USD Adds Eight Outstanding Female STEM Professors

The University of San Diego today announced the hiring of an interdisciplinary cohort of eight new female science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professors as part of an effort to become a model for undergraduate institutions striving to increase diversity and the number of women in those fields.

“This is a very exciting development for the university,” said President Mary E. Lyons. “This outstanding group of professors will inspire more young women to enter these fields and also collaborate on cutting-edge research across their respective disciplines.”

The formation of the group of eight professors in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering (SOE) was supported by a five-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) designed to increase the participation and advancement of female faculty in the STEM and social science fields.

“Women, especially those of color, are underrepresented in the STEM disciplines nationally. Here at USD, we are committed to creating a new norm,” said Andrew T. Allen, university vice president and provost. The NSF grant for USD’s AFFIRM (Advancement of Female Faculty: Institutional Climate, Recruitment and Mentoring) Project, includes funds for training, workshops, mentoring and other programs to ensure USD is a supportive environment for a diverse faculty.

According to a report by the NSF in 2013, women represent fewer than 25 percent of full-time professors in science and engineering fields and women of color represent fewer than six percent.

In hiring the eight professors, USD also used innovative recruiting tools to make sure USD was attracting a diverse pool of applicants. “The results were impressive,” Allen said. “While the university originally intended to hire two additional STEM faculty this year, the pool of applicants was so outstanding we decided to hire the eight women.”

The new faculty members include one professor who has developed nuclear power plant software and another who has shed light on how evolution shapes life-history traits like aging and development.

Joan Schellinger, a native of the Philippines and a chemistry professor, said mentoring and other support efforts are an important part of attracting and retaining a diverse faculty. “My graduate school advisor and post-doctoral supervisor were both female professors in chemistry and bioengineering, respectively. They served as great mentors and true inspiration to me.”

Schellinger, who does research on peptides, promising molecules that have versatile applications in therapeutics and biomaterials, said she is also excited to begin partnering with her new colleagues. “I see great potential” in collaboration involving biology, neuroscience and engineering, she said.

“These new members of our faculty have demonstrated a commitment to interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and to mentoring a diverse student population in addition to their own scholarship,” added Allen. “We’re excited about the work they will be doing with our students to solve the complex questions facing our world today and we are honored to welcome them to our campus.”

In addition to Schellinger the cohort includes:

  • Jessica Bell, PhD, CAS, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Molly Burke, PhD, CAS, Department of Biology
  • Odesma Dalrymple, PhD, SOE, Industrial Engineering
  • Imane Khalil, PhD, SOE, Mechanical Engineering
  • Jennifer Prairie, PhD, CAS, Department of Environmental and Ocean Sciences
  • Amanda Ruiz, PhD, CAS, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
  • Divya Sitaraman, PhD, CAS, Department of Psychological Science

USD’s efforts are a big step in the right direction for universities looking to create a more diverse faculty, said Sue Rosser, a member of the external review board for the $600,000 grant, and provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at San Francisco State University.

“This grant has provided USD with a new paradigm for establishing a hiring process that more closely meets the goals of this university,” she said. “The interdisciplinary work of the new hires presents an opportunity for USD to move in directions that represent a modern approach to the way science is done. It is no surprise that this set of hires is bringing positive attention to USD, and top universities around the country are looking to mimic it.”

William Yslas Vèlez, another member of the review board, who is a mathematics professor at the University of Arizona, agreed. “There are difficult tasks to accomplish and then there are the impossible tasks. Hiring female faculty members is viewed by academia as a difficult task. Hiring a cohort of eight female faculty can justifiably be viewed as impossible. Yet the University of San Diego accomplished this impossible task this past year. I am in awe! What other impossible achievements lie in wait?”

– Liz Harman

Photo by Nick Abadilla

From left are new professors Joan Schellinger, Jessica Bell, Jennifer Prairie, Molly Burke, Divya Sitaraman, Amanda Ruiz, Odesma Dalrymple, and Imane Khalil

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