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KU representatives help effort for gender equity in chemistry

Department has rated highly in number of women faculty members

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Kristin Bowman-James, director of Kansas Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research and professor of chemistry, was a member of the steering committee of a workshop aimed at increasing gender equality in the field of chemistry in Arlington, Va.

"Building Strong Academic Chemistry Departments Through Gender Equity" was held in late January and featured 55 chemistry department chairs from universities across the United States and 60 other academic, government and national chemistry leaders. Joseph Heppert, chair of the chemistry department, and Jeffrey Aube, professor of medicinal chemistry and director of KU Chemical Methodology and Library Development Center of Excellence, also attended.

The National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes for Health sponsored the workshop.

While the number of women undergraduate and graduate students in chemistry has increased over the last 25 years and one-third of chemistry doctorates are now awarded to women, the number of women in faculty at major research universities has remained low. Participants at the workshop examined causes for the gender disparity and made recommendations for action to change it.

Bowman-James is no stranger to encouraging gender equity in chemistry.

She arrived at KU in 1975 as the department's only female faculty member. As department chair from 1995 to 2001, she helped recruit other women to the department and by 2002, the seven female faculty members represented 29 percent of the 24 faculty members. The national average is only 12 percent.

The percentage was the highest among the United States' top 50 chemistry departments, according to Chemical and Engineering News.

She received awards in 2002 from Iota Sigma Pi, a professional society that encourages women in chemistry, and the American Chemical Society for her efforts to boost gender equity in her field.

KU's Department of Chemistry is no longer No. 1 in the nation but still rates highly. There are currently five female faculty members. Bowman-James said that while the numbers look good, there is still work to be done.

"There still might be a glass ceiling, but we definitely put a dent in it," she said.