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NSF Congressional Highlight

Olsen Testifies Before House Research and Science Education Subcommittee on NSF Program to Increase the Participation of Women in Science

October 17, 2007

The National Science Foundation's (NSF) Deputy Director Kathie Olsen testified before the House Science and Technology Committee's Research and Science Education Subcommittee. The hearing focused on the barriers facing women seeking science and engineering faculty positions. The other witnesses who testified at the hearing were Dr. Donna Shalala, President of Miami University; Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland Baltimore County; Dr. Myron Campbell, Chair of Physics, University of Michigan; and Dr. Gretchen Ritter, Professor of Government, University of Texas at Austin.

Subcommittee Chairman Baird (D-WA) opened the hearing by calling attention to the significant barriers that prevent women from achieving significant numbers on science and engineering academic faculties, in spite of the large numbers of female undergraduate and graduate students receiving degrees in science and engineering.

In her testimony, Dr. Shalala told the committee "eliminating gender bias requires immediate and decisive action" from leaders in academic departments. Dr. Shalala pointed to the NSF's ADVANCE program as a means of educating department chairs about implicit bias.

In describing NSF's ADVANCE program, Dr. Olsen told the subcommittee "sweeping institutional transformation is the best hope for creating truly women-friendly environments in science and engineering." According to Dr. Olsen, ADVANCE funding has gone to 58 institutions of different types and sizes in 36 States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Dr. Hrabowski testified to the impacts the ADVANCE program has had on his campus. He attested to a 48% increase in the number of women faculty since the ADVANCE program began. Dr. Hrabowski emphasized that "practices that help minorities in science can help all students in science."

Dr. Campell told the committee that increasing the numbers of women in academic departments is everyone's responsibility, not just the women faculty. ADVANCE has been "extraordinarily helpful" in helping educate faculty members on everything from understanding their own implicit biases to understanding how to strip away the implicit bias found in letters of recommendation so that faculty candidates can be compared on equal footing.

The absence of senior women has a strong influence on the climate of an academic department making change difficult, according to Dr. Ritter’s testimony to the committee. She pointed out that while the era of explicit bias, in which women were openly discriminated against in science and engineering, has largely passed, we still find implicit bias in our nation's academic institutions. Dr. Ritter praised the ADVANCE program for addressing the problem of implicit bias.

During questioning from the members of the subcommittee, the panelists emphasized that reducing implicit bias in academic institutions benefits everyone, not just women. In concluding the hearing, Dr. Olsen told the subcommittee that the institutional transformation ADVANCE promotes is "not just good for science, it's good for America."

More information about ADVANCE may be found at the program Web page.


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