At a rollout event on April 24, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity leaders announced plans to help break down insti­tu­tional bar­riers and advance women in aca­d­emic fields, including the sci­ences, engi­neering and social sci­ences, with $3.7 mil­lion in funding from a National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion (NSF) ADVANCE grant.

Through NSF’s ADVANCE Insti­tu­tional Trans­for­ma­tion Award for Advancing Women in Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary and Inter­na­tional Net­works, North­eastern is launching a five-​​year pro­gram to increase recruit­ment and other oppor­tu­ni­ties for women on campus.

North­eastern aca­d­emic leaders, including pres­i­dent Joseph Aoun, provost Stephen Director, and ADVANCE director Sara Wadia-​​Fascetti, (who is also asso­ciate engi­neering pro­fessor and spe­cial assis­tant to the provost for fac­ulty devel­op­ment), shared their vision of fur­ther trans­forming North­eastern into a uni­ver­sity to be emu­lated by other insti­tu­tions of higher learning.

Aoun stressed the need to be inno­v­a­tive and avoid repli­cating sim­ilar efforts at other uni­ver­si­ties. “We want to go beyond what others have done,” Aoun said.

The event included a panel of experts from uni­ver­si­ties with ADVANCE pro­grams. Aoun encour­aged pan­elists to describe the hur­dles they faced in imple­menting ADVANCE ini­tia­tives. Director said it is Northeastern’s ulti­mate hope is “to encourage the growth and suc­cess, not only of our women fac­ulty, but all of our faculty.”

The NSF ADVANCE grant makes pos­sible sev­eral ini­tia­tives at North­eastern:
•Improved recruit­ment: A new recruit­ment com­mittee of eight fac­ulty mem­bers will work toward improving both applicant-​​pool diver­sity and hiring and eval­u­a­tion pro­ce­dures, and reducing unin­tended biases.
•Best prac­tices: ADVANCE will host a series of activ­i­ties for aca­d­emic leaders related to recruit­ment, lead­er­ship, and men­toring, and will serve as a cat­a­lyst for pri­or­i­tizing gender bal­ance and diver­sity within the Aca­d­emic Plan.
•Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary net­working: Work­shops will bring prospec­tive fac­ulty to campus.
•Funding oppor­tu­ni­ties: ADVANCE will unveil a series of funding oppor­tu­ni­ties for aca­d­emic depart­ments, inter­dis­ci­pli­nary pro­grams and cen­ters to strengthen national and inter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion networks.

Sue Rosser, whose pro­fes­sional focus has been attracting and retaining women in sci­ence, gave the opening address. Cur­rently a dean at Georgia Insti­tute of Tech­nology who will become provost of San Fran­cisco State Uni­ver­sity in August, Rosser described how Georgia Tech improved the cli­mate for women on its campus.

We were looking to help advance women to more senior posi­tions, to have more women in the pipeline to become chairs, deans, provosts and beyond,” she said.

With goals including the elim­i­na­tion of subtle bias, Georgia Tech began offering women more net­working oppor­tu­ni­ties and access to lead­er­ship. The insti­tute also devel­oped family-​​friendly poli­cies to allow tenure-​​track fac­ulty to “stop the tenure clock” to accom­mo­date family needs.

The panel dis­cus­sion afforded a national per­spec­tive. Also sharing their insti­tu­tional and per­sonal ADVANCE expe­ri­ences were pan­elists Lotte Bailyn, T. Wilson pro­fessor of man­age­ment emerita at MIT’s Sloan School of Man­age­ment; Mark McNamee, senior vice pres­i­dent and provost, Vir­ginia Poly­technic Insti­tute and Abi­gail Stewart, pro­fessor of psy­chology, Uni­ver­sity of Michigan.

North­eastern is one of nine new sites awarded insti­tu­tional trans­for­ma­tion grants in 2008. On its Web site, the NSF describes the goal of the ADVANCE pro­grams as devel­oping “sys­temic approaches to increase the rep­re­sen­ta­tion and advance­ment of women in aca­d­emic sci­ence, tech­nology, engi­neering and math­e­matics (STEM) careers, thereby con­tributing to the devel­op­ment of a more diverse sci­ence and engi­neering workforce.”