together to tackle barriers that disproportionately impact some of our peers,” said Boris Baltes, associate provost for faculty affairs and associate vice president of academic personnel, who is also a co-principal investigator. “Our hope is that lessons learned at Wayne State can be shared broadly to create systemic change at other institutions.”

WSU GEARS is an interdisciplinary, collaborative effort led by the following co-principal investigators:

  • Ece Yaprak, professor and chair of the engineering technology division in the College of Engineering
  • Boris Baltes, associate provost for faculty affairs and associate vice president of academic personnel, professor of industrial/organizational psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Krista Brumley, associate professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Shirley Papuga, associate professor of environmental science and geology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Tamara Hendrickson, associate professor of chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Stine Eckert, associate professor of journalism in the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts
  • Lars Johnson, assistant professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Contact info

Julie O'Connor

Director, Research Communications
Phone: 313-577-8845
Email: julie.oconnor@wayne.edu