ADVANCE Program Seeks Gender Equity in Sciences

Two female scholars fill first chair positions and act as role models for women in academics.

By Charlene Manalo
Staff Writer

Ellen Druffel Chuu-Lian Terng

Two distinguished women scholars, oceanographer Ellen Druffel and mathematician Chuu-Lian Terng, have been named the first chairs of UC Irvine’s ADVANCE program for their service in promoting gender equity in the field of science.

ADVANCE is supported by a $3.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation that addresses gender inequities in faculty by increasing recruitment, retention and advancement of women at UCI.

The establishment and appointment of the chairs is a milestone for the ADVANCE program.

“UCI is the first university in the country, and probably the world, to create endowed chairs for distinguished scholars who have also demonstrated a commitment to gender equity,” said Susan Bryant, dean of the School of Biological Sciences and principal investigator of the grant. “We are planning to raise $2 million to allow these chairs to continue in perpetuity.”

The chair appointments were established to combat the lack of women in faculty positions.

“We lack women in senior positions and there are inequities in salary and services,” said Priscilla Kehoe, director of ADVANCE. “Women often find the climate chilly and not family-friendly.”

Kehoe notes that selecting the chairs also informs the campus of gender equity issues at the university.

“The chairs were established as part of our need to bring awareness to the topic of gender equity,” Kehoe said. “We believed that a powerful way of achieving this awareness was by rewarding and honoring distinguished scholars who are committed to bring about gender equity through their own service.”

Druffel is a scholar of biogeochemistry and oceanography in the Department of Earth System Science at the School of Physical Science.

In addition to her accolades, Druffel served as chair of the Honors and Recognition Committee of the American Geophysical Union and published numerous articles about gender equity issues that included the scarcity of women and minorities.

Druffel’s goals include recruiting and retaining women faculty positions and establishing a mentor program.

“Richard Chamberlin, a professor in chemistry, and I are starting a mentoring program for assistant professors,” Druffel said. “I want to help in the university’s efforts to retain women faculty and to balance the salary scales.

Druffel’s advice to women entering a male-dominated field is not to underestimate one’s self.

“Go for it. If you’ve found the field that excites you, do not, I repeat, do not let the gender composition of the field discourage you,” Druffel said. “You are just as good as anybody else.”

Terng, a specialist in differential geometry and partial differential equations, joined the UCI faculty in July 2004.

Terng's experience in striving for gender equity includes encouraging women's pursuit of careers in mathematical sciences while teaching an all-female engineering calculus course at the Connection Program of Northeastern University's engineering school.

"The purpose was to give women students a chance to network and to have role models," Terng said. "Besides a regular calculus class, students were required to work in small groups. I believe women students in this program gained confidence, were happier and more successful in their studies."

While Terng saw confidence increase among her students, she notes the persisting discrepancy in female faculty and most educational institutions.

"Only about 6 to 7 percent of tenured faculty are women," Terng said. "There are many different reasons contributing to these unfortunate statistics; for example, lack of role models and the fact that the period when one pushes for tenure is also normally the period when women have children and start their family life."

Terng is also a co-organizer of the Mentoring Program for Women Mathematicians, which is sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), Princeton University, and the National Science Foundation.  The program is held in the second half of May at IAS. It has a different focus of research each year, and has one graduate course, one undergraduate course, problem sessions, research seminars, and a Women in Science seminar. This program gives women a chance to advance their careers in mathematics, and provides them with the opportunities to work and to network with other women mathematicians.

As seen in the New University, Volume 37, Issue 4, Oct. 2003.