The University of Massachusetts Amherst

SPP's Misra on Team Working on Advancement of Underrepresented Faculty

Joya Misra

Professor Joya Misra of the UMass Amherst School of Public Policy and the Department of Sociology is a co-principal investigator on a $3 million National Science Foundation ADVANCE Institutional Transformation grant received by the university to support the professional advancement of underrepresented faculty members in STEM fields.

The five-year grant brings together an interdisciplinary team from across campus to develop an innovative model that focuses on using collaboration as a tool for fostering equity for faculty of color and women in science and engineering. It’s believed to be the largest social science-led interdisciplinary grant ever awarded to UMass Amherst.

“This highly competitive grant will be a tremendous boost for our continuing efforts to create a campus environment that supports the success of all members of our community,” said UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. “I commend the faculty team for developing a winning proposal that envisions a new and bold way for the university to promote the success and professional growth of our faculty.”

Misra’s research focuses on gender, race, and class inequalities, with a particular focus on how policy can address inequalities—including in the university setting. “As someone who studies social inequality in society I can’t ignore how inequality is embedded in the institution in which I work, the academy,” she said.

In 2014, Misra was invited to join the team working on the ADVANCE grant proposal. As members began conducting focus groups around campus, “one theme that kept coming up was how different groups experienced collaboration differently,” she said. While collaboration is central to the mission of the university, she noted, the academy historically has rewarded people for individual achievement and devalued team work. In addition, implicit biases mean that colleagues do not value collaborative work done by women and people of color the way they value collaborative work done by white men.

The researchers also found a divide in how faculty experienced formal mentoring programs, with many men noting that they received substantial informal mentoring from department colleagues, while many women reported that they didn’t take advantage of the opportunity for fear of “bothering” their assigned mentors.

“It’s just such a gendered story,” Misra said. “They’re having this remarkably different experience in the same job.”

The ADVANCE project will center its research and programming on three elements: encouraging research collaboration, creating an inclusive community through mentoring, and promoting shared decision-making and governance at the department level. Misra will direct ADVANCE programming, including workshops and trainings on faculty development, mentoring, and decision-making, while ISSR Director and sociology Professor Laurel Smith-Doerr will direct ADVANCE research collaboration. Nyuudlya Araeva, a School of Public Policy alumna, is ADVANCE’s program manager. In the spring, the UMass Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR), which is coordinating the grant, will call for proposals for seed funding for collaborative research projects.

“Policies that will allow people to succeed here is everyone’s goal,” Misra said, adding that while the ADVANCE grant focuses on faculty in STEM fields, UMass is committed to extending its work to benefit all faculty. The project is led by principal investigator Enobong (Anna) Branch, professor of sociology and associate chancellor for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, to ensure that successful project activities and practices are sustained beyond the term of the grant and integrated into the existing campus structure.

— by Maureen Turner, communications manager, School of Public Policy, and the UMass Amherst News Office

About the School of Public Policy: Established in 2016, the UMass Amherst School of Public Policy is a hub for research and teaching, preparing students for leadership in public service. The program’s focuses include social change and public policy related to science and technology.

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