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Leading the Way: A Conversation with Daryl Chubin

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By Elizabeth Litzler and Judy Cordes

Unfortunately, male advocates for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sometimes seem to be a shadowy myth. We know they exist, and we know we want more of them, but they often are not at the top of our lists when we think of leaders in our field. Fortunately, the WKC committee had the opportunity to talk with Daryl E. Chubin, a thought leader and advocate for women in STEM. He not only destroys the myth that women play the primary roles in increasing women's representation in STEM, but he would be the first to tell you that if we are to succeed, the field needs the support and involvement of more men advocating for women in STEM.

"This work calls you; I don't think you choose it."

Daryl Chubin started his career as an academic in sociology, but after many years he decided that there had to be more to life than being a scholar and tenured full professor (even at Georgia Tech). His research interests grew out of his dissertation focusing on the career patterns of sociologists and from reading the Kerner Commission Report while in college. These things made him very interested in the racial divide in this country and sparked a lifelong interest in career-inequalities and interventions to reduce them. His research interests were also greatly influenced by two strong female role models while in graduate school and in his first position out of school. He watched these women try to negotiate a system clearly not designed for them or women in general. These experiences resulted in a focus on how science policy influences participation in STEM workforce development. Specifically, he wanted to move from thinking only theoretically about issues of race, ethnicity, and gender to trying to put these issues into a policy and practice context. Thus evolved his efforts on the broader impacts of policy and law as they relate to diversity and science education and his interest in advocating for women and minorities in STEM fields.

Daryl has been an advocate for women and minorities in STEM fields throughout his governmental and non-profit positions. As part of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, he published reports on science education in America. In 1988, one of these reports, called "Educating Scientists and Engineers: Grade School to Grad School," led to a position at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and resulted in the implementation of recommendations from the report. While at NSF, he saw the passage of the Government Performance and Results Act, which resulted in greater scrutiny of NSF-funded programs in education, revealing a crucial need for program and project evaluation.  This became his mandate as a division director.

This was also a time when a clearer understanding was developing of the need for more women and underrepresented minorities to pursue careers in STEM. After serving in a position at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and returning to NSF and the National Science Board office, Daryl moved to the non-profit sector. His time at the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) was a true "eye opener." As a majority Vice President working in a minority-serving organization, he saw racism and sexism in a different way:   how diversity issues can be "ghetto-ized" within organizations and fields, as well as a dire need for members of the majority group to take on the issues surrounding diversity. "Thank god for minority-serving organizations and women-serving organizations; but until the majority of the populations which we inhabit take these issues as their own, I don't think we make very much progress--which is the reason why I am always in favor of white men doing the kinds of things that I try to do."

The Center for Advancing Science and Engineering Capacity

Over the years, Daryl continued his work to promote women and minorities in STEM and watched the ups and downs of progress. The Supreme Court decisions that came out of the University of Michigan admissions cases were a catalyst for his next career move. (The University of Michigan was sued by applicants for racial discrimination when they were denied admission. In 2003 the Supreme Court in one case-Grutter- upheld the use of race as a consideration for admission, but ruled against the University's method of considering race in another case-Gratz.) In 2004, with seed money from The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, he founded the Center for Advancing Science and Engineering Capacity, which is part of AAAS. The Capacity Center supports itself in two ways, through individual institutional contracts (fee for service) and federal or private grants. The Capacity Center provides technical assistance to tie a knowledge base (like the WEPAN Knowledge Center) to policy and law and to translate this information into practice. Chubin says: "We are living at a time when things like the WEPAN Knowledge Center help us to understand:   the WKC synthesizes and it distills; it is one-stop shopping." (We didn't pay or prod him to say this, we promise!)

With individual institutional contracts, the Capacity Center helps a university identify faculty and student participation problems (recruitment, retention, advancement, etc.).  It then does a needs-assessment and reports back to the university on where the university stands compared to peer institutions. Finally, the Capacity Center offers a plan of action that can be implemented with or without their assistance. The most important stipulation is that the university must "OWN the problem and the change." This is why the contracts are usually only for one year or less. The university must commit to change (a mantra and goal shared by WEPAN).

