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Access and Definition: Exploring how STEM Faculty, Department Heads, and University Policy Administrators Navigate the Implementation of a Parental Leave Policy

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

ADVANCE and Related Faculty Issues

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.124.1 - 25.124.22



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Paper Authors


Corey Schimpf Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Corey Schimpf is a Ph.D. student in engineering education with interests in leveraging virtual environments for learning and using sociological thinking for human centered design.

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Marisol Mercado Santiago Purdue University, West Lafayette


Alice L. Pawley Purdue University Orcid 16x16

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Alice L. Pawley is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education and an affiliate faculty member in the Women’s Studies Program and the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue University. She has a B.Eng. in chemical engineering from McGill University, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering with a Ph.D. minor in women’s studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is Co-PI and Research Director of Purdue University’s ADVANCE program, and PI on the Assessing Sustainability Knowledge project. She runs the Research in Feminist Engineering (RIFE) group, whose diverse projects and group members are described at the website She is interested in creating new models for thinking about gender and race in the context of engineering education. She was awarded a CAREER grant in 2010 for the project, ”Learning from Small Numbers: Using personal narratives by underrepresented undergraduate students to promote institutional change in engineering education.” She can be contacted by email at

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Access and Definition: Exploring how STEM Faculty, Department Heads and University Policy Administrators Navigate the Enactment of a Parental Leave Policy A key feature in various reports exploring women’s persisting underrepresentation inSTEM faculty positions in the US is the need to disseminate policy information to allstakeholders involved in issues relating to women STEM faculty underrepresentation andretention. Indeed, the National Academies of Science Beyond Barriers and Bias: Fulfilling thePotential of Women Academic Science and Engineering (2007) and the AAUW’s Why so Few?(2010) identify institutional policies, like parental leave, as a way to address an outmodedinstitutional structure that is increasingly at odds with the experiences of all faculty. We haveundertaken a deep, comprehensive and systematic study of one such policy at one Midwesterninstitution, exploring the recently instituted parental leave policy that allows women and menfaculty and staff to take a paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. The study uses Dorothy Smith’s institutional ethnography as a method to examine howpeople’s everyday real world experiences are mediated by textual documents (here the parentalleave policy). We interviewed eligible STEM faculty, STEM department heads and universitypolicy administrators to understand how the policy was being enacted or not in the everydaycircumstances of STEM faculty and how other university members jointly navigate this process.We have presented prior work at ASEE 2011 on this data; our new paper will delve deeper intotwo select themes: the difficulty STEM faculty experienced in accessing the policy to meet theirneeds; and the challenges administrators had at understanding the exact definition of what thepolicy offered faculty. An emerging theme is that issues of access and definition seem to varyacross STEM departments. With our focus on this access and understanding, we integrated ouranalysis with the work of sociologist Manuel Castells (2000) who examines flows of informationbetween and within networks of people (here we focus on within networks, specificallydepartmental networks and the larger university network). By using this framework we canexamine the different network structures and flows of information within departments which arenested within a larger university network. Disseminating information and coordinating action to address these ongoing issues is acomplex problem as evinced by the findings in our initial study (2010). Combining institutionalethnography’s ability to reveal how organizational policy affects how people interact about andchoose to enact or not enact a policy with Castells work on flows of information within networksstands to advance our collective understanding of access and understanding of these sorts ofpolicies and suggest routes to improve both for STEM faculty. Findings can offer illustrativelessons about how these processes operate potentially informing other instances of similar policyintroduction and maintenance. Further study of this policy comes at a time where broad changesin family friendly policy at NSF have emerged on the horizon; thus this study also offers abenchmark against which to contrast once these larger policy changes have come into effect.

Schimpf, C., & Mercado Santiago, M., & Pawley, A. L. (2012, June), Access and Definition: Exploring how STEM Faculty, Department Heads, and University Policy Administrators Navigate the Implementation of a Parental Leave Policy Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--20884

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