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$500K Grant to Fund UMD Researcher’s Study of Strategies to Improve Equity in Universities’ Leadership

New Curriculum Would Help Aspiring Administrators in Medical, Public Health and STEM Sciences

By Kelly Blake

illustration of a crowd of people

A UMD professor will examine how leaders in higher education are successfully supporting the advancement of historically underrepresented faculty in medical, public health and STEM sciences.

Illustration from iStock

While universities have diversified their student bodies in recent years and most have hired chief diversity officers, white people still hold more than 80% of leadership positions nationwide, and men hold almost two-thirds.

A new $500,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to a University of Maryland medical sociologist will fund a study of what makes some institutions more successful in advancing fair and equitable practices to increase leadership roles for minoritized faculty in the medical, public health and STEM sciences.

Ruth Enid Zambrana, a distinguished university professor in the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, over two years will study the successful strategies used by senior leaders in higher education to create a healthy institutional culture that supports the advancement of historically underrepresented faculty into leadership ranks.

“Who is doing good and how are they doing good?” Zambrana said of her goal to identify models and best practices among academic leaders in medicine, public health, nursing and STEM fields. “Because we know most institutions are not doing well. The percent of Black, Latino, Native American and Indigenous leaders has changed very little over the past 40 years. Our domestic talent pool is being ignored.”

The project, which includes Michelle Espino, an associate professor of student affairs in the College of Education, will encompass interviews and focus groups with current and former underrepresented minority (URM) university leaders in five types of higher education institutions, including predominantly white institutions, historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, tribal colleges and universities and private elite colleges.

This research builds upon her 2018 book “Toxic Ivory Towers: The Consequences of Work Stress on Underrepresented Minority Faculty,” which looked at the institutional factors impacting URM faculty’s ability to be successful at their jobs and also how policies and practices can be used to transform institutional culture to increase rates of retention and promotion.

Zambrana will develop what she calls a “leadership institutional health equity and fairness curriculum” that can be used as a template for guidance for aspirational leaders jointly with the support of college administrators to transform institutions in ways that will benefit all and diminish barriers to systemic change.

“If we can get people in leadership positions who can create fair, equitable and healthy climates,” she said, “it is good for everyone and good for building a representative pool of professionals who can serve as role models for the next generation of students from different racial, ethnic and class backgrounds who aspire to work in the health and STEM professions.”



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