Jun 8, 2023

Last year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded DU a nearly $1 million ADVANCE grant to create the DU-MERISTEM program, dedicated to the recruitment, hiring, and retention of historically excluded faculty (HEF) from STEM disciplines, including women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ individuals, and those with intersectional identities. The program has the support of the highest levels of administration, with Provost Mary Clark as principal investigator. Both Provost Clark and Chancellor Haefner were involved with NSF ADVANCE programs at their previous institutions. Co-PIs include representatives of ODEI (Kristin Deal) and the VPFA (Alison Staudinger). Co-PIs Deb Ortega (Latinx Center) and Anna Sher (Biological Sciences) recently attended the June 2023 NSF conference “ADVANCE Equity in STEM” in Durham, NC, to connect with and learn from other schools doing this work.

Over 40 staff, faculty, and administrators from across campus have made DU-MERISTEM possible, and we recently gathered to celebrate and honor those who were integral in starting the program. Faculty, staff, and students came to the Olin Rotunda to learn about the goals, progress, and next steps of the DU-MERISTEM through a poster session and other interactive engagements. Program accomplishments include hiring key staff (including a faculty director, program coordinator, and two mentoring liaisons), creating essential committees, and conducting research on mentoring models, hiring practices, and culture and climate. DU-MERISTEM worked with the iChange self-study to conceptualize needed support in faculty recruitment and hiring and is actively working with EOIX, HRIC, and the Ombuds to identify existing resources and gaps in faculty support. Additionally, DU-MERISTEM created designs for two types of mentoring programs: one for new faculty and a peer-on-peer model. Faculty interested in becoming mentors or receiving mentoring can fill out this Qualtrics poll to learn more.

In the 2023–2024 academic year, DU-MERISTEM plans to launch its mentoring program; create and redesign support training for leadership and search committees; consider models of hiring practices that will embed equity; and design a new conflict resolution mechanism; among other projects.

While there is a vast scholarship documenting the need for such programs nationally, recently an article was published by Inside Higher Ed with the clickbait title “Research Finds No Gender Bias in Academic Science.” This article has been embraced by some, even at DU, as evidence that support for women in STEM is unwarranted. As one published rebuttal pointed out, this is misguided for several reasons, including the fact that the referenced article found gender bias in STEM—just not by every metric that was evaluated. Consistent with previous findings, they found that women in STEM are paid less than men and are discriminated against in teaching evaluations by students. The “no bias” title was based on the finding that women are currently publishing and being funded at the same rates as men and that there appears to be “a slight bias” toward hiring women in some STEM fields. However, this latter conclusion was based on the finding that, between 1994 and 2017, a slightly higher percentage of women were hired into tenure-track positions than would be predicted based on the number of PhD graduates. However, women still represented less than 30% of those graduates/hires. Furthermore, comparing graduates to new hires ignores the significant reduction of the percentage of women at each career stage in STEM, from undergraduate (in which women represent nearly half) to graduate-level, and from assistant to associate to full, sometimes referred to as “the leaky pipeline.”

Perhaps most importantly, the authors’ definition of bias did not include factors such as sexual harassment, chilly climate, family/life balance, and masculine heteronormality within STEM fields. Also, this study also ignores gender diversity and the challenges that people who do not fit into the simple male/female categories face in the STEM workforce.

Evidence for the need to support women, other gender minorities, and HEF is abundantly clear, including at DU. For example, in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (CNSM), women represent approximately 30% of faculty, and only 22% of tenure-track positions, while proportions are even smaller in the Richie School of Engineering and Computer Science (RSECS). All “hard science” departments at DU have a lower percentage of tenure-track women than national averages (as reported by NSF in 2021) except Physics and Astronomy, which has more (3/10; national average is only 19%). Representation of people of color in STEM at DU is extremely low.

While reasons for these numbers at DU and nationally are varied and sometimes complex, we have evidence that there are differences in the experiences of HEF in STEM. At DU, the 2019 COACHE survey reported that women in CNSM had lower satisfaction scores than men in the categories of “collegiality” and “mentoring,” while women in RSECS reported lower scores in “promotion to full” and “collaboration.” Sample sizes for BIPOC were too small to draw meaningful conclusions. It is our hope that these metrics will improve with our efforts.

DU-MERISTEM was created to promote a more diverse and equitable culture not only within STEM, but campus-wide. The work we are doing will hopefully have a lasting positive impact on historically excluded faculty at DU, as well as our entire community by helping to make this university welcoming and supportive for all. If you are interested in becoming involved in DU-MERISTEM, please contact

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