ADVANCE-ing Women in STEM

The UC Davis ADVANCE program aims to increase the participation of women in academic science and engineering careers. 

It’s a puzzle: Women in the United States make up nearly half of the country’s workforce, but, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, they make up only 26 percent of STEM workers. STEM is the acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Most people associate science and math fields with ‘male’ and humanities and arts fields with ‘female,’ ” according to research examined by the American Association of University Women for its 2010 report titled “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.” The report goes on to say that “implicit bias is common, even among individuals who actively reject these stereotypes. This bias not only affects individuals’ attitudes toward others but may influence girls’ and women’s likelihood of cultivating their own interests in math and science as well.”

The innovative ADVANCE program of the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) works to change this and bring more women into academic science and engineering careers.

UC Davis, part of the prestigious public University of California system, is considered comparable in educational quality to Ivy League institutions and is famed for its research programs. It also ranks among the top U.S. universities for advancing the role of women students and faculty in STEM.

“Recognizing that UC Davis serves an increasingly diverse student demographic, an interdisciplinary group of its faculty came together and developed a proposal to improve the recruitment, promotion and retention of diverse STEM faculty, with an emphasis on understanding the experiences of Latinas,” says Denneal Jamison-McClung, UC Davis ADVANCE program coordinator.

The institution began the program in the fall of 2012, after receiving funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation. Now, it also benefits from the strong support of the campus administration.

“During this time, we have seen the recruitment of women STEM faculty increase dramatically,” says Jamison-McClung. In the 2012-13 academic year, there were 239 women in the university’s STEM faculty ranks. By the 2014-15 academic year, this had increased to 330 women. This was 30.8 percent of all STEM faculty. Jamison-McClung says this trend will likely continue, with a goal of hiring approximately 45 to 50 percent women STEM faculty in new positions.

Although the program is focused on faculty diversity, students are offered events and workshops on topics like grant writing, research collaboration, communication skills and the value of mentors.

“Our STEM professional development opportunities have been heartily embraced by the campus community,” says Jamison-McClung.

An experience I have grown to cherish has been my time as an undergraduate student in the Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair at the University of South Florida, under the supervision of Dr. Svitlana Garbuzova-Davis. Involvement in research toward the development of a cell therapy for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has been a great opportunity. I have interacted with many researchers in this lab and seen their persistence and commitment to studying this topic. I am grateful for this experience and the many others I have been provided here at the University of South Florida.

—Sophia Abraham is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering at the University of South Florida.

The ADVANCE program focuses on several initiatives to improve faculty recruitment and retention, as well as promotion of underrepresented groups in STEM.

The Policy and Practices Review Initiative helps identify and remove institutional barriers to inclusion and career development. An early review of campus hiring and advancement policies and practices resulted in a comprehensive list of recommendations; diversity statements in faculty recruitment materials became standard.

The Inclusive Campus Climate Initiative’s Strength Through Equity and Diversity (STEAD) committee has trained more than 1,000 faculty involved in hiring. The committee teaches them to recognize and prevent unconscious biases, says Jamison-McClung.

“Bringing awareness to this issue is key to increasing the participation of women and other underrepresented groups in STEM,” she adds.

A regional employer network assists newly relocated hires and their families during their first six months of transition to the area. The program has aided in the recruitment of 26 STEM faculty to date.

In addition, the Center for the Advancement of Multicultural Perspectives on Science (CAMPOS) has helped bring 18 CAMPOS Faculty Scholars to UC Davis since 2014.

“These new STEM faculty members are outstanding researchers in their disciplines and have also demonstrated a professional commitment to teaching and service that supports diversity in STEM,” says Jamison-McClung. “Their energy and enthusiasm is inspiring for students from underrepresented backgrounds, who can look up to these faculty members as role models.”

The Mentorship and Networking Initiative (MNI) hosts celebratory and educational events for STEM women faculty, among other activities, to provide information, guidance and networking opportunities for research and career success.

“Most importantly, MNI piloted the LAUNCH mentoring program for new faculty,” says Jamison-McClung. “Developing a strong professional network and identifying collaborators, mentors and sponsors are key to the success of women and other underrepresented groups in STEM.”

A mentoring committee akin to a “personal board of directors” meets new STEM faculty members throughout their first year.

“Glowing feedback from LAUNCH mentors and mentees has highlighted the importance of mentoring and professional networking for early-career STEM scholars,” says Jamison-McClung. “Active mentoring of junior colleagues and students entering STEM disciplines is crucial for resilience and success, especially of underrepresented groups.”

The university also researches ways in which faculty members from underrepresented groups may persist and thrive in academia.

Its STEM colleges and schools actively participate in UC Davis ADVANCE and share best practices across campus which, Jamison-McClung says, is one of the best outcomes of the project.

“One of the keys to success with a campus-wide effort is clear communication across disciplines and engagement of faculty members to serve on UC Davis initiative committees,” she says. “Our work would not be possible without the dedication of faculty members who believe that diverse voices in STEM leads to excellence in research innovation and improves the education we provide to students.”


Candice Yacono is a magazine and newspaper writer based in southern California.