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Professor establishes research fund for women in STEM

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas professor has established a new fund that seeks to help level the playing field for underrepresented groups, and especially for women, within the faculty of STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — and related social science research.

Mary Hill, a professor in the Department of Geology, has established the Mary C. Hill Research Fund for Women in the Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. The fund will provide support for assistant and associate professors in natural sciences, and for assistant and associate professors in social sciences whose research focuses on communication, attitudes and policies related to natural science issues.

“Our faculty give so much to KU in their contributions to students, their disciplines and making the world a better place. I am grateful to Mary for extending her contributions to her colleagues and future generations of KU faculty,” said Carl Lejuez, dean of the College.

One issue that motivated Hill is that women in academia face a gender gap in salary. Reports from organizations such as the American Association of University Professors show a gender pay gap that’s especially prominent at the full professor level.

“I have been extraordinarily fortunate and did not experience some of the difficult situations that many of my friends and colleagues faced. I’ve had many advantages, and I want to share those advantages with others,” Hill said.

She hopes her fund will benefit KU recruitment of women faculty members.

“My undergrad program in geology at Hope College was 50 percent women; my graduate program was 25 percent women; my first job at the U.S. Geological Survey had a number of women. In the federal research lab I then entered, it was 18 men and me. I wondered, ‘Where did the women go?’” Hill said.

“That was in the ’70s and ’80s, and while the gender ratio of students seemed to level out, it is taking a very long time to see change take hold in professional fields, especially among faculty. I am hoping this fund will make a difference for women and other underrepresented groups who are working to build academic careers.”

Hill was also motivated by the work of organizations such as the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO). Both groups have been supporting women’s education for over a century. Hill’s family has been involved with PEO for generations. She hopes others will be inspired to contribute to her fund at KU, or establish funds with similar emphasis on underrepresented groups in other fields at KU and other universities. Contributions to the Mary C. Hill Research Fund for Women in the Sciences can be made at www.kuendowment.org/give.

Before joining KU as a professor in 2014, Hill spent more than 30 years with the U.S. Geological Survey, focused primarily on groundwater research and projects, and integration of computer models and data. Her research focus was hydrogeology, hydrology, computer simulation of environmental systems, and quantification of uncertainty and risk. At KU she uses her expertise to focus on how to inform public policy with scientific data and insight.

The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences will oversee the application process for the fund, led by Bob Goldstein, associate dean for natural sciences and mathematics.

Funds for the award are managed by KU Endowment, the independent nonprofit foundation serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.