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Division of University Advancement
Department of Communications/News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Jan Wenzel, 401-874-2116

URI awarded $3.5 million NSF grant to advance women
faculty in the sciences and engineering

KINGSTON, R.I. -- October 16, 2003 -- Janett Trubatch’s path to a scientific career began when she became the first woman student at the Polytechnic Institute of New York. After earning a degree in physics and mathematics from that institution in 1962, she went on to become the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in physics from Brandeis. She lost her initial faculty appointment at California State University-Los Angeles when she became pregnant.

Now 35 years later, Trubatch holds the key research post at the University of Rhode Island where she oversees a $60-million research portfolio. She is the vice provost for graduate studies, research, and outreach. She is also the lead scientist on a $3.5 million National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant that will help recruit future women faculty members in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematical fields to URI and advance their careers.

"We fully support this effort," said M. Beverly Swan, provost and vice president of academic affairs. "The University is making an investment in our future and current women scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians by providing $750,000 (more than $260,000 cash and $485,000 in kind) in matching support."

The five-year ADVANCE grant is designed to: 1) increase the number of tenured women scientists and engineers, 2) support existing women faculty with career development and training opportunities, 3) improve social supports, 4) promote awareness of women-in-science and engineering issues across the campus, and 5) apply a highly successful URI-developed model to transform the institutional culture for women scientists and engineers so that it could be adapted nationwide.

"Women are severely under-represented in the hard sciences nationally," said Trubatch, noting that women represent 22 percent of the science and engineering workforce and less than 20 percent of science and engineering faculty in four-year institutions. Women represent only 14.2 percent of the faculty in these fields. "Science and technology are the cornerstones of our society. Women bring different viewpoints, perspectives, skills, and values to the scientific table which helps broaden and integrate scientific practices with society’s needs," she said.

"Beyond equity for women in the workplace, women faculty are critically needed as role models for our female students," said the vice provost, noting that 56 percent of this year’s incoming freshmen at URI are women.

"I want to stress, however, that this program will benefit all faculty and the institution as a whole—not just women in science and engineering. By improving policies, providing workshops and speakers available to all, improving department climate, and bringing in more diverse perspectives, we all win," she said.

URI was one of nine institutions to be awarded the very competitive ADVANCE grant and the only institution in New England. "We look for a variety of approaches, institutional leadership, depth of commitment to addressing the problem, and a sound plan. All the awardees share these features," said Alice Hogan, National Science Foundation ADVANCE program director.

Trubatch stressed that the grant was a collaborative effort with Jimmie Oxley, chemistry professor, Joan Peckham, of computer science, and Karen Wishner, of oceanography. The investigators were backed by a leadership team whose membership includes Lisa Harlow from the Psychology Department, Ingrid "Lisa" Bowleg from the Psychology Department, Cathy Roheim from the Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics, Faye Boudreaux-Bartels from the Electrical Engineering Department, and Harry Knickle, associate dean of the College of Engineering. Barbara Silver, project coordinator of URI’s Multidisciplinary Science and Engineering Communities Project, organized and wrote the proposal and is now the ADVANCE grant director.

Specifically, the grant features:

  • Pre-Faculty Fellows Program: The creation of a Pre-Faculty Fellows Program, in which URI recruits nine to 10 highly talented female doctorates to conduct scientific research (with options for teaching) over the five year grant period. The women will be mentored and trained for one to three years, with the intent that they will fill tenure-tracked faculty positions in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics as they become available. URI administrators will continue the program for an additional five years, making two pre-faculty appointments annually.
  • Enhanced Support and Training for Women Scientists and Engineers: Included are a yearlong series of career workshops, a mentor training program, a topical lunch series, a social networking program, and visiting speakers.
  • An Incentive Fund: Eventually fully-supported by URI, the incentive fund will award research endeavors that include women faculty collaborators and also award efforts by an individual or department that promotes relevant climate or policy change.
  • Support Services: Efforts will be made to help provide quality support services for balancing work and family, including assistance with job placement for trailing spouse and coordination with an ongoing childcare assistance program.
  • Model for Change: The Transtheoretical Model of Change, developed by James Prochaska, director of the Cancer Prevention Research Center at URI, and others will serve as the underpinning of an organizational model of change that could potentially be applied to institutions across the country. The model, one of the most influential stage-change models currently in use, has a fundamental premise that organizational and behavior change must be welcomed before it is successful.

About the co-principal investigators:

Jimmie Oxley, professor chemistry, is also a visiting scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. She is the founder of the Forensic Science Seminars, a fall series of public lectures given by experts who grapple daily with forensic evidence. Oxley also is a co-founder of URI’s forensic science minor, in which primarily women are enrolled. She has developed a pipe bomb database for law enforcement and is developing an explosives properties database.

Joan Peckham, a professor of computer science, who, supported by the Women’s Studies Program, revised the computer science curriculum for entering freshman to improve retention. Funded by a NSF grant, she also developed a three-course cluster of courses to provide a learning community for non-traditional students in computer science. She also developed a service learning course for two African American computer science majors to make computer science inviting for non-traditional students. The project included outreach to Rhode Island public schools.

Karen Wishner, a professor of oceanography, teaches deep-sea biology and graduate zooplankton classes. She has provided hands-on training and education at sea including places on submersible dives for both women and men undergraduate and graduate students. Her research expeditions have taken her to oceans around the world including Georges Bank, the Arabian Sea, and, most recently to hydrothermal vents in the Caribbean. She was a co-leader of the Women in Oceanography Collegium at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, which provided workshops and seminars of special interest to women. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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