A key lesson learned at the Capacity Center is that "all technical assistance is local. You really need to spend some time in person, on site, working with the people who are going to try to implement change." In addition, "There needs to be some capacity on the part of the institution to be receptive to people who come from outside the typical disciplines they are used to working with. It is my sense that engineering thinks that only engineers can solve their problems and that is one of the reasons problems persist."

Enter Daryl Chubin: Outsider / Mythbuster

Daryl challenges university leaders and faculty to define their expectations, and he requires them to own the processes of change. Often, he takes the opportunity to say things that insiders can't say, which sometimes can make people uncomfortable.  Questioning assumptions and the way things have always been done is a way of triggering some re-examination of institutional and disciplinary culture.

As an example, the problem with under-participation of women and minorities on university faculties can be improved by revising the faculty search process, in part by making the faculty more "vertically accountable" to the university mission and by instituting a more "holistic review" process. Chubin suggests that such accountability be built into the faculty search/recruitment process to help people see that certain methods of searching for faculty will result in the same slate of non-diverse candidates as has been generated in past searches. Rather, he suggests that there are ways to "certify," at the department chair and dean levels, that the search committee has done a sufficient job of reaching out in diverse ways to expand the qualified candidate pool. Making these changes is neither easy nor fast, yet over time will lead to more diverse faculty composition. So many unwritten rules exist in academic departments and Dr. Chubin has found that many "sins" are committed under the cover of "merit." "Institutions seeking diversity of all sorts must intervene in those traditional procedures to get different results. Excellence in the 21st century must include equity, not be pitted against it."  More generally, accepting input and guidance from those outside of engineering, who see the competition for talent differently, must become part of the solution. 

How Do We "Change" the Future?

So how do we improve STEM diversity at universities and in the workplace? How do we engage more faculty and academic leaders in making this change and owning the importance of this change? Daryl has several ideas. We need to break free of our comfort zones and work with others who may not look or think like us (general counsels and diversity officers on campus are good examples). Chubin says: "We are just very comfortable in those kinds of enclaves with people who look like us...I don't understand why we can't recruit more men to these issues. It is important to provide support groups for women, but I would like to see far more diversity within these groups (like WEPAN).  Men must be involved or issues of participation will continue to be marginalized and seen as the domain of special interests instead of vital for the success of the institution as a whole."

Chubin also suggests that minority-serving institutions and diversity-based organizations need to work together with majority-serving institutions on these issues. Along with providing professional development focused on diversity to those already in our universities, companies and organizations, Daryl advises that doing this sort of advocacy in "stealth mode" is more likely to encourage participation and culture change.

For Future Leaders

Dr. Chubin laments, too, that we become so narrowly focused in our career paths that we end up forgoing possibilities that might make us more well-rounded individuals and put us on a quicker and clearer track to leadership. Those interested in diversity, advocacy, policy, and education should consider how to acquire a broader perspective, perhaps by working in different organizations and different types of positions. Daryl said, "I advocate risk-taking when it comes to one's career... you can even try this later on, when you have established yourself won't give you as large a single retirement account, but will be far more rewarding and can have much more impact." He also reminds us that having a PhD does not mean that you are "fully formed and don't need any more professional enhancement." We all have more to learn and understand.


Finally, we need to look at advocacy for women and minorities in STEM as an "intergenerational set of issues." More needs to be done to attract students to issues of participation since they will not be solved in our working lifetimes. We need to supply students with the consciousness, tools, and training to carry on what we have inherited or started.


Dr. Chubin has been many things over his career-faculty, federal staff, change agent, thought leader, advocate, and mythbuster. To learn more about his background, research, policy, and technical assistance work at the AAAS Center for Advancing Science and Engineering Capacity, please visit the following web sites: AAAS Science Talk and AAAS Centers. He also blogs on science education at AAAS MemberCentral

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