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UWF Program Aims To Attract & Advance Women In STEM Fields

Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO

The 2016 UWF Faculty ADVANCE Showcase, held April 8, offered a chance not only to reflect on the program’s achievements in growing the ranks of women in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but also to look toward the future.



In 2011, UWF received a five-year ADVANCE grant from the National Science Foundation to “enhance a supportive and inclusive culture for recruiting, retaining and advancing women faculty in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).”


The Faculty ADVANCE Team implemented programs designed not only to support traditional STEM areas, but also the University overall.


“We tried to apply the program goals broadly to help the University overall,” said Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, the principal investigator and director of the ADVANCE program. “With this smaller, focused grant, we have really done everything with the goal of helping UWF.”


The UWF ADVANCE team was made up of female faculty, staff and students from across the 

STEM disciplines. It included El-Sheik, director of the Center for Cyber Security and associate dean of the UWF College of Science and Engineering; Dr. Hui-Min Chung, associate professor of biology; Dr. Sherry Schneider, assistant professor of psychology; Dr. Pamela P. Vaughn, associate professor of chemistry; Dr. Susan Walch, associate professor of psychology; Dr. Carla Thompson, director of the UWF Community Outreach Research and Learning Center and professor of professional leadership and community leadership; Maureen Howard, graduate assistant in Department of Exercise Science and Health Education; and Irina Kantaras, graduate assistant and master’s student in industrial/organizational psychology.


The initiatives they set in motion have covered everything from mentorship and professional development to policy change and scholarships.


One of the program’s biggest undertakings was a survey to gauge faculty job satisfaction, determine their needs, and record their perceptions of their own departments and the University’s climate and culture.


El-Sheikh said the responses helped ADVANCE address those issues and bring about change more effectively.


“Based on the survey, we identified best practices and worked with internal and external partners to effect change in the areas we saw a need in,” she said.


Some of those issues were addressed in the ADVANCE Luncheons offered by the program.


“The luncheons have been opportunities for professional development,” El-Sheikh said. “We covered many topics from tenure and promotion discussions to research presentations. We began to see that this networking led faculty across the various STEM departments to begin collaborating.”


The program also facilitated grants faculty members could apply for through a partnership with the UWF Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. Those grants are designed to enable faculty members to develop their professional networks and take on new research projects.


The ADVANCE Team also offered mentoring services.


“We worked to match mentees with mentors that would be of the most help,” El-Sheikh said. “This is a program we want to continue beyond the life of the grant.”


The grant was also used to establish an expert hotline to help answer questions about teaching, research and service at UWF, El-Sheikh said. Additionally, the program included support for professional career coaching to help faculty transition to leadership and other new roles in their departments.


Work/life balance was also something the grant sought to address. Fixing the “leaky pipeline” for women in STEM was a priority. As women move forward in their careers, they often give up their careers for family.


“Women tend to drop out of faculty roles as they progress,” said Dr. Sherry Schneider, co-investigator on the ADVANCE Team. “When you move women in STEM forward, you move the University forward.”


ADVANCE is working to find solutions to other challenges facing women in the STEM fields, as well.


“Parents need support,” El-Sheikh said. “One of the projects we completed was the lactation room, which is not open only to faculty, but staff and students as well.”


This all-inclusive campus approach is one of the achievements that ADVANCE hopes to continue as they seek a larger grant from the NSF to continue their work.


“We hope that our campus partners will continue to transition and sustain these ADVANCE activities,” El-Sheikh said.


Additional information on the UWF Faculty Advance Program is available at http://uwf.edu/advance.






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