STEM Woman Leader of the Day- Cora Marrett (NSF)
Submitted by Tommy Cornelis on August 29, 2012
Cora Marrett- Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)
Cora B. Marrett is deputy director of the National Science Foundation, the federal agency that supports research and education in all fields of science and engineering. Throughout her career, Dr. Marrett has been a leader in America’s STEM enterprise, where she has pioneered organizational changes to meet critical challenges in education, the workforce and broadening diversity in STEM. Besides several top leadership roles at NSF, Dr. Marrett has held positions on faculties, in academic governance and professional societies. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Why do you believe STEM education and workforce are important to our nation?
America has always aspired to be a society that embraces learning as a fulfilling and rewarding activity of everyday life—as well as a path to national prosperity. Economic growth in advanced economies like the United States is driven by the creation of new and better ways to produce goods and services, especially in high-tech industries.
But despite high national unemployment numbers, we hear time and again that many, many jobs in high-tech industries are going unfilled because workers don’t have the necessary skills to succeed. Survey after survey shows that American students are consistently being outperformed by their foreign counterparts in STEM subjects. Numbers of foreign undergraduate and graduate students seeking STEM degrees in their countries dwarf those of American students seeking the same degrees here at home. Students today are less educated than the previous generation.
A learning society ensures that all citizens have the opportunity to develop their full potential both in the classroom and on the job. When some young people have more opportunity than others for quality education and training, we all pay. One study concluded that “educational gaps impose on the United States the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession" amounting to trillions of dollars of lost productivity.
The solution lies in removing barriers not only for students from different demographic groups, but among other key players such as high schools, community colleges, universities, and the private sector. Collaborations with high schools can help reduce the barriers that students face in making the transition to colleges and universities. Cooperation between industry and educators can inform the design of programs and provide opportunities for students to gain needed workplace skills.
NSF's Advanced Technology Education program, or ATE, aims to improve the education of science and engineering technicians for the high-technology fields that drive our nation's economy. ATE focuses particularly on community colleges, which now enroll 6.5 million degree-seeking students, or nearly half of all college undergraduates. An additional 5 million students are enrolled in workforce training and other non-credit courses. These students often receive job offers before they complete their training and remain in high demand.
A solid grasp of STEM knowledge is critical not only to our nation's prosperity but to a well-informed citizenry who will ultimately decide in the voting booth the social, economic or even moral value of scientific and technological advances.
What can we do to ensure more women leaders in STEM?
Developing ways to get more and different people into the STEM “pipeline” is only part of the solution. Keeping them there is another. While women have made significant gains in higher education—accounting for about 41 percent of all new PhDs in science and engineering—they occupy only about 28 percent of full-time tenured or tenure-track positions in academia. Women now represent the largest growing segment of our science and engineering workforce.
Family formation, notably marriage and childbirth, accounts for the major loss of female talent from the job pool between the receipt of a PhD and achievement of a tenured position in the sciences. Family-friendly policies help prevent them from being forced to make difficult decisions.
NSF’s Career-Life Balance Initiative is a set of policies and practices that aims to increase the placement, advancement, and retention of women in STEM disciplines. Career-life policies for young researchers do exist, but are currently spread across federal research sponsors and academic laboratories in an inconsistent patchwork. Benefits differ vastly by institution and agency with regard to who is covered and for what.
We will collaborate with our higher-education partners, professional societies and other associations, and other government agencies, to facilitate the provision of parental medical leave, accommodations for dual-career couples, and part-time work options.
NSF is already incorporating family-friendly practices and policies in its young-faculty CAREER program, and all post-doctoral programs.
As the budget allows, we will integrate work-life balance practices into additional programs, including the Graduate Research Fellowship program and the ADVANCE program, and eventually throughout the entire NSF portfolio.