Texas A&M University has received a $3.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish a new center dedicated to women faculty and improving their odds of success through a more psychologically healthy workplace.

Texas A&M's ADVANCE Center for Women Faculty is funded under the NSF's ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Program, which is intended to develop systemic approaches to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. In addition to contributing to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce, ADVANCE works to ensure that women faculty with STEM degrees consider academia as a viable and attractive career option.

Texas A&M's ADVANCE Center is an interdisciplinary collaboration spanning five colleges -- the College of Science, Dwight Look College of Engineering, College of Geosciences, College of Liberal Arts and Bush School of Government and Public Service -- in its effort to better support women faculty in STEM fields by creating a campus-wide climate for success.

Dr. Sherry J. Yennello, Regents Professor of Chemistry and associate dean for faculty affairs in the College of Science, will serve as principal investigator for the five-year grant, which seeks to leverage Texas A&M's proven commitment to faculty diversity and wide range of existing polices to double its percentage of tenured women faculty in STEM disciplines by 2015 while also increasing the number and diversity of women STEM faculty at all levels across the university.

Yennello is joined in the project by four co-principal investigators: Dr. Robin L. Autenrieth, professor in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering and associate dean for graduate programs in the Dwight Look College of Engineering; Dr. Stephanie C. Payne, associate professor and associate head of the Department of Psychology; Dr. Antonio Cepeda-Benito, professor of psychology and Texas A&M Dean of Faculties; and Dr. Karan L. Watson, Texas A&M Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

"This is an important issue for Texas A&M University and other universities strongly committed to faculty diversity," said Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin. "Under the recent faculty reinvestment program, Texas A&M was fortunate to hire an unprecedented number of women faculty, particularly in the STEM disciplines. With the NSF's help, we can now take that next leadership leap -- the impact of which will be felt across our campus, our state and the nation."

From 2002 to 2008, Texas A&M created 447 new faculty positions, substantially increasing the number of women STEM faculty -- most notably at the assistant professor level -- from 79 to 168. Yennello says that, in order to sustain and build on those gains, the university must improve in its efforts not only to recruit them, but also to retain and promote them through further climate change and diversity accountability.

"The cornerstone of our proposal for this center is encouraging a psychologically healthy workplace," Yennello explains. "If we establish a healthy environment where things like respect, success and employee involvement are realities, then we're going to improve retention of our women faculty, which will then help us attract more of them."

Yennello and her fellow researchers acknowledge there's significant work to be done in that regard, citing Texas A&M's 2009 Campus Climate Survey that found women STEM faculty perceive a very different, much less supportive campus than their male counterparts. In an effort to improve the climate at all levels of the university, particularly the departmental level, Texas A&M's ADVANCE Center will focus on transforming the university to create a more supportive workplace with reduced implicit biases about women and minorities among administrators, staff and students.

"Given Texas A&M's size and diverse student population, we're well positioned to make a significant impact, not only in terms of the numbers of women STEM faculty we employ, but also in terms of attitudes and aspirations of the next generation of women and minority students," Yennello adds. "Individually and collectively, they are more likely to study STEM disciplines and pursue careers in academia if they are taught and mentored by women, including minority women, who are well represented and thriving within the STEM faculty."

The center will be guided by the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace (PHW) principles and focused on changing the campus climate to enhance the success of women STEM faculty, promoting women STEM faculty to higher ranks and to administration, recruiting the next generation of women STEM academicians and increasing accountability for diversity. Specifically, it will encompass 14 specific diversity-enhancing activities organized into five broad psychologically healthy workplace practice areas -- growth and development, health and well-being, involvement, recognition and work-life balance -- which research has shown increase faculty job satisfaction and reduce turnover.

Beyond building collaborative relationships with many offices on campus, Texas A&M's ADVANCE Center also has created a Faculty Advocacy Council composed of senior faculty members identified by their peers as diversity advocates.

"ADVANCE is the NSF's signature program to enhance opportunities for women faculty in STEM fields," Yennello says. "We are excited to now be among the institutions that will contribute to this effort."


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu, Dr. Sherry J. Yennello, (979) 845-7361 or yennello@comp.tamu.edu, or Dr. Karan L. Watson, (979) 845-4016 or watson@tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Dr. Sherry J. Yennello

© Texas A&M University. To request use of any of our photographs for educational use or to view additional options from our archive, please contact the College of Science Communications Office.

College of Science
517 Blocker
TAMU 3257 | 979-845-7361
Site Policies
Contact Webmaster
Social Media