A Pioneer of Inclusivity and Equity at Georgia Tech Reflects on 20 Years of ADVANCEs

Posted June 29, 2021

Twenty years ago, Mary Frank Fox helped create Georgia Tech’s ADVANCE program to help bring more women into academic science and engineering careers. At the time, she was continuing to carve out a new field of research centered on the study of women in science – work that would eventually earn her accolades from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which cited her “national leadership on issues related to diversity, equity, and excellence in science.”

After two decades at the forefront of profound institutional change as an ADVANCE Professor in Ivan Allen College, Fox is stepping away from the position, effective June 30.

“I'm not leaving Tech,” said Fox, Midwest and Michigan native who earned undergraduate and doctoral degrees in sociology from the University of Michigan. “I'm keeping my commitments to my students, my research, and service to the School, College, and Institute. The ADVANCE Professor position wasn't meant to be permanent for any one individual, and it's time for a transition.”

An announcement of Fox’s successor as the Ivan Allen College ADVANCE Professor is expected soon.

Kaye Husbands Fealing, dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, called Fox a fantastic colleague who has made huge contributions to diversity at Georgia Tech.

“She conducts herself with the utmost decorum, and she cares deeply about maintaining the integrity of processes and Georgia Tech. Her knowledge of faculty governance is extensive, and she makes sure she has dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's before making a decision. Mary is also great at leading disparate faculty to concrete conclusions and action."

Fox Played Key Role in Creation of ADVANCE at Georgia Tech

In 2001, the National Science Foundation (NSF) began awarding grants to universities to establish ADVANCE programs designed to increase the participation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers. The long-term objective is to identify and implement initiatives, practices, and policies that support a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive workplace, both locally and nationally.

Fox, a faculty member in the Ivan Allen College since 1993, took a leadership role in securing one of the grants and was the lead author of the proposal that created the Georgia Tech NSF ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Program.

Fox's vision called for establishing a sustainable network of ADVANCE professors — one for each Georgia Tech college — comprised of distinguished researchers and role models who would advise campus leadership on gender equity and inclusion policies. They also would provide data-driven recommendations for faculty reappointment, tenure, and promotion.

“How we can make Georgia Tech a more inclusive and welcoming place for everyone, especially women, has been a major push for us the past couple of decades,” said Steven W. McLaughlin, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “Mary has been a pioneer in that journey. Our ADVANCE Program that she originated takes a bottom-up, top-down approach to policy, ensuring that diversity and equity become embedded and sustained in our culture."

Expanding the ADVANCE Mission