Message from outgoing AdvanaceRIT Founding Director and NSF PI; Professor Margaret Bailey, Ph.D., P.E.
The Advance Journey @ RIT
The “Advance journey” at RIT that I have been able to witness and influence began sixteen years ago in 2004 at Java Wally’s when a group of women faculty and administrators brainstormed the term WE@RIT to represent what we imagined could be created within the college of engineering to address the severe under-representation of women engineering students. At that point, the college enrolled less than 10% women undergraduates and yet this was the nation’s only engineering college named solely for a woman. Kate Gleason was a dynamic, inspiring, and highly successful mechanical engineer born in 1865 here in Rochester. We also knew that women engineering students were consistently succeeding at rates higher than their male colleagues in regards to GPA and retention. I was part of a very motivated and energized group and we created a strong organizational structure that is still vibrant and thriving today within the college. WE@RIT motivated the creation or strengthening of similar organizations in other colleges such as Women in Technology, Women in Science, and Women in Computing. A great achievement for RIT and the Kate Gleason College of Engineering is that the gender profile of engineering undergraduates now exceeds over 25% women, surpassing national benchmarks! WE@RIT directly supports this achievement and is instrumental in gradually shifting culture within the college.
As an engineer, I study complicated systems like power plants using thermodynamics to find ways to increase efficiency. It’s like solving an inverse problem; given lots of data, what can be learned about the health or current status of a system and where improvements can best be made. In the year following our ideation and creation of WE@RIT, I started applying this approach to a different type of system, this time the focus was RIT rather than a power plant. So, I started to study the current status of RIT in regards to the environment that we provide for women using data to inform the study, starting with a focus on women students and then expanding to include women faculty. I’m motivated by my perceived value in the RIT educational experience for all people, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual preference, hearing ability, age, social class, physical abilities, etc.
Again, I was very fortunate to work with a motivated, highly energized and diverse group of dedicated people within RIT who had similar motivations, including many from the upper administration. In 2008, the National Science Foundation (NSF) began supporting our work through the ADVANCE program. To date, we have received almost $4M to better understand the current state at RIT in regards to the environment it provides for women faculty (2008-2011) while enabling us to work towards institutional transformation (2012-2018). This level of funding from NSF in support of our creating a more inclusive campus environment is a great achievement for RIT! Many universities look to RIT and strive to achieve this level of federal support aimed at positively addressing inclusivity, but few succeed in doing so.
Through NSF funding, in 2012, AdvanceRIT (NSF ADVANCE 1209115) program began with a goal to increase the representation, retention, and career advancement of women faculty in STEM. The research team examined the unique challenges experienced by women faculty of color and Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing faculty, and refined interventions to address the needs of these key sub-populations. The AdvanceRIT program influences long-term changes that transform RIT’s culture, promote inclusion, and expand the representation of women on campus and among leadership. At the end of the NSF funding in late 2018, RIT established a permanent ADVANCE office within the Office of the Provost.
With the support of hundreds of people on campus, AdvanceRIT has been a success in many ways and its success has been a significant achievement for RIT. Visit https://www.rit.edu/nsfadvance/advance-rit-project-outcomes for more details on what these achievements have looked like for our university.
I have greatly enjoyed being a part of this Advance journey and serving as its leader. I especially have cherished the experiences and knowledge that I’ve gained by working with many different people at RIT and the experts that have come in from outside our organization to support our efforts. The team of principal investigators and senior personnel who worked so closely together for years on this effort were inspiring to me and taught me a great deal of valuable lessons over the years. It’s been an amazing journey and one that I hope to continue supporting in the years to come in various ways. I’m looking forward to watching as one of those principal investigators, Professor Betsy Dell, continues to lead the organization into the years ahead and I wish her all of the best in this worthwhile and rewarding endeavor.