UMass Boston

NSF Awards $1M Grant to Enhance Gender, Racial Equity among STEM Faculty

01/26/2024| Office of Communications

The National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE program has awarded a three-year $1 million grant to a multidisciplinary team of five UMass Boston faculty members.

Equity in STEM faculty researchers
(From left) Professor Adán Colón-Carmona, Professor Maureen Scully, Dean of Faculty Rajini Srikanth, Associate Professor Katalin Szelényi, and Professor Hannah Sevian

Their project, ADVANCE Adaptation: UMass Boston CARES: Communities, Acknowledgment, Recognition, and Equity through a Culture of Sponsorship, is designed to further advance UMass Boston’s ongoing efforts to be a leader in increasing gender and racial equity among the university’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) faculty. UMass Boston was one of only six higher education institutions in the United States to receive an NSF ADVANCE Adaptation grant during the 2023 grant cycle.

“While the student body at UMass Boston is one of the most diverse in the country, the faculty is not as diverse, particularly in terms of faculty members with tenure and full professorships,” explained Katalin Szelényi, principal investigator and associate professor in the Higher Education Program. “The UMass Boston CARES project addresses this disparity by focusing on the implementation of strategies that promote gender and racial equity in the STEM faculty at our university.”

The CARES project aims to provide clarity around factors affecting the career outcomes of women faculty and faculty of color in STEM fields, with approaches that are relevant to all faculty at the university, both tenure- and non-tenure stream. This may include the way faculty activities are recognized and rewarded or undervalued, and organizational barriers such as policies, processes, practices, and culture and climate that inhibit equity.

“The NSF-sponsored CARES grant will not only further contribute to UMass Boston’s dedicated efforts to better cultivate and support our increasingly diverse faculty who engage the diverse life experiences of our students,” Provost Joseph Berger said, “but will also further position our university as a leader, a model for other universities.”

The CARES project has a two-pronged approach to recognize and address inequities in the process of evaluating faculty. Using a policy core, a working group of faculty and department, college, and university administrators will create and implement equity-minded personnel review guidelines. To develop the skills and confidence needed to intervene effectively in real-life situations, a training core provides theater-enhanced bystander interventions (e.g., role-play scenarios) for faculty and administrators involved in faculty reviews. The training program focuses on the evaluation and recognition of caring work (defined broadly as the social and emotional support faculty provide to students and colleagues), service, and community-engaged research in personnel reviews.

To foster a diverse STEM workforce, over the last 20-plus years, the NSF ADVANCE grant program’s role has been to identify and clear obstacles that may impede faculty from fully participating and advancing in academic institutions, with a particular emphasis on intersectional approaches to gender equity. The NSF’s ADVANCE Adaptation program builds on this work by honing in on higher education institutions adapting and implementing previously proven effective strategies for furthering equity in the STEM faculty.

UMass Boston CARES, an ADVANCE Adaptation project, draws on findings from an NSF ADVANCE Catalyst project that Szelényi, Biology Professor Adán Colón-Carmona, Chemistry Professor Hannah Sevian, and former UMass Boston Sociology Professor Andrea Leverentz worked on from 2019-2022. That project, ADVANCE Catalyst: Gender and Racial Equity in the STEM Faculty at UMass Boston, looked at STEM faculty members’ experiences with research, teaching, and service, in addition to issues such as hiring, sense of belonging, tenure and promotion, and intent to stay at the university. The Catalyst project findings were also incorporated in the university’s 2021-2022 strategic planning efforts.

In addition to the NSF ADVANCE projects, efforts such as the university-wide For the Times strategic plan, 2016-2017 PROGRESS Report from the Faculty Council examining faculty service work, and the work of the Faculty Staff Union and of the Faculty Council’s Research Committee, among others, are part of a longstanding commitment to identifying and addressing inequalities faced by faculty of color and women faculty at UMass Boston.

“Our project team recognizes, honors, and supports the ongoing efforts of faculty and leaders at UMass Boston to address inequities in faculty workload and the reward structures related to community-engaged research,” said Szelényi.

In addition to two co-principal Investigators who continue from the Catalyst project (Colón-Carmona and Sevian), Szelényi is joined in the Adaptation by two additional co-principals, Management Professor Maureen Scully and Dean of Faculty and English Professor Rajini Srikanth.

The project is expected to lead to systemic change that shifts the structures and culture of UMass Boston to center equitable personnel review policies, practices, and processes.

“Although UMass Boston CARES focuses specifically on STEM fields, including the natural sciences, engineering, and the social and behavioral sciences, we hope that the impact of the project will be realized across all colleges and departments of the university,” Szelényi said.