Last fall, an interdisciplinary team at the University of Cincinnati (UC), led by President Santa Ono, PhD, Melanie Cushion, PhD, Rachel Kallen, PhD, Stacie Furst-Holloway, PhD, Urmila Ghia, PhD, Steve Howe, PhD, and Monica Mitchell, PhD, received a $3.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Program.
The grant supports the university’s efforts to increase diversity, specifically as it relates to women in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, disciplines.
Now, the group, named Leadership, Empowerment and Advancement of Women in Stem Faculty (LEAF), is officially celebrating its launch with an event being held from 9 to 11 a.m. April 8 in Tangeman University Center’s Great Hall.
The event will feature opening remarks from Ono and Cushion with a presentation from guest speaker Scott Page, Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science and Economics at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and diversity expert.
The day will also include a leadership workshop and a women in STEM faculty luncheon.
"We’re very excited about our official launch and the opportunity to celebrate and build upon LEAF initiatives that are currently being planned or are already in the works,” says Cushion, associate chair of research and professor in the division of infectious diseases.
Cushion says that 44 percent of UC faculty members are women but that women faculty members are greatly underrepresented in STEM.
"Further, as academic rank increases, the representation of women in STEM declines and women are often absent at the professor rank in the STEM disciplines,” she adds. "With opportunities provided by the LEAF grant, we hope to improve the situation for not only women but other minorities in these fields.”
One example of an initiative in existence that Cushion hopes to expand is the "Ready, Set, Go” workshop series, held monthly to support faculty members.
Speakers discuss topics to help junior faculty jump-start their careers, and topics range from developing a mentoring relationship to building a lab and developing a research funding revenue. Mid- and senior-career workshops are in the planning stage.
Cushion says a major focus for LEAF is retaining enterprising minds and supporting a cycle of growth and mentorship in all levels of the career cycle.
"We want our junior faculty being mentored in their first year to begin training to be mentors in their second year, keeping the cycle going,” she says, adding that a free-standing center is also a future goal. "Personal attention is important for inspiring people and helping them meet their goals. We also hope to start learning communities for women faculty members in the STEM areas to troubleshoot problems and support one another.”
Additionally, Cushion says the grant requires the LEAF team to evaluate the programs to ensure satisfaction for faculty members and to help them create policies and best practices for the entire UC community.
"Overall, we hope that this grant will help us change the culture and improve how we recruit, retain and support our diverse faculty,” Cushion says.