UH Joins National Effort to Create More Diverse STEM Faculty

Collaboration Aims to Reform Recruitment, Hiring and Retention

pexels diversity
The University of Houston has joined a national effort to promote diversity in STEM faculty. Photo: Pexels

The University of Houston has been selected for a national effort to increase diversity among faculty in STEM disciplines.

The Aspire Alliance will build upon efforts already underway at UH, many of them spearheaded by the Center for ADVANCING UH Faculty Success, which was created in 2015 to increase the number of female faculty members in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as to ensure they are able to move into leadership roles.

Paula Myrick Short, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, said the work of the Aspire Alliance holds special relevance at UH, which is a federally designated Hispanic- and Asian-serving institution with one of the most diverse student bodies of any U.S. research university.

“Our diverse student body needs to see diversity in the faculty who teach them, mentor them, and who serve as role models,” Short said.

The Aspire Alliance, funded by the National Science Foundation and led by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, aims to ensure STEM faculty at participating schools use inclusive teaching practices while increasing the diversity of their STEM professoriate.

Short pointed to changes in how faculty search committees are trained as an example of how the center’s work has become institutionalized across campus. Training for all members of a search committee was shown to dramatically increase the diversity of a candidate pool; that training is now required of all faculty search committees on the UH campus, not just those for STEM disciplines.

“Diversity and excellence are not mutually exclusive,” Short said. “Rather diversity and excellence drive each other. By mandating evidence-based hiring practices across all of our academic disciplines this has resulted in a much more diverse pool of highly qualified faculty candidates.”

A 2015 NSF analysis found that underrepresented minority faculty made up just 8 percent of associate and full professorships in STEM fields at four-year institutions. Data suggest as much as half of the course achievement gaps between minority and majority students are eliminated when underrepresented students are taught by diverse faculty members.

Mark Clarke, associate provost for faculty development and faculty affairs at UH, said participation in the Aspire Alliance is a logical outgrowth of evidence-driven work begun by the Center for ADVANCING UH Faculty Success, which was funded by a $3.3 million NSF grant.

That project has yielded tangible results: The center reports that over the last two hiring cycles, under-represented minorities made up 23 percent and 29 percent respectively of incoming tenure-track faculty campus-wide.

He said the Center for ADVANCING UH Faculty Success also has focused attention on family friendly policies, including consideration of dual career hiring, extension of the tenure clock and a program that provides for reallocation of faculty teaching responsibilities after childbirth or adoption.

Leaders of the Aspire Alliance say its ultimate aim is to attract underrepresented students – women, members of minority racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities and those from low-income backgrounds – into STEM programs and the STEM workforce.

Other universities involved in the alliance include California State University, Northridge; Cleveland State University; Florida State University; Georgia State University; Montana State University; Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis; University of California, Irvine; University of Central Florida; University of Illinois; University of Oregon; University of South Carolina; The University of Texas at San Antonio; University of Vermont; and University of Wisconsin-Madison.