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UND Awarded NSF ADVANCE Grant to Research and Develop Strategic Equity Plan for STEM Faculty

Team of UND faculty and administrators will conduct institutional self-assessment over two years to identify points of inequity among STEM faculty

By way of a major National Science Foundation grant, the University of North Dakota has the opportunity to advance, and contribute to ongoing research around matters of, inclusion, diversity and equity in academia.

As a team of researchers at UND conducts a self-assessment of faculty, programs and departments with ties to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), they’ll be finding ways to not only improve the career experiences of faculty members at UND, but potentially for professors and instructors nationwide.

UND was one of only a small number of institutions across the country recently selected for the NSF ADVANCE Program’s “Catalyst” track. With a goal of creating a more diverse and capable science and engineering workforce, the ADVANCE Program’s four grant-funding tracks aim to create evidence-based systemic changes that promote equity for STEM faculty.

For the next two years, an NSF grant for about $275,000 will fund UND’s project under the name “ADVANCE Catalyst: Improving Gender and Foreign-Born Equity among STEM Faculty at the University of North Dakota.”

“This latest award from the NSF represents yet another step by members of the UND community to create a more inclusive and equitable campus,” said UND President Andrew Armacost. “The conversations and interactions from this project will be valuable as we work toward strengthening UND’s diversity and inclusion strategies, both in the short and long term.”

Five-year strategic equity plan

Justin Berg
Sarah Sletten

Justin Berg, associate professor of sociology, is serving as lead principal investigator on the effort. Joining him as co-PIs are Carolyn Ozaki, department chair and associate professor of education, health and behavior; Julia Zhao, professor of chemistry; Sarah Sletten, associate professor of biomedical sciences and Donna Smith, assistant vice president for equal opportunity and Title IX. 

Using institutional data collected over the next year – through surveys, interviews, focus groups and policy reviews – UND’s team will then work with various internal and external stakeholders to recommend a five-year strategic equity plan for President Armacost’s approval.

“We are trying to identify the points of inequity among our STEM faculty and then work toward potential solutions for the betterment of everyone at UND,” Berg said. “Given the University’s recent activity in addressing differences among diverse and underrepresented populations on campus, the timing of this award couldn’t be better.”

Berg added that UND is positioned to fill empirical gaps in the current understanding of how individuals’ identities – considering factors such as race, gender and place of birth, among others –  intersect and affect their overall career in STEM fields, with implications for all academic fields. Ultimately, the team wants to find the disparities that exist, then work with stakeholders to adjust or create policies and systems for better faculty experiences.

As an example, Berg pointed to the topic of grant-funded research. In order to get tenure, junior faculty need to compile track records of successful research, much of which depends on winning grants or participating in grant-funded projects.

“People often pursue grants through network connections and friends, or they get invited to take part in a project,” Berg said. “And that’s easier when there are more people like you in the same space. … What we’re doing at UND is filling the gap of understanding these types of issues from a more nuanced perspective.”

Donna Smith
Carolyn Ozaki
Julia Zhao

Goal-setting and revising

Sletten said that the two-year project will specifically identify where inequities exist in a way that can be of use to other, similar institutions addressing known faculty disparities.

“This grant allows us to engage in a larger conversation that’s already taking place across campuses, as more grant-funding institutions and organizations focus more intensely on diversity and inclusion,” Sletten said. “If we want to be more inclusive, we have to look at the policies and structures that can make our profession more equitable for everybody.”

As the University approaches the five-year mark in its One UND Strategic Plan (2017-22), Berg and his team are hoping to impact the plan’s Goal 5: fostering a welcoming, safe and inclusive campus climate. UND’s administration, led by Armacost, has indicated their intent to build upon the ADVANCE team’s examination of STEM faculty.

“In addition to the important work that Dr. Berg will lead at UND, it’s crucial to examine equity among all faculty, and UND is committed to doing such work,” Armacost said. “Dr. Berg’s ADVANCE grant work will align with other campus-wide equity initiatives.”

“It’s an exciting time to be looking at new goals and revising old ones in terms of diversity and inclusion,” Berg said. “While we don’t quite have the answers yet, we’re hoping to benefit all faculty through this work.

“If we can help make sure that all faculty are able to find a good fit, those faculty will produce more research and attract more grant funding, and they’ll also have better teaching experiences, which will help students and the University as a whole. There is some really good synergy that could happen through this.”

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