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Gonzaga & Professor Smieja Aim to Spur Cultural Shift, Advance More Women in STEM Disciplines

Posted on October 19, 2011 in: @Gonzaga, Alumni, Events, Faculty & Staff, Feature Stories, video
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$598,611 National Science Foundation Grant
to Create Web of Women Faculty Alliances

By Tara Schmidt and Peter Tormey
SPOKANE, Wash. – Joanne Smieja, Gonzaga University professor of chemistry and biochemistry, understands the difficulties women face in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. With a $598,611 grant from the National Science Foundation, Smieja will lead a nationwide network of women faculty from undergraduate institutions aiming to change the current culture in STEM fields.

The network of 70 women STEM faculty at 12 universities nationwide is expected to directly benefit more than 26,000 female undergraduates. Photo by Jennifer Raudebaugh.

Smieja’s five-year project involves creation of a mentoring network comprised of 70 women STEM faculty from 12 undergraduate schools nationwide. The network will provide faculty peer-mentorship and cross-disciplinary support to encourage women faculty in STEM fields to succeed and advance their careers. Ultimately, the network is expected to encourage the entry of more women into STEM disciplines. By reducing isolation of the participants, and building leadership skills, the project will positively influence the 70 participants who, in turn, could influence more than 26,000 female undergraduates at the 12 participating institutions.

Through the project, Gonzaga aims to be an agent of cultural change. The project is an academic study, so the results will uncover some of the reasons for the historic underrepresentation of women in math- and science-based disciplines and will illustrate institutional practices that support women in STEM disciplines. The initiative is expected to increase research opportunities for participants, secure more recognition for their work, advance their careers, and improve their student-mentoring capabilities. Involving more women more deeply in STEM challenges is expected to yield greater synergy in problem-solving and innovation, widely viewed as critical to the nation’s ability to compete in the national and global economies.

The project will allow more experienced women STEM faculty to serve as “big sisters” to women who are less experienced in their careers. The higher-education network involves Gonzaga, Willamette University (Salem, Ore.), Western Oregon University, Southern Oregon University, University of St. Thomas (Houston), Maryville University (St. Louis), Butler University (Indianapolis), Hope College (Holland, Mich.), University of Detroit Mercy, John Carroll University (Cleveland), University of Scranton (Pennsylvania), and Loyola University Maryland.

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