ADVANCE Project Summary


Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) will conduct a self-assessment study to review the status of women faculty in STEM disciplines on campus.  This study, A Catalyst to ADVANCE the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic STEM Careers at Middle Tennessee State University will focus on identifying barriers that affect recruitment, retention, participation and promotion of women STEM faculty at MTSU.   Our goal is to identify best practices for the recruitment, retention and promotion of women STEM faculty and promote gender equity at MTSU. Our study will provide insight on the campus climate for women STEM faculty and administrators.  The activities will be directed by the Project’s Leadership Team (PLT) will provide answers to the following:

  1. What is the distribution of MTSU STEM faculty by gender, rank and department?
  2. What is the gender distribution of MTSU STEM faculty in leadership positions?
  3. What are the outcomes of the tenure and promotion process for MTSU STEM faculty?
  4. What is the allocation of resources for MTSU STEM faculty by gender?
  5. What are the processes that lead to divergent outcomes and resource allocation by gender in STEM disciplines at MTSU?
  6. Which policy changes could be implemented to improve the recruitment, retention, and promotion of STEM women at MTSU?

We will do the following: (1) Collection of institutional data; (2) Campus Climate Survey; (3) Campus Focus Groups; (4) Qualitative Interviews; and (5) Policy Review.  To summarize, our study of existing institutional data concerning hiring, promotion, and leadership coupled with our climate survey, focus groups and interviews, which will lead us to craft a path for necessary and effective institutional change. 

Several activities will be used to build institutional buy-in for this project. The University Provost is the PI on this project and will ensure the project has the resources required to succeed.  These are:  (1) MTSU ADVANCE Project Kick-Off; (2) Creating a Project Website and Social Media; (3) Dissemination of activities and results at Campus Forums, Campus Leadership Retreats, and at STEM Faculty Meetings; (4) Establishment of both Internal and External Advisory Boards to advice the project’s leadership team and (5) MTSU ADVANCE Conference to disseminate results and to explore next steps at the end of the project.

Intellectual Merit

The proposed study will advance knowledge about the participation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers at MTSU. We will build upon previous research from similar ADVANCE institutions including that of Tennessee State University, the only other ADVANCE institution in Tennessee. Our data-driven study will provide us with a clear understanding about the climate for women STEM faculty on our campus.  Lessons learned and best practices identified from this work will help us identify and understand barriers that hinder the advancement of women STEM faculty through the tenure and promotion process and into academic leadership positions.  Our data will provide other Tennessee institutions, particularly institutions in the Tennessee Board of Regents system, the sixth largest system of higher education in the United States, with a blueprint for similar studies and with strategies to increase the participation, retention and advancement of women STEM faculty in institutions undergoing rapid growth and change.  

Broader Impacts

This project is tremendous in terms of the number of women in academic STEM careers and the impact they will have on the STEM workforce.  We anticipate that the results of our study will benefit all faculty and administrators including those underrepresented in STEM on MTSU’s campus, in Tennessee, and throughout the south. In turn, a stronger and more supportive climate for all faculty will lead to a robust campus climate for STEM majors, especially women, who often are deterred from pursuing STEM careers due to the lack of role models and a supportive environment.  As the fastest growing higher education institution in Tennessee, it is clear that findings from MTSU will support an inclusive and diverse STEM workforce as well as a model for faculty leadership development beyond our campus.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science foundation under Grant No. HRD-1409638.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this materials are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.