Though the number of aspiring women of color in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields has gained traction in recent years, national data shows they are still largely underrepresented in tenured faculty positions at universities.
A new alliance among several Florida universities, and spearheaded by the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, seeks to reverse that statistic by accelerating the advancement of women of color in STEM tenure-track positions and those earning doctorates across the state’s higher education ecosystem.
Awarded a $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the Florida AGEP Pathways Alliance will work with 300 doctoral, post-doctoral and early-career minority women faculty to advance their careers in STEM. About $1.3 million of the grant will go to USF St. Petersburg and Florida A&M University (FAMU), with the remainder going to Florida International University, Florida Memorial University and Bethune-Cookman University.
“This is a unique partnership among Florida higher education institutions, including three of the four HBCUs in the state,” said Dr. Allyson Watson, dean of FAMU’s College of Education, author of the grant and former dean of the College of Education at USF St. Petersburg. “The partners within this research team will work collectively to recruit and retain minority women in STEM fields, enhancing productivity across the state in STEM research by building the professoriate.”
Dr. Brenda L. Walker, the Interim Associate Dean for the College of Education at USF St. Petersburg and the Principle Investigator for the project, said the goal for the first cohort is to prepare them to be more competitive in STEM fields and to take on faculty positions as they move through the ranks for promotion.
“The long-term design is to build a model of mentorship for female faculty and doctoral students of color that is applied to STEM fields but can also be modified for other disciplines,” said Walker.
The alliance model will provide hands-on, online and networking skills training and opportunities across the state. In particular, those participating will have access to online faculty development resources, annual symposia and a number of research boot camps. The boot camps are modeled on week-long intensive sessions that have taken place at USF Tampa for the past five years.
“We designed the boot camps to advance doctoral students and junior scholars in developing their own research agenda, in conceptualizing and designing components of their dissertation and on what it takes to earn tenure,” said Dr. Devona F. Pierre, who has led these boot camps at USF Tampa and is the Assistant Director of Faculty Diversity.
Senior scholars are paired with doctoral and early-career faculty during these sessions to provide mentorship, and help guide research, from the idea stage to submission and publication in a preeminent journal. The boot camps not only provide hands-on training and skill development, but help participants build a network of support and collaboration among tenured faculty.
“I have learned as much or even more from the mentees assigned to me when I participated in these research boot camps. The benefits of participating are very multi-directional,” said Walker.
About 60 tenured faculty will help mentor the 300 participants in the Florida AGEP Alliance, learning new strategies for advising and mentoring individuals. Undergraduate students will also benefit, learning about graduate education, engaging in research and discovering pathways to becoming a professor.
“The team of researchers we have collaborated with have been working tirelessly for years to promote women in STEM. The institutions involved have all contributed greatly in their own right to increasing the pipeline for women of color. This grant solidifies the urgency and necessity of the plight for our state and the nation,” said Watson.
Alliance members hope that findings learned along the way in creating this professional development and mentoring model will reshape graduate education practices and career trajectories of underrepresented women in STEM.
“In four years, I really hope we have broadened the participation of women of color in STEM fields within the state of Florida and increase the successful outcomes of minority doctoral students and early career faculty,” said Pierre. “We are just incredibly excited for this project and partnership and look forward to creating lasting impact.”