NSF awards $3.3 million grant to Cornell to bolster the percentage of women faculty members

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Cornell University a $3.3 million grant to boost significantly – over the next five years – the percentage of women faculty members in the university's science and engineering departments. The grant begins on Nov. 1, 2006.

Cornell is committed to diversity, gender equality and promoting an environment in which all faculty can achieve their potential in research, education and service. The representation of women faculty in the university's science and engineering departments falls too far below the level of female doctorates produced nationally, according to Cornell administrators.

To correct the current imbalance, Cornell has set ambitious goals: To reach a level of 20 percent women faculty in each science and engineering department over the next five years. At present about half – or 27 of 51 of those departments – fall below this percentage.

"We have an important opportunity to increase the number of women faculty in science and engineering," said Cornell Provost Carolyn "Biddy" Martin, who will serve as the principal investigator for the grant. "We want a critical mass of women in each department. Our more ambitious, longer-term objective is to have one-third of our science and engineering faculty be women by the year 2015, Cornell's sesquicentennial," Martin said.

Martin will work with the following co-principal investigators at Cornell to implement this grant: Robert Harris, vice provost for diversity and faculty development; Shelley Correll, associate professor of sociology; Sheila Hemami, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Marjolein van der Meulen, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

The grant comes from the National Science Foundation's ADVANCE program, which assists research universities in transforming the work environment for women faculty. The program arose from a 1999 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that examined ways to improve recruitment, retention and promotion of women in engineering and the sciences.

The grant will create a new center at Cornell called Advancing Cornell's Commitment to Excellence and Leadership, or ACCEL, which will be a permanent part of the Provost's Office, and it will create a campuswide set of initiatives to reach the stated goals.

Despite the improvement in numbers of women over the years who choose careers in science and engineering nationally, they continue to be significantly underrepresented. Women constitute about 25 percent of the science and engineering workforce in the United States and less than 21 percent of science and engineering faculty in U.S. four-year colleges and universities, according to the NSF statistics. Women from minority groups comprise about 2 percent of science and engineering faculty in four-year colleges and universities.

Annually, Cornell confers about 60 percent of its bachelors' degrees and about 80 percent of its doctoral degrees to science and engineering majors. Cornell ranks third nationally where women engineering faculty were educated as undergraduates. Between 1997 and 2001, Cornell had the second highest number of female bachelor's degree recipients who later received doctorates in science or engineering.

Martin points out that Cornell has a rich history of including women in all areas and can tout many firsts for women in higher education. "With a National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant, Cornell can renew its leadership by demonstrating that reaching a critical mass of women scientists at an elite, research intensive university is not only possible, but critical to the quality of the institution," said Martin, "The presence of greater numbers of female faculty at Cornell will have a transformational impact at a national level."

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