By Marketing and Creative Services
PULLMAN – WSU faculty who need a little extra support during unanticipated personal and family emergencies have an invaluable ally in the provost’s office.
ADVANCE at WSU, a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded program, provides small grants and assistance to support faculty at critical points in their careers through the Transitions Program, part of the ADVANCE Work/Life Initiative. The program aims to ease stressors so faculty can maintain the excellence of their work.
Statistics professor Nairanjana “Jan” Dasgupta knows firsthand what a difference the program can make. Three years ago, she watched her newborn son in the neonatal intensive care unit of a Spokane hospital and wondered about her family’s future.
Born nearly 12 weeks premature, her little boy’s life depended on his remaining under strict hospital care for the next six weeks. Meanwhile, either she or her husband, a clinical faculty member at WSU, would have to return to Pullman to finish the semester of teaching. The couple decided she would stay at the Ronald McDonald House – a low-cost “home-away-from-home” for families of hospitalized children – until their son could come home.
Although colleagues generously pitched in to help cover many of her duties, Dasgupta still was responsible for grading student work and evaluating final exams.
It wasn’t easy juggling the ongoing demands of work while attending to the most pressing of family needs.
Today Dasgupta clearly remembers the challenge of those weeks and wishes she had been able to take advantage of the ADVANCE at WSU Transitions Program, which was not in place at the time. If it had been, she could have applied for assistance to hire a temporary instructor to handle her teaching duties while she tended to childcare needs. She learned through personal experience that, although universities like WSU may have excellent leave policies, some situations require different solutions or additional support.
“Obviously, nobody plans for these emergency situations,” she said. “Having a transition grant that gives us peace of mind about our job is very desirable for work/life in the university. We take our jobs seriously, and having my classes taken care of while I can focus on the emergency or need of my family is a great feeling.”
Three years later, faced with the growing realization that her son needed more personal attention after being diagnosed on the autism spectrum, she has received assistance through the Transitions Program.
“My plan was to get relief from one of my classes, so that I could spend Tuesday and Thursday afternoons with my son,” she explained. “He needed more one-on-one intervention than was possible at his daycare.”
Dasgupta applied for and received a grant that would allow her the freedom to focus on her child’s needs during this critical time in his development – while she remains very much in place at the university. Working with the ADVANCE at WSU program, her department arranged another way of covering her teaching duties.
She works with her son each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon using materials specifically recommended for children with autism. The results have been encouraging.
“He is responding well to me,” she said. “He is also a lot happier and has really allowed us to bond better. This is important, as social communication is difficult with kids on the spectrum. I feel like he communicates best with me and does it easily now.”
The program isn’t just for mothers with children, however. Short-term assistance is available for tenured and tenure-track faculty in a variety of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines when faced with major life events, personal medical needs, family illness or other emergencies.
Support may be offered for up to two semesters to fund a research assistant to help manage laboratory work, for example, or a teaching assistant to step in with class instruction. And though the aid provided is straightforward, the overall implications are far-reaching across the university culture.
“The help these faculty have received has allowed them to keep up with their work and still be able to deal with family and personal issues,” said Nancy Magnuson, director of the ADVANCE at WSU EXCELinSE (Excellence in Science and Engineering) center on the Pullman campus. “Without that help, they could fall far behind on work issues, which could jeopardize their career advancement and development.”
Dasgupta knows how the program is helping other educators around her. In fact, she has an even wider vision for what a program like ADVANCE at WSU could accomplish.
“I think everybody in the WSU community should have access to something like the ADVANCE grant,” she said. “As dependent care, elder care and health issues are universal to all WSU employees, we need employee-friendly policies like this to help alleviate the pressures of life while keeping employment.”
ADVANCE at WSU is part of a comprehensive nationwide effort by NSF to identify barriers to recruitment, retention and advancement of female faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
For more information about the Transitions Program, contact Nancy Magnuson at or 509-335-9735.