ENHANCE: Promoting Advancement and Retention of Underrepresented STEM Faculty by Enhancing Research Productivity and Centering Family Support

The Center for the Advancement of Multicultural Perspectives on Science, or CAMPOS, recently secured a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to further advance STEM faculty diversity by assisting underrepresented minorities with research development and family care during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

The $250,000 award is for ENHANCE: Promoting Advancement and Retention of Underrepresented STEM Faculty by Enhancing Research Productivity and Centering Family Support.

In addition to the Sloan grant, ENHANCE garnered more than $140,000 of in-kind support from the Office of the Provost, Office of Academic Diversity and Office of Research, as well as the four undergraduate colleges, the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing and three other schools, Education, Medicine and Veterinary Medicine.

“I am very grateful to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and to the many campus leaders for supporting this proposal,” said Mariel Vazquez, co-principal investigator. She is a professor of mathematics (College of Letters and Science) and of microbiology and molecular genetics (College of Biological Sciences), and CAMPOS faculty director.

“The immediate goal of ENHANCE is to help a diverse group of outstanding STEM faculty as they recover from the career disruptions caused by COVID-19. Moving forward, these interventions present innovative and necessary ways to support and enhance the careers of STEM faculty, especially those from groups underrepresented in their disciplines.”

Lorena Oropeza, professor of history and associate vice chancellor for Academic Diversity, is co-principal investigator. “When it comes to fostering inclusive excellence among faculty, CAMPOS is a national caliber program,” she said. “Much credit goes to center director Mariel Vazquez for her creativity and persistence in originating this grant on behalf of CAMPOS faculty and pursuing it.

“I hope it is the beginning of a great relationship with the Sloan Foundation as we continue to advance programmatic interventions aimed at faculty retention.”

Barriers are magnified

ENHANCE works with people of color, women and other priority populations among the faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics so that they can overcome barriers to advancement that the COVID-19 crisis has only magnified.

Even before the pandemic, according to Vazquez and Oropeza, STEM faculty from underrepresented groups often experienced isolation, lacked adequate support and felt enormous pressure to prove their research excellence — far beyond that of their nonminority colleagues.

During the pandemic, female faculty in particular have experienced decreased networking opportunities and decreased research productivity, both a direct result of increased dependent care demands, according to “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Careers of Women in Academic Sciences, Engineering and Medicine,” a March report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. The report warned that unless measures were taken to improve the engagement and hiring of female faculty, recent progress in removing structural barriers to promoting faculty diversity would be undone.

The ENHANCE initiative comprises two interventions:

  • Research Development Support — Enhanced and individualized professional support, supplemented by trainings and grant-writing retreats.
  • Family Support-Caring Responsibilities Support — Grants would be given to help pay for dependent care, allowing faculty members to free up time for research and reduce the stress associated with caring for others during the pandemic. Post-COVID-19, with continued subsidies for dependent care, faculty members could attend research conferences, participate in collaborative work, and devote uninterrupted time to grant and manuscript preparation.

‘Inspiring example’

Vazquez and Oropeza listed their goals with ENHANCE: contribute to research excellence overall, build a stronger and more inclusive community of STEM researchers, and improve faculty well-being, satisfaction and advancement.

“ENHANCE is an inspiring example of a program that seeks to alleviate the disproportionate burdens that underrepresented faculty face in ways that are simple but effective, giving these talented scholars the support they need to advance in their fields of research and contribute to the university’s mission,” said Lorelle Espinosa, program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

“It is our hope that this program can serve as a model for where the university can target its efforts in the future.”

Indeed, if successful, Vazquez and Oropeza hope to see the activities of this grant extended to other groups of underrepresented faculty across campus, which they said is especially urgent in light of the challenges that faculty are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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