A group of female faculty members from the College of Engineering and Department of Computer Science has received a Mellon Mutual Mentoring Team Grant to support women academics in their professional development. The goal of the project is to establish a sustainable network – what the UMass team calls an Engineering and Computing Women Faculty Group (ECWG) – which will provide mutual mentoring among female faculty of all ranks and varied backgrounds. The team leaders of the ECWG are Assistant Professor Mi-Hyun Park of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and Professor Aura Ganz of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. “This [group] will enable the participants to navigate professional development in this competitive world,” as the ECWG proposal explains.

“We will establish a network for professional/social best practices, including monthly lunch meetings to discuss issues related to career and work-life balance, seeking practical solutions.”

In addition, the ECWG will invite prestigious women engineering professors from outside the group to present research seminars and share their experiences of how to navigate an academic career as a woman in engineering. Moreover, the group aims to devise creative approaches to developing long-term relationships among female faculty in the College of Engineering and Computer Science Department and provide continuous support, which the group foresees “will lead to a thriving academic career for all involved.”

The Mellon Team Grants support faculty-driven, context-sensitive projects based at the departmental, school/college, interdisciplinary, or inter-institutional levels.

“In the literature of faculty development, mentoring is frequently cited as one of the few common characteristics of a successful academic career, particularly for women and faculty of color,” as the Mellon program explains traditional academic mentoring. “Yet mentoring, as most of us now know it, has traditionally been defined by a top-down, one-on-one relationship in which an experienced faculty member guides and supports the career development of a new or early-career faculty member.”

By contrast, according to the Mellon program, “mutual mentoring” distinguishes itself from the traditional model by encouraging the development of a broader, more flexible network of support that mirrors the diversity of real-life mentoring in which no single person is required or expected to possess the expertise of many. Within this model, early-career faculty build robust networks by engaging multiple “mentoring partners” in non-hierarchical, collaborative partnerships to address specific areas of knowledge and experience, such as research, teaching, tenure, and work-life balance.

The Team Grant Program provides support of up to $10,000 for each team per year. All projects must be designed primarily for the benefit of pre-tenure faculty.  (May 2012)