UCSB is one of four California universities recently chosen to split a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). This grant is part of the NSF’s ADVANCE program, which was implemented to increase the representation and advancement of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (S.T.E.M.) academia. The program is aimed to increase overall gender equity in the S.T.E.M. workforce. UCSB will be using the grant money to establish the Center for Research, Excellence and Diversity in Team Science (C.R.E.D.I.T.S.). This program’s implementation will increase the amount and level of team science projects and research efforts with an emphasis on female faculty and researchers, especially underrepresented minority women.

S.T.E.M. stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, but it may as well stand for Science, Technology and Especially Males. Although female numbers are rising, males hold the vast majority of academic positions in these fields. This NSF grant and the C.R.E.D.I.T.S. program are going to be a crucial piece in promoting and supporting women in S.T.E.M. UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang is optimistic about the grant and the future plans of C.R.E.D.I.T.S.

“I am beyond thrilled that our campus, which is steadfastly committed to excellence and diversity, has been chosen as a recipient of the NSF ADVANCE grant. The grant’s establishment of the Center for Research, Excellence and Diversity in Team Science provides the organization necessary to help more effectively promote our shared vision and efforts on continuing advancement of gender equity in S.T.E.M.,” Yang said.

Kathy Foltz, UCSB professor in the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department (MCDB), is one of the limited number of female professors in her department here at UCSB. She, too, views C.R.E.D.I.T.S. with high regard.

“I am delighted to see programs that promote diversity and professional development, especially in S.T.E.M. areas,” Foltz said.

In addition, Megan Valentine, a UCSB researcher and associate professor who is world renowned for her work in the field of mechanical engineering, also had favorable things to say about the program.

“Team-based research and design is increasingly important in education and laboratory science and is a hallmark of the collaborative, interdisciplinary work found at UCSB,” Valentine said. “C.R.E.D.I.T.S. will expand these team-based approaches while offering new opportunities to increase participation of diverse groups in S.T.E.M. fields.”

These two professors hold places in the minority group of female S.T.E.M. faculty here at UCSB. Scrolling down UCSB’s MCDB faculty page, what stands out noticeably is that only one in seven of the 30-plus professors are female. These similar ratios hold in other S.T.E.M. fields, such as computer science, mathematics and engineering. Women are highly underrepresented as compared to their male colleagues, and women of color hold an even lower percentage of faculty positions in S.T.E.M.  The C.R.E.D.I.T.S. program will make the playing field fairer for women who work and conduct research within these academic fields.

“At UC Santa Barbara, our women faculty, students and alumni are pioneers and leaders in the S.T.E.M. fields. For example, 2009 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine Carol Greider is our esteemed graduate. Going forward, the grant will ensure that we not only have the infrastructure in place, but also a firmly entrenched culture of promoting women in S.T.E.M. on our campus. More broadly, our global society is better served through the advancement and representation of women in these disciplines,” Yang said.

According to the NSF, the lack of women’s full participation in S.T.E.M. academic careers results from a combination of academic culture and the current organizational structure of American universities. Karen Carey, Associate Vice President of Arts and Sciences at California State University, Channel Islands, recognizes the impact that C.R.E.D.I.T.S. will have, not just on research in the current moment, but on gender diversity in general in S.T.E.M. fields.

“This project has strong potential to make lasting change not just in the lives of the faculty members who participate but in the institutions and S.T.E.M. disciplines themselves, as it creates systemic change that will support women in S.T.E.M. for many years to come,” Cary said.

The funding from C.R.E.D.I.T.S. will also be used to conduct research on gender and racial and ethnic diversity in team science. This will help higher education institutions understand the barriers that women and minorities face in S.T.E.M. and how to overcome them. The research and program overall will work to address both an increase in team science, evaluate how effective it is and broaden participation and gender equality in S.T.E.M. fields.

“Programs like the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE initiative are an important means to improve the representation of women and underrepresented minority groups in science and engineering careers. This is a great opportunity for our campus, and [it] demonstrates UCSB’s commitment and leadership in engaging diverse groups of students and faculty in cutting-edge research,” Valentine said. 

A version of this story appeared on p. 14 of the Thursday, Nov. 5 print edition of the Daily Nexus.