UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering University of California San Diego
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Associate Dean Seeks to Increase Number of Female Faculty

The Jacobs School’s new Associate Dean Jeanne Ferrante brings many years of leadership experience, having served as Chair and Associate Chair of the Computer Science and Engineering Department. Since her appointment in July, Ferrante has gone straight to work on one of the most perplexing problems in engineering—how to attract and retain women to the field. For her part, she is focused on removing barriers so that female faculty members will join and remain at UCSD.

“There isn’t just one magic bullet, but rather a number of incremental things we need to do,” says Ferrante. She is convinced that changes can enhance the quality of life for all faculty, men and women alike, and is working with a committee of faculty leaders to devise ways to increase the recruiting, retention, participation and promotion of women faculty in science and engineering.

Currently, women comprise just 18% of UCSD’s faculty and, at the Jacobs School, only 9% of the faculty are female. The UCSD leadership is addressing the problem, starting with a campus-wide gender equity study conducted in 2002, which led to several academic affairs initiatives including better coordination of data related to the availability of women faculty for recruiting, plans to enhance childcare facilities on campus, and stopping the tenure clock while women are on parental leave. Although the good news campus-wide is that the percentage of females among 2002 new faculty hires increased to nearly 30%, the downside is that no women were hired this year in engineering.

“Because UCSD is in a growth mode, we have the opportunity to establish a critical mass of women faculty in science and engineering,” said Ferrante.

UCSD faculty and Athena executives brainstorm new networking possibilities for women faculty. (l to r) Assoc. Dean Jeanne Ferrante, Martha Dennis (Athena), Francine Berman (UCSD), and Anne Crossway (Athena)

In September, Ferrante and her committee submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation for funding through its ADVANCE program, which is dedicated to increasing the representation and advancement of women in science and engineering.

Some ideas in the pipeline include a fund to bring women candidates to campus for interviews, peer-to-peer mentoring for new faculty and graduate students, and leadership training for mid-level and senior faculty. The committee also sees a new application for wireless technology: faculty carrying specially programmed PDAs could pinpoint where colleagues are on campus, facilitating quick conversations in hallways or at the coffee shop. Ferrante says the initiatives will extend beyond UCSD and the committee has already involved industry groups such as Athena, San Diego’s networking organization for female technology executives.