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Thursday February 2nd

Here's what a nearly million dollar grant can do for UNC's women in STEM

Gloria Thomas (left), partner and Director of the Carolina Women's Center, and Erin Malloy (right), lead principal investigator of the National Science Foundation grant pose in front of Wilson Library on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. The grant is aimed to encourage women and women of color to succeed in STEM fields.
Buy Photos Gloria Thomas (left), partner and Director of the Carolina Women's Center, and Erin Malloy (right), lead principal investigator of the National Science Foundation grant pose in front of Wilson Library on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. The grant is aimed to encourage women and women of color to succeed in STEM fields.

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this article did not mention that the grant is housed in the Center for Faculty Excellence. It also did not mention that Erin Malloy is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine in addition to being the lead principal investigator of the grant. 

A nearly one million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation will be used to address the lack of strong mentoring and support that women and minority groups face in science, math, engineering and technology at UNC.

The funding provided by the NSF will go directly toward improving mentoring strategies for women and minority groups.

“Women value mentoring but do not feel like they’re getting it," said Erin Malloy, lead principal investigator of the grant. "What we aim to do is better understand what women and women of color would benefit most from, in terms of mentoring."

Malloy and her team are in the process of designing programs to train faculty on how to most effectively mentor underrepresented groups in STEM fields.

“We are developing interventions that will target the population of faculty that typically values mentor support, and from review of research on mentoring, we see evidence of them not being as supportive,” Malloy said. “For example, we do see that while women start out their careers in academia and in STEM particularly, the pipeline is leaking. Very few of them end up becoming professors.”

According to the NSF, the STEM field is more broad than one might think, said Malloy. It includes natural sciences, social sciences, schools of medicine, pharmacy, public health, library sciences and education.

The grant will seek to empower all faculty, be it mentors or mentees, to better understand and develop stronger relationships with senior administrators to further their career, Malloy said. 

“So its not only the ‘tell me what to do’ that comes out of mentoring, but ‘tell me how to be, so that I can take the initiative to develop the relationships that I need to help me succeed,’” Malloy said.

This is an institutional grant, not one that was given to a specific discipline. 

“It means we’re working directly with the provost’s office, in fact the provost is a co-PI on the grant. It means that we have support of the University. They want to see this change as well,” Cable said.

Kia Caldwell, professor in the Department of African, African-American and Diaspora Studies and co-principal investigator for the grant, is serving as special assistant to the provost.

The assistant to the provost position is meant to aid in the goal promoting institutional change, Caldwell said, and the position will exist for the next two and a half years during the duration of the grant.

“The reason we felt this was needed and we proposed it was because we wanted to have a higher level administrative role that would help to link the various parts of the campus and work with deans, department chairs and faculty across the campus,” Caldwell said. 

The team is developing resources and programs that will help faculty across the board, regardless of department size.

“When you hire a new faculty member into a small department, it puts a strain on the department to provide adequate mentoring sometimes, because you have fewer mentors available, or faculty available, to support the new person,” said Jaye E. Cable, chairperson of the environment, ecology and energy program, and co-PI. What it all comes down to is faculty feeling like they’re being supported, Malloy said. This, in turn, will positively affect how students are seen and treated on campus.  

“What I’m excited about, coming from a small- to middle- size department myself, is the possibility of developing a mentoring scheme that is supportive of these smaller units,” Cable said.

The research team hopes the impact will outlive the grant and become something that is positive and permanent across the campus, Caldwell said.

university@dailytarheel.com

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