$1 Million NSF Grant will Boost Gender Equity among STEM Faculty

A woman scientist in lab coat looks closely at a purple culture sample encased in a round plastic disc

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 15, 2021) — UAlbany has received a prestigious $1 million, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create an academic and research climate where women faculty in STEM fields can thrive and develop their careers to the fullest potential.

The project, funded through Aug. 31, 2024, is titled SAGES (Striving to Achieve Gender Equity in STEM). The initiative, which will be housed in the Office of the Provost, will have three major target areas:

  • Increasing the number of women and women of color (WOC) in STEM fields through proactive recruitment and unbiased hiring procedures
  • Creating a departmental culture and climate in which women are mentored and feel supported
  • Retaining women faculty and supporting their advancement through equitable policies and procedures, multi-dimensional mentoring and research support programs

“Diversifying our faculty—particularly in the STEM fields—is a key component of UAlbany’s core priority of Diversity and Inclusion,” said President Havidán Rodríguez, who is the principal investigator on the grant. “This award will help accelerate our progress toward creating a faculty that more closely mirrors our highly diverse undergraduate student population.

"As the principal investigator of an NSF ADVANCE grant at my former institution, I can attest to the transformational power of these initiatives as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as to significantly impacting the institution’s climate and culture. I want to thank Elga Wulfert, Christine Wagner, Marlene Belfort and Melinda Larsen for their outstanding leadership in developing this groundbreaking proposal, and for their strong commitment to the goals espoused in this critically important initiative for UAlbany.”

Currently, women faculty and WOC are underrepresented at UAlbany in STEM — the fields of science, technology, engineering and math — and in their academic departments. President Rodríguez and the project’s co-principal investigators believe the University can address this situation by increasing the number women in applicant pools and improving campus support to retain women faculty through the tenure process.

“This ADVANCE grant is the ultimate opportunity for UAlbany to build on our commitment to gender equity in STEM,” said Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol H. Kim. “As a woman of color in STEM, I have experienced firsthand the impact of focused recruiting, mentoring and retention efforts—and the importance of climate at the departmental level. I congratulate the Project SAGES team, and look forward to working closely with them to leverage this significant funding.”

The SAGES proposal emphasizes that “increases in the number of women rising in rank to full professor and leadership positions will provide a greater female voice, leading to sustainable changes in culture that extend beyond the funding period.”

Monetary support for the project comes through the NSF program ADVANCE: Organizational Change for Gender Equity in STEM Academic Professions, whose stated goal is a more diverse and capable science and engineering workforce. Through its grants, ADVANCE seeks to broaden the implementation of evidence-based systemic change strategies that promote equity for STEM faculty.

“Through the ADVANCE initiatives, we will create an External Advisory Board of highly respected individuals with significant experience in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts who have committed to help guide Project SAGES and ensure lasting institutional change,” said Distinguish Professor of Biology Marlene Belfort, a co-principal investigator (co-PI). “In addition, we now have funding to introduce equity initiatives that were unaffordable before.”

These initiatives, said Professor of Psychology and Co-PI Christine Wagner, incorporate both “proactive recruitment and retaining and supporting women in STEM through multi-dimensional mentoring, research support programs and the fostering of a climate and culture of inclusive excellence.”

As outlined by President Rodríguez, Belfort, Wagner and co-PIs Edelgard Wulfert, distinguished professor of psychology, and Melinda Larsen, professor of biology and RNA Institute researcher, the project will support:

  • A post-doc visitation program to bring promising young trainees (women and other underrepresented individuals) to campus for recruitment into faculty positions
  • Ally training of male and female faculty to help improve the environment of young female faculty and enhance campus climate
  • Flexibility to provide female faculty with needed time off by hiring substitute instructors
  • An External Sponsors Program that pays experts in a junior female faculty member’s research area a stipend to meet monthly for scientific advice and mentoring.

Formative assessments inform intervention modification, if needed, during the award period. Communication of successes and “lessons learned” will occur through a Project SAGES website, media distribution, conference presentations, workshops for other local campuses and publications. Results will also be shared with the New York State Legislature and SUNY System Administration.

In addition, the University’s engagement in numerous national organizations and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives will present opportunities to disseminate the results of Project SAGES to a broad group of stakeholders in higher education.