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Campus News

ADVANCE Professors Mentor Women Faculty

By Monette Austin Bailey


Avis Cohen, ADVANCE's director, listens to speakers at the grant
announcement event, with former Provost Nariman Favardin.
Photo by John T. Consoli

Mary Ann Ottinger remembers when she was the only female zoologist in a doctoral class of seven. Linda Steiner recalls mentoring meaning hanging at baseball games and drinking whiskey with the guys. As part of a new network, both want to help ensure that other women experience less isolating environments in academia.

Ottinger, associate vice president for research compliance and policy in the Division of Research, and Steiner, professor in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism and School of Public Policy, are members of the recently selected first cohort of the ADVANCE Program for Inclusive Excellence.

Supported by a $3.2 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation, or NSF, the initiative is designed to give junior faculty women opportunities to connect with 13 senior female faculty. The idea is to encourage a greater number of them to stay and pursue tenure.

"This goes beyond statistics… . We want to provide inspiration to people," says Konstantina Trivisa, director of the Applied Mathematics and Statistics, and Scientific Computation Program.

According to the NSF, women earn 40 percent of all science and engineering doctoral degrees, but female scientists and engineers make up only 17 percent of full professors at research universities nationwide.

Avis Cohen, director of ADVANCE and a professor in the Department of Biology and the Institute for Systems Research, believes the program will increase the diversity of scholarly contributions at the university, enriching its climate.

"We'll be changing the culture to make this a great institution for the excellent young women and men of today and the future," she says.

Along with monthly meetings that have already begun, cohort members will host seminars with prominent female scholars and establish peer-learning communities. The grant provides training for chairs and deans on new parental leave and tenure delay policies and seed grants to support interdisciplinary research.

Though the NSF’s primary focus is supporting women’s growth in the sciences, the university provided additional funding to expand the ADVANCE program to include non-STEM female faculty.

"The issues for women, with the tendency relative to men to drop out of academia before promotion, are the same across disciplines," says Steiner. "I think everyone needs a mentor. My excitement comes from learning how to be a better mentor."

She and her colleagues talk about balancing family life with the service, teaching and scholarship demands of faculty appointments. They also discuss setting realistic professional expectations for themselves and what to expect from the tenure process.

Trivisa says the program is also a chance to educate faculty on ways they can be unconsciously discriminated against. She recalls getting letters of recommendation from respected male colleagues that highlighted her personality, "though I’d rather they’d talked more about my analytical and computational skills. No one will hire you just because you’re nice."

Alison Flatau, professor the A. James Clark School of Engineering, says she’s looking forward to the network’s activities . "In many ways it’s not as much an extra responsibility as it an opportunity to be more active in the mentoring activities that we want to do anyway, with the added benefit of learning from and working with a formalized network, so we also grow with the process."

Other members of the cohort:

Rajshree Agarwal, Robert H. Smith School of Business

Jane Clark, School of Public Health

Allison Druin, College of Information Studies

Carol Espy-Wilson, A. James Clark School of Engineering

Marie Howland, School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

Cindy Moss, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Debra Neubert, College of Education

Martha Nell Smith, College of Arts and Humanities

Ruth Zambrana, College of Arts and Humanities

Visit the program website for more information.