NJIT women scientists and engineers use new information technologies to tackle isolation on campus

Integrating new location-aware computer networks with old-fashioned human networks, researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have developed an innovative solution to the problem of isolation that faces women in the academic science and engineering workforce. The project, NJIT Advance, is funded by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Despite decades of taskforce recommendations, women faculty at technological institutions still too often find themselves positioned on islands, disconnected from the mainland of academic life, explained the projects leader, Nancy Steffen-Fluhr, PhD, director of NJITs Murray Center for Women in Technology. Women researchers have plenty of human capital--the what-you-know component of career success--but, because they are isolated, it is much harder for them to accumulate social capital, the who-you-know connections through which insider information flows.

NJIT Advance will address this problem by seed-funding small cross-disciplinary communities within which women faculty can do collaborative research, with each other and with male peers, from a position of numerical strength. The researchers will then interconnect these communities using traditional face-to-face networking strategies in combination with 21st--century pervasive information technology. We want to see whether we can use location-aware mobile communication systems (called P3 tools) to increase information flow among collaborators who are housed in different departments, said Steffen-Fluhr. The P3 tools, which link people-to-people-to-geographical-places, are being developed as part of NJITs Smart Campus project, a location-aware community cybersystem supported by a separate NSF grant.

To assess the effectiveness of the projects strategy, Steffen-Fluhr and her colleagues will collect faculty data from the P3 study and other sources and use it to create a dynamic computer map showing changes

Contact: Sheryl Weinstein
New Jersey Institute of Technology

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