Professorship Award Caps Decade-long University of Delaware Effort to Boost Women in Engineering

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by Ronald Roach

Dr. Babatunde A. Ogunnaike, dean of the University of Delaware College of Engineering, said that a new professorship marks a milestone for the school’s efforts to support the participation of women faculty members and students. (Photo courtesy of the University of Delaware)

Dr. Babatunde A. Ogunnaike, dean of the University of Delaware College of Engineering, said that a new professorship marks a milestone for the school’s efforts to support the participation of women faculty members and students. (Photo courtesy of the University of Delaware)

After more than a decade of sustained effort to promote engineering school participation by women, the University of Delaware has announced that a professorship for a female faculty member in either mechanical engineering or materials science is being established in the school’s College of Engineering. A five-year $463,770 gift from the Henry Luce Foundation will fund what will be known as the Clare Boothe Luce professorship, which will be a position for a female junior faculty member in the area of hard materials such as semiconductors, according to university officials.

“[The Luce-funded professorship] really is huge for us. It’s a big deal,” said Dr. Babatunde A. Ogunnaike, dean of the UD College of Engineering.

“It provides a certain element of ‘My goodness, these guys are serious [about gender diversity] If Clare Boothe Luce can put this much in and these guys went through the entire process for winning this award.’ It sends a signal about what we’ve done,” he explained.

Ogunnaike said last week that the new professorship, which will be filled by the start of Delaware’s 2014-15 academic year, marks a milestone for the College of Engineering’s efforts to support the participation of women faculty members and students. Fundraising in recent years has reached $2.5 million, including a $300,000 gift this year by a University of Delaware alumnus and his wife to endow a program that brings nationally-recognized female leaders to campus and provides additional professional career development opportunities for faculty and students. In addition, corporate sponsors have donated more than $14,000 for the program.

This year’s fundraising awards cap more than a decade of efforts by UD engineering faculty members and administrators to strengthen the presence of women in the college. Those efforts have included “proactive programs designed to mentor faculty, department chairs and deans on best practices for faculty recruitment and retention,” according to Dr. Pam Cook, the associate dean of the engineering college.

Since 2002, the representation of female faculty members has increased from 4.5 to 16.3 percent in the UD College of Engineering. Nationally, female engineering professors make up on average 14 percent of engineering school faculties, the American Society for Engineering Education reports.

Cook said that part of UD’s pursuit of strengthening female engineering college participation over the last decade put administrators on the path to seeking the Clare Boothe Luce professorship award. Since 1989, the Clare Boothe Luce Program within the Henry Luce Foundation has grown into one of the largest sources of private foundation support for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Clare Boothe Luce was the widow of the late Henry R. Luce, a co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc.

“[The professorship award is] something that’s been on our radar for a number of years. We’ve certainly been interested in getting this,” said Cook, a UD math professor who was recruited in 2003 into the College of Engineering to help strengthen women’s participation.

Cook is credited with developing the UD ADVANCE program, an inter-college effort supported by faculty members from engineering and arts and sciences. Established initially with a National Science Foundation grant, UD ADVANCE supports “workshops for faculty on best practices in recruitment and retention of STEM faculty with a particular focus on women faculty,” according to the university.

“When Pam Cook came over as associate dean, we started work on improving the number of women in the student body, the faculty, and in administration,” Ogunnaike said.

In 2012, Cook received the national Women in Engineering ProActive Network’s University Change Agent award recognizing her contributions. In addition, in 2012, the University of Delaware honored the UD ADVANCE team with the Trabant Award for Women’s Equity.

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