What will RIT look like at the end of the Connect@RIT Project?

By Margaret Bailey

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Margaret Bailey

Last month a team of RIT researchers received a $3.2 million award from the National Science Foundation ADVANCE program to support a five-year, university-wide institutional transformation effort called Connect@RIT­—Creating Opportunity Networks for Engagement and Collective Transformation.

Over the past 11 years, the NSF ADVANCE program has dedicated more than $130 million to support large-scale efforts like Connect@RIT that strive to increase the participation and advancement of women in academic faculty and leadership positions within science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, fields and social and behavioral sciences.

The Connect@RIT project goals include 30 percent female applicants for RIT STEM faculty positions, at least 75 percent of STEM departments achieving a critical mass of female faculty, retention rates for female faculty that closely mirror those of male faculty and an increase in the percentage of women in academic tenure-track leadership positions to a level which maps to their overall representation at RIT. A final outcome focuses on sustaining strategic initiatives in RIT infrastructure to ensure that progress continues beyond the end of the grant.

The Connect@RIT project is expected to achieve these increases at RIT through transforming existing practices and processes while adding targeted new initiatives. Several of the grant initiatives refine existing university elements such as the faculty-mentoring program, annual review templates for faculty and department heads, salary-study practices, the President’s Commission on Women and various academic policies and procedures.

New initiatives in development include programming and mini-grants focused on female faculty leadership development, department head programming and female faculty eminent scholars. The project also incorporates a faculty life-cycle adviser program, triennial faculty climate surveys, a faculty exit interview process, dual career hire initiatives, a “connectivity” series to improve faculty social networking behaviors and the creation of a child-care and personal-needs committee. Best-practice benchmarks inform the design and rollout of grant initiatives. A detailed evaluation process and social science study will track effectiveness of the grant activities and organizational change.

The grant initiatives are based on the findings of a three-year research project also funded by the NSF ADVANCE program that studied the current status of female faculty at RIT. Visit http://nsfadvance.rit.edu/ for the full report.

During that study, the team learned that from 2007-2010 only 19 percent of applicants for STEM faculty positions were female, which is below availability in the national pool. Moreover, the combined RIT tenure-track female faculty in STEM and social and behavioral sciences, at 25 percent, is significantly below the 34 percent average of doctoral scientists and engineers employed at master’s-granting colleges and universities in the U.S. At the department level, half of STEM academic units employ less than a critical mass (20 percent) of female faculty. The research also found tenure-track female faculty leave RIT at rates that are significantly higher than male faculty, and that the representation of female faculty leaders on campus is lower than expected based on their representation.

Connect@RIT is a faculty-driven project with strong support from RIT’s upper administration and partnering administrative units on campus—this level of support is essential to the overall transformation strategy. However, as we strive to transform RIT, the success of the project depends heavily on our collective willingness as a community to change and to debate and discuss the value of those changes. At RIT, change is not a new concept, but for transformation to occur, the community must embrace the change as its own.

Margaret Bailey is a professor of mechanical engineering in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering and the founding executive director of WE@RIT, RIT’s women in engineering program. “Viewpoints” presents insight and opinions on issues of relevance to RIT or higher education generally. To suggest a topic for a future essay, contact news&events@mail.rit.edu.