BOZEMAN – Montana State University has received a $3.4 million grant to help broaden the participation of women faculty members by improving the work environment on the campus.
Announced Sept. 15, the five-year ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Grant from the National Science Foundation focuses on ways to broaden women’s participation in the STEM/SBS fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and social and behavioral sciences. Those are the fields where men outnumber women at MSU.
MSU has three goals for the program, according to ADVANCE director Jessi L. Smith. One is to implement strategies, programs and policies that enhance research opportunities. The second is to improve work-life integration, and the third is to create a climate of “cultural attunement” which emphasizes the value and appreciation of diverse perspectives.
“Women shouldn’t need to act like men to succeed, and in male-dominated fields, research shows this can often be the norm,” said Smith, who’s also an associate professor of psychology and Special Assistant to the Provost.
The overall aim of the grant is to broaden the participation of women faculty in those areas by enhancing recruitment, retention and advancement, Smith said.
“We are using social science research to inform our best practices and to test how effective our programs are,” Smith said. “We can then make our findings available to other land-grant universities.
MSU is one of only four institutions out of 108 classified by the Carnegie Foundation as having high research activity and women in the top two leadership positions, Smith said. Waded Cruzado became president in January 2010, and Martha Potvin became provost and vice president for academic affairs in January 2011.
Since Cruzado’s arrival, she has created a President’s Commission on the Status of University Women and brought in an expert to conduct training on gender equity in the academy. Potvin created a Director of Faculty Development position and reinstated funding for the Women’s Faculty Caucus.
Women faculty leave MSU at twice the rate men do, Smith said. With more than 300 faculty in STEM/SBS fields, fewer than 19 percent are women.
MSU will use the grant to institute an approach called “Project TRACS,” which refers to Transformation through Relatedness, Autonomy, and Competence Support.
“Project TRACS does not aim to give special favors to women in STEM/SBS, nor does the advancement of these women faculty come at the expense of any other group,” Smith said. “By offering need-support to these women, we will transform MSU and benefit all faculty.”
“MSU is poised for change, and change is needed.”

This article was adapted from one originally written by Evelyn Boswell for the MSU News Service.