Doing STEMinism Better: THRIVE@ECU

Fox et al. (2011) advocate, instead, for structural-level programs that address patterns of exclusion, practices for evaluating performance, and pedagogical practices that isolate.   THRIVE@ECU is designed to do just that. THRIVE (Towards Hiring, Resources, Inclusion, Value and Excellence) at ECU THRIVE at East Carolina University, an initiative funded NSF ADVANCE, takes a multipronged approach to meet the needs of the most marginalized faculty and improve institutional climate and support for all STEM women to advance and lead. Improving on past STEMinist efforts, THRIVE’s goals are designed to change culture, everyday practices, and structures:

  • Goal 1: Change culture
  • Goal 2: Create support systems
  • Goal 3: Implement structural change

Goal 1 involves cultural competence training, expanding the number of stakeholders among faculty, and systematic efforts to undermine deficiency models for approaching and understanding diversity among faculty (Speed, et al. 2019; Blackwell, 2009). To accomplish Goal 1, THRIVE will adapt the program, Advocates and Allies (A&A). Beginning at North Dakota State University, Advocates and Allies has been successfully implemented at numerous universities with the help of NSF ADVANCE, including Clarkson, Ohio State University, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of North Texas, Michigan Tech, University of Wyoming, and many others. This program has been successful at universities of different size, mission, and region. In order to complement and amplify the work of the A&A, THRIVE implements evidenced-based multicultural competence professional development for faculty and leaders, increasing knowledge about conscious and unconscious biases, and thereby expanding the number of stakeholders across the university. These activities produce both a critical mass of advocates and allies committed to interrupting bias and bias-conscience leaders, gatekeepers, and faculty, resulting in a changed ECU culture.

Goal 2 will be achieved by establishing material resources and a network of support for community among STEM women to ensure inclusion, particularly among faculty further marginalized by race, LGBTQ+ and other minoritized statuses. These support systems include allies from across the university to ensure that STEM women are recognized and rewarded for their contributions to their disciplines and to their profession through the tenure and promotion process and are encouraged to accept leadership roles. Support systems are particularly effective for marginalized faculty. Effective support networks help recruit, retain, and advance all women (Chambers and Bowen, 2014; Thomas,, 2014).

Goal 3 will be achieved by establishing a set of accountability practices and incentives for faculty, department chairs, and deans (Gmelch 2015; Chun and Davis 2015; Kalev, et al 2006). Multicultural competence training can effectively change some individual administrators; however, without accountability, an unequal system will persist. To change underlying structures, THRIVE will adapt and institutionalize best practices for increasing diversity and accountability, communicating changes clearly through the chains of command. Policies and procedures will be changed in the Faculty Manual and Unit Codes (or bylaws) that govern department functions including, hiring, promotion, and tenure. Incentives to create buy-in among administrators will be implemented, including 1) providing course reassignments/buy-outs to assist in incentivizing structural change for STEM department chairs to cover instructional requirements and give tenure track faculty time for research;  2) utilizing diversity metrics in the decision-making process when allocating faculty lines; and 3) prioritizing cohort hires with a social justice focus in STEM units. Cohort hires have been effective at recruiting and hiring minority faculty.

By building on the best parts of STEMinism (support and enthusiasm) while also addressing and accounting for its weaknesses (changing culture and structure), THRIVE does STEMinism better. Rather than leaving change up to individual scientists who have developed a critical consciousness but who have no structural support, THRIVE promotes institutional changes, that will benefit all members of the university, not just those in STEM departments.  Like a tree with green leaves, deep roots, and strong trunk, this NSF ADVANCE project will empower all women to reach their highest potential and thrive.


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