MSU researchers seek to empower black female faculty members

Four Mississippi State faculty members were organizers of an Atlanta conference last week designed to help enhance the higher education careers of fellow female African Americans.

The Feb. 9-11 Georgia event was made possible by a nearly $57,000 National Science Foundation grant awarded last year to Linda T. Coats, Melody T. Fisher, Pamela K. Scott-Bracey and LaShan Simpson. Their specific goal: to help current -- and future -- minority females better navigate the tenure and promotion processes at predominately white institutions.

“Preparing Black Female Faculty for Prominence, Power and Presence in the Academy” is the conference’s formal title.

Coats, an educational leadership professor, is the grant’s principal investigator. Assistant professors Fisher of the communication department, Scott-Bracey of instructional systems and workforce development and Simpson of agricultural and biological engineering are co-principal investigators.

In addition to examining issues of workplace diversity, conference participants worked to “illuminate gaps in existing literature to help target future research, and propose pathways for assisting African American faculty and graduate students to succeed,” Coats said.

She is an MSU doctoral graduate, while Fisher completed her terminal degree at the University of Southern Mississippi: Scott-Bracey, at University of North Texas; and Simpson, at Clemson University.

“African American female faculty members often face deep-rooted challenges that threaten their continued participation in STEM fields,” Coats said, in noting how the conference members will be learning from nationally recognized researchers representing multiple STEM disciplines and academic institutions.

STEM is the often-used acronym to collectively describe academic studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Coats said she and her MSU colleagues will compile a formal report for the NSF “that synthesizes current research and suggests what future research should entail.” They also will begin organizing a social network to “to link tenured African American female faculty with their graduate and undergraduates students to facilitate the sharing of experiences that fosters upward mobility in academic environments,” she said.

Ultimately, the project’s impact will reach across STEM and social science disciplines and institutional types -- predominately white, historically black and community college -- “to increase the diversity and quality of the national STEM workforce, which in turn, will help the United States maintain its status in a global society and marketplace,” Coats said.

For more on the NSF grant, see

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

Sammy McDavid | Public Affairs

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