WEPAN 2006 Conference Papers

White papers from the WEPAN 2006 National Conference are now available on the web here. Papers available are:

But, Engineering IS Cool - Effective Messaging for Pre-college Students

Dump the Slump: Retaining Engineering Women into the 3rd Year

Facilitating Success for Women in STEM through Living-Learning Programs: Results from the National Study of Living-Learning Programs

The main conference website is here. You can access the conference proceedings. You should go check them out because I am absolutely sure you will want to read the two papers I am co-author on:

Designing Welcoming and Inclusive STEM Department Websites
Authors: Beth Montelone, Ruth A. Dyer, Cynthia Burack, and Suzanne E. Franks

Websites have tremendous power to create first impressions. Prospective and current students and employees increasingly rely on the Internet for information about academic programs, people, and institutions. Department websites are one source for that information, but they also convey information about departmental culture and environment. Culture- communication certainly derives from content, but just as importantly, it is impacted by design and structure. Engineering and science departments interested in broadening their appeal to underrepresented groups must look to their own websites. What culture is being communicated ? explicitly, implicitly ? and to whom does it appeal? The Kansas State University ADVANCE project team recognizes the power of website messages. Six K- State science and engineering departments have worked for two years on an ADVANCE-sponsored website initiative. These departments agreed to work on improving delivery of welcoming and inclusive messages to students, faculty, and staff via their departmental websites. They participated in a three-step process: workshops; revision of existing websites; evaluation and feedback. This paper shares information about each step of the process, the lessons learned, and best practices that have been identified.

Evaluating STEM Department Websites for Diversity
Authors: Cynthia Burack and Suzanne E. Franks

Websites convey the culture of a department through content, design, and structure. They are the official face a department presents to the world. They can affect recruitment of students and faculty, and counter or foster the exclusion of women. How should STEM websites be evaluated for the message they send about diversity? Design of a website evaluation tool must take into account the nature of the diversity issue in STEM. We make an argument here for the importance of websites and website evaluation to support goals of diversity and gender equity. In addition, we describe the development of a website evaluation method, Equity Enhancement Training. This method involves training department representatives to recognize explicit and implicit messages, and to determine if a site is broadly or narrowly appealing, inclusive or offensive, and whether it addresses diversity seriously or just pays lip service. The authors address the particular circumstances of website evaluation in the context of a National Science Foundation ADVANCE Grant for institutional transformation, as well as the kinds of issues that are likely to arise in the course of executing a website evaluation project in the STEM disciplines.

See the conference website for the full papers.

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It's very interesting what you said about "diversity statements"-- that when a department puts such a statement on a separate page, it sends the impression that it doesn't even care enough about diversity to integrate its thoughts on the matter with its "main" mission and business. I've seen a lot of these diversity statements on the bottom of job advertisements and pretty much ignored them-- I assume that they are required by the overall hiring policies of the university but that the STEM department itself couldn't care less. Actually, this was from experience-- I applied to one place where the application asked for a statement on how I could contribute to diversity. I wrote a very heartfelt statement in my teaching essay about encouraging access to STEM fields for those who don't fit the traditional image of the engineer. When I got to the place for the interview it became clear that the ad's reference to "diversity" was just tacked on to the end by the administration-- no doubt by the "Diversity Office."

Both male and female doctoral students noted that if too much attention were drawn to issues of gender on a department�s website, the result might be an undesirable emphasis on the small numbers of women faculty members or graduate students in that department or that the website might not appear welcoming to both genders.

Yup! There is nothing worse than going to a website and seeing, BAM, right up front on the corner of the first page, completely out of context, and totally for no reason at all other than to say "Hey! We DO have women and African Americans! Really we do!" a portrait of a person from an underrepresented group smiling. Likewise, a picture of THREE women working together around some sort of machine apparatus is sort of suspicious if you know the overall number of women in the department is actually only 10% (did the photographer go around and round up all the females?). Though at least they are doing something that demonstrates the activities of the department (working together around some apparatus, or at the chalkboard, or whatnot) and not just standing there grinning. The work described in these two papers is great-- you and your co-workers are encouraging departments to consider the effect of their websites on diversity IN THE CONTEXT of improving their websites in in general-- making them clear, easy to use, and welcoming to all the various groups that use it (prospective students, current students, faculty community) rather than isolating the treatment of gender & diversity as some sort of odious, extra requirement that departments must fulfill. Great work!

There is also the tricky question: suppose you do only have 10% women in your department. Do you put up pictures containing signficantly MORE than 10% women, to encourage women to apply? Or in the extreme case that you have NO women faculty, and all your faculty are listed on one page with their pictures next to their names, what then?