Grant co-applicants in the Department of Plant Pathology are Debra Inglis, left,
Brenda Schroeder and Lori Carris. At right is Gretal Leibnitz, ADVANCE at WSU
assistant director. (Not pictured: Lindsey du Toit)
 
 
By WSU Marketing and Creative Services
PULLMAN – Like most professors, they were immersed in their careers and often too busy to take even a day off – let alone a year-long working sabbatical. But now, with $10,000 from an ADVANCE at WSU Department Development Mini-Grant, four women faculty in the Department of Plant Pathology are discovering creative new ways to grow professionally as they work through significant career transitions.
 
Professor Debra Inglis, along with assistant professor Brenda Schroeder and associate professors Lori Carris and Lindsey du Toit, applied for the grant last fall. They highlighted the need for professional development, especially among women faculty – a goal that aligns with the aims of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded ADVANCE Institutional Transformation program.
 
“Like other ADVANCE initiatives, the department development grants are designed primarily to support the work of tenured and tenure-track women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields,” said Robert Bates, emeritus provost and an early proponent of the ADVANCE at WSU effort.
 
Awards across campuses
An initial concept-exploration meeting generated broad interest across the university. Of the 17 grant proposals submitted – from “Advancing Teamwork and Productivity” by the Department of Animal Sciences to “Discovery and Delivery: A Four-Campus STEM Education Collaboration” by WSU Tri-Cities – 11 were funded (for a total of $90,000) and distributed to a cross-section of departments, schools and colleges on all four campuses.
 
“The benefits are manyfold,” said Hanu Pappu, professor and chair of the plant pathology department. “It’s giving the faculty resources for professional development. So we’re very excited about this program. It really hasn’t been done like this before.”
 
Pappu joined other university academic deans, chairs and directors at a two-day ADVANCEing Institutional Transformation workshop hosted in 2010 by Provost Warwick Bayly, ADVANCE at WSU principal investigator. The workshop enabled Pappu to facilitate his department’s grant proposal, and each of the four co-applicants brought unique perspectives and distinct goals.
 
Individual interests support departmental success
 
Inglis – the first female full professor in her department’s 93-year history – is resuming a research career after four years as interim director/assistant dean at WSU’s Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon. She had never taken a working sabbatical during her years with WSU, and through her portion of the proposal she sought an extended, intensive opportunity to meet colleagues and students face to face on the Pullman campus.
 
The ADVANCE grant gave her that chance; she spent all of March and a week of April on her “mini-sabbatical” in Pullman, busily working on projects and brainstorming new ones. In fact, her visit was so well received that she extended it from four weeks to five.
 
“Although I’ve worked at WSU Mount Vernon since 1989,” she said, “it seems that my trips to Pullman are always very hurried and I never have sufficient time to visit with colleagues, spend enough hours in the library, attend seminars and other special events or meet new students.”
 
Thanks to the mini-grant, Inglis was able to avoid some of the typical challenges of a full-length working sabbatical while enjoying many of its benefits. She especially appreciated the opportunity to meet graduate students and learn about their work, and valued the time to simply read, write and explore new ideas. She even attended several Cougars basketball games.
 
Meanwhile, co-applicant Carris is transitioning from a service and teaching emphasis to a research-focused appointment while she aims for promotion to full professor. Like Inglis, she has never taken a sabbatical – even after 22 years at WSU.
 
Her goal is to enhance her skills by attending an intensive two-week workshop at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts. The grant will pay her way, including all transportation costs.
 
Du Toit, who will be eligible for promotion to full professor in 2012, is adapting to changes in her appointment that include classroom teaching. With a background primarily in research, she’s receiving grant-funded training at the 2011 Case Studies in Science Teaching Summer Workshop at the University of Buffalo.
 
Schroeder, who has a 35 percent teaching appointment and who plans to apply for tenure in 2012, also wants to improve aspects of her teaching by attending the University of Buffalo workshop.
 
Finding answers to broader questions
 
The grant received by the plant pathologists aims to accomplish more than advancing their professional development. It is helping the university explore an even larger question: How can faculty maintain a fresh perspective and remain productive throughout their careers?
 
With this challenge in mind, the professors are examining which barriers prevent faculty from taking professional leave and how the mini-sabbatical serves as a workable alternative.
They’re also developing grant-related workshops for their WSU colleagues – offering at least one as a webinar accessible to faculty worldwide. The professors also hope to present what they’ve learned at a professional meeting of the American Phytopathological Society.
 
All of this is made possible by the mini-grant.
 
“Funds to support professional development are scarce, particularly in these times of shrinking financial resources,” Carris said. “I think I speak on behalf of all four of us in expressing our appreciation to the ADVANCE program for this funding.”
 
ADVANCE at WSU is part of a comprehensive nationwide effort by NSF to identify barriers to recruitment, retention and advancement of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. For more information about the ADVANCE at WSU program, visit www.advance.wsu.edu or contact Nancy Magnuson at advance@wsu.edu or 509-335-3574.