Three years have passed since The University of Arizona landed a major National Science Foundation grant with the charge to disband gender inequity within the academy while also promoting equity across campus.
The $3.3 million, five-year "ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Award: Eradicating Subtle Discrimination in the Academy," carries a three-fold mission: to promote faculty diversity, create an equitable climate within the institution and to support women toward leadership roles and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
At the Arizona Health Sciences Center, physiology professor Heddwen Brooks received an ADVANCE award in collaboration with Dr. Janet Funk, assistant professor in the department of medicine, to explain what happens to kidney function with the loss of estrogen and other changes associated with menopause.
Research has already shown that the evolution of kidney damage is different in men and woman, but Brooks is curious about exactly why. Ultimately, Brooks hopes her research will lead to ways to reduce diabetic kidney disease and also find alternatives to hormone replacement therapy.
"We need to understand so we can then come up with better interventions and also treat kidney damage better," Brooks said, adding that she is using a model of menopause developed by Patricia Hoyer, a UA professor of physiology, pharmacology and toxicology. Brooks will begin her new ADVANCE-supported research next month.
She added that the ADVANCE grant is of particular importance because it will allow her to work in an interdisciplinary fashion with a team that will collect data necessary to lead to more large-scale research projects and to be able to eventually seek funding from agencies like the National Institutes of Health and American Diabetes Association.
"This grant allows new collaboration on things people haven't worked on before. This is a great opportunity to combine our ideas," Brooks said. "The collaborative effect of the grant, especially because it is for women, is unique. I have never seen a grant quite like this and, personally, I think it's a positive."
An ADVANCE award also helped pediatrics professor Anne Wright, and pathology director of research Mark Nelson, assess an intervention on faculty diversity in the UA College of Medicine to determine whether the intervention aided in the diversification of applicants for faculty positions.
The research project involved a search committee orientation that was created as a result of an ADVANCE grant. The research involved collecting data on the college's applicant pool and analyzing those who had been hired.
"Basically, there is a drop off in the proportion of women who go from medical students to assistant, associate and then full professors," Wright said, adding that this is a nationwide problem.
"One of the things I believe is if you can present data, data can change the way people think about things," Wright said, adding that her research continues.
"ADVANCE has done a lot in terms of dissemination of information to deans and department heads," she added, noting that preliminary findings indicate intervention has the potential to improve candidate pools. "If you can do careful research and communicate it to people, then you can change behavior."
The fist ADVANCE seed grant at AHSC, awarded back in 2007, went to Daniela Zarnescu, in the UA department of molecular and cellular biology and to Carol Gregorio, now head of the department of cell biology and anatomy, on "Fragile X Proteins and Translational Control in Cardiac Muscle."
Zarnescu said the grant not only allowed her to take her lab in a novel and exciting direction, but it also assisted her in making new contacts among the cardiovascular faculty at the UA College of Medicine. She said that as junior faculty member, she also appreciated the chance to collaborate with a senior researcher.