Creating Pathways for STEM Higher Education Leadership
Effective Years: 2023-2026
STEM higher education leaders play transformational roles for both faculty and students, yet we know too little about how to recruit and retain effective STEM leaders. What factors encourage STEM faculty to move into leadership? What challenges do STEM leaders face in pursuing leadership opportunities? How do opportunities and challenges differ by higher education context, region and location, or leader demographics? The goal of this project is to identify the structural barriers to, as well as the organizational strategies that are most effective at, developing STEM higher educational leaders. Having clear cut information about the different challenges and opportunities to STEM leadership will allow higher education institutions to find new ways to invest in institutional change, developing the careers of STEM leaders. As a result of this research, the project team plans to disseminate the strategies that are most effective at developing STEM leaders from a wide variety of backgrounds, while also recommending strategies to address the barriers that are most prevalent.
Existing research has focused on small samples, often at the highest echelons of university leadership, emphasizing the “grit” that leaders must have to lead. These samples typically consist of small groups of leaders at one college or university, not capturing differences by institutional context, region, age cohort, field, or demographic characteristics. Relying on organizational theory and status expectations theory, the project is designed to test hypotheses about the factors that shape leadership trajectories. The study aims to use a large nationally representative survey sample that will enable the team to examine leadership trajectories in different contexts including doctoral granting universities, masters granting universities, four-year colleges and universities, and two-year colleges. Within the 160 institutions selected, the research team will survey approximately 5,000 STEM leaders at the department and college levels, as well as university leaders with backgrounds in STEM fields. The team of researchers will then analyze the data using multilevel models that explore how leaders’ experiences vary depending on institutional factors, region, when they earned their terminal degrees, and other characteristics. Finally, the project team will interview eighty leaders, focusing on those in settings where leaders describe particularly challenging, as well as particularly smooth, transitions to leadership. This sampling strategy is intended to reveal insights into structural barriers to and opportunities for STEM leadership positions.
This project is supported by NSF’s EDU Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad, and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.