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MSU ADVANCE Program Receives Grant to Continue Education on Minority Implicit Bias in STEM

Murray State
The Murray State ADVANCE program (left to right: Dr. Robin Zhang, Dr. Paula Waddill, Dr. Claire Fuller, Dr. David Balthrop, and Dr. Maeve McCarthy) will receive their second three-year grant to continue education on implicit bias in STEM fields.

Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are often subject to implicit bias in search, tenure, and promotion processes. Murray State's ADVANCE program just received their second three-year grant to raise awareness and educate the community on these biases within STEM and the importance of avoiding them. Professor of mathematics, Maeve McCarthy, Ph.D., visits Sounds Good to discuss this new grant and the ADVANCE program.

"The ADVANCE program focuses on the recruitment and retention of women faculty in STEM and in science. We are very excited at Murray State to be funded for our second grant from the National Science Foundation to do some work on improving the status of women faculty at Murray State," McCarthy explains. "Back in 2011, I worked for the Association for Women in Mathematics part-time. They sent me to a conference called the ADVANCE Conference to represent them and learn about programs to improve the retention of women in science throughout the country. So I went to that conference, became very excited about the opportunity, and came home and formed a team of faculty to go after one of these grants from the National Science Foundation. It took us a couple of tries, but we got a Catalyst Grant in 2016. That was a three-year grant so that just finished. We managed to translate that into a second grant, another three-year grant, for one million dollars that is studying the recruitment and retention of women faculty in STEM."

There is a growing body of literature on STEM diversity which examines the underrepresentation of women and minorities in these fields. Implicit bias, also known as unconscious or subconscious bias, is defined as "an association or bias that is outside of our conscious control. It starts in early childhood as we get conditioned by society in our everyday lives, and affects how we perceive things, which in turn affects our decision-making processes, whether or not we are consciously aware of such associations or biases." These implicit biases can manifest in the form of gender inequity in speaking opportunities at various STEM conferences and meetings, little to no progress in racial and ethnic diversity, and minorities leaving STEM fields at higher rates than their majority counterparts.

"The big takeaway for me is that there is always more work to do. Equity is an ongoing process. People have their inherent biases whether they realize them or not," McCarthy says. McCarthy goes on to explain that subconscious biases might be more dangerous than conscious bias. "We're less aware of it. We make more mistakes because we're less aware of it. We think in the moment we're being fair and doing the right thing, but we're not necessarily always doing that. All of us have our own biases and assumptions that we make about people without necessarily being aware that we're doing it. [We need to improve] the education of Murray State employees and the community to increase our awareness...we have to think about our decisions consciously each time we make a decision...that's how you address it, through education."

"Last week, we had Power Play from the University of New Hampshire come to Murray State and do some interactive theatre work to show us about bias in search processes and also in tenure and promotion processes. We're interested in adopting that to Murray State and having our own programs on those subjects that we'll launch next year," McCarthy says. 

"[Last week], these actors would play a scene, and then the audience would interact with them and ask questions of the characters, get perspective, get details, get background story, and have the opportunity in some cases to replay the scene," McCarthy continues. "What if the conversation had gone differently? What if the decision had gone a different way? What would that mean for the particular person who was at risk of bias or poor decision making?"

"Some of it was more subtle than other examples," McCarthy explains. "Throughout the plays they performed for us, there were maybe six or eight examples of bias that occurred. Some of them were really blatant. There was one example of a faculty member who was basically setting up a new faculty member for failure and welcoming her to the department, but yet doing so in such a way that she could not possibly succeed in that department. There were other things in the process where it was not clear there was a bias occurring. I think that biases are very difficult to identify sometimes. We like to think that we're all fair and equitable in our own way. We like to think the best of ourselves. One thing that was true of all the characters that were portrayed last week was that all of them had their best interest of their department at heart, but those best interests were coming from different places. So how they approached what they viewed as the best interest of the department might be completely different. It might be that they were emphasizing a particular research area, or they might be emphasizing a particular curriculum or particular group of students, so there were lots of different ways in which the bias could occur, even in a subtle way."

The Power Play sessions were attended by "all sorts of parts of the university," McCarthy says. "It was not just STEM faculty. We had great participation from across campus."

To find more information on the ADVANCE program, "you can go to, and we would be more than happy to talk to anybody about some of the details of what we're doing. We're very excited about this work. It has many different components. The interactive theatre is just one of them. We have a great mentoring program that's been in existence for three years now that we're thrilled to continue, and we have other programs, too. We look forward to working with Murray State faculty and administrators as we move the needle a little bit," McCarthy concludes.

Tracy started working for WKMS in 1994 while attending Murray State University. After receiving his Bachelors and Masters degrees from MSU he was hired as Operations/Web/Sports Director in 2000. Tracy hosted All Things Considered from 2004-2012 and has served as host/producer of several music shows including Cafe Jazz, and Jazz Horizons. In 2001, Tracy revived Beyond The Edge, a legacy alternative music program that had been on hiatus for several years. Tracy was named Program Director in 2011 and created the midday music and conversation program Sounds Good in 2012 which he hosts Monday-Thursday. Tracy lives in Murray with his wife, son and daughter.
Melanie Davis-McAfee graduated from Murray State University in 2018 with a BA in Music Business. She has been working for WKMS as a Music and Operations Assistant since 2017. Melanie hosts the late-night alternative show Alien Lanes, Fridays at 11 pm with co-host Tim Peyton. She also produces Rick Nance's Kitchen Sink and Datebook and writes Sounds Good stories for the web.
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