NSF gives Brown $3.3M

Brown University has made strides recently in boosting its ranks of female faculty, especially in the sciences. Now the Ivy League school has a program to help those new hires succeed in academia.

The National Science Foundation is giving Brown $3.3 million in grants over five years, though its “ADVANCE” program, to enhance the “representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers,” the school said last week.

“We face the same challenges that all academic institutions face: to be able to attract women faculty and make sure they are superstars in science,” said Pamela O’Neil, associate provost for policy and planning at Brown, who is leading the program.

Brown says the main intent of ADVANCE is to ensure that female academics have the resources, such as mentors and funding, to increase their chances of advancing in their careers. Male faculty, though not the focus of the program, may also participate.

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Brown President Ruth J. Simmons has set up a permanent fund to attract talented senior faculty and hire more women and minorities. And the number of female faculty at Brown has increased by 24 percent in the past five years, the university says.

Still, women are by far the minority in science and engineering departments at U.S. universities.

Though women earn half of all bachelor’s degrees and 37 percent of doctorates in science and engineering, they represent a mere 20 percent of faculty in those disciplines at four-year colleges and universities, according to the National Science Foundation.

Brown has increased its number of female faculty in science, math, computer science, chemistry and engineering from 15 last year to 23 this year, the university said. Yet in many departments at Brown, O’Neil said, women still find themselves an isolated few.
“In our chemistry department, until this year, we haven’t had any female faculty,” she said. And with mostly men in departments, she said, women often feel their opinion is cast the “female” point of view during faculty meetings.

Brown also plans to use grant funds for two new staff positions to support the effort by the end of the year, according to O’Neil. The new program manager will help faculty secure research grants and find mentors; the other new hire will assist new faculty in finding daycare for their children and jobs for their spouses.

“The whole idea is make female faculty superstars,” O’Neil said, “and give them the kind of support they need to succeed.”

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