USF St. Pete joins Alliance to Advance Minority Women STEM Faculty

USF St. Petersburg has a lead role in a newly minted coalition of Florida public universities working to prepare more minority women for success as faculty in STEM fields.

Funded by a $2.4 million, four-year grant from the prestigious National Science Foundation, the Florida AGEP Pathways Alliance will strive to advance the careers of 300 doctoral, post-doctoral and early faculty through tools such as intensive research boot camps, online professional development resources, workshops, and mentorship from 60 fully-tenured faculty members.

“We are countering a stereotype notion that women and girls cannot excel in STEM fields,” says Brenda L. Walker, USF St. Pete’s Interim Associate Dean of the College of Education and the lead investigator on the alliance project. “Often in the sciences and technology you are battling the stereotype mentality that women and girls cannot excel in those fields, that girls can’t do math as well.”

Three of the state’s historically black colleges and universities, Florida A&M University, Bethune Cookman College, and Florida Memorial University, are members of the alliance, along with Florida International University.

Allyson Watson, the Dean of the FAMU College of Education, wrote the grant application when she was dean of the College of Education at USF St. Pete.

“The team of researchers we have collaborated with have been working tirelessly for years to promote women in STEM,” Watson says in a news release. “The institutions involved have all contributed greatly in their own right to increasing the pipeline for women of color. This grant solidifies the urgency and necessity of the plight for our state and the nation.”

The research boot camps are a key focus of the program. Senior faculty mentors will guide early career faculty and doctoral students through the full process of a research study -- the premise, design, implementation, submission to a journal and publication.

“It is so important for earning tenure and advancing careers that they develop into successful researchers who get high impact research published in reputable journals,” Walker says. “This will cover that in an intensive, deliberate, targeted way.”

The research sessions follow the model of boot camps the Tampa campus has put on for five years under Assistant Director of Faculty Diversity Devona Pierre.

Those boot camps and the new Florida AGEP Pathways Alliance are part of multifaceted efforts the USF system has had in Tampa and St. Petersburg to grow the ranks of minority school teachers and college faculty in and beyond the STEM fields, creating role models who may inspire today’s students to go into teaching.

Walker, who came to USF St. Pete after nearly three decades at the Tampa campus, has developed multiple initiatives that recruited African American men into the teaching profession at urban schools. She later expanded to develop similar programs recruiting minority women, Hispanic men, and white men to teach at urban schools.

It is also part of a campaign to get underrepresented groups such as women and minorities into the STEM fields. The comprehensive approach starts with younger students.

“For example, this summer we held a boot camp for girls in the STEM fields to excite them about those disciplines and also to let them know it very much appropriate for women and girls to be in those fields,” Walker says.

More broadly, USF is working to make teachers more comfortable teaching STEM subjects with the use of new technology. The USF St. Pete College of Education’s STEM INQ lab utilizes 3D printers, VEX IQ First Lego Robots, AutoCAD, and virtual and augmented reality to make teachers comfortable with the tools at their disposal for hands-on teaching in new technology.

Beyond the disparities the alliance will work to address, Walker says securing a grant from the National Science Foundation will help USF’s efforts to earn its way into the Association of American Universities, an organization of the country’s leading research universities.

“That’s another strength and beauty of this project,” Walker says. “To get a grant from the NSF is huge. A grant such as this will help position the University of South Florida as we aspire to attain AAU status.”

For more information, follow these links: University of South Florida St. Petersburg, USF STEM INQ Lab, National Science Foundation AGEP.


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Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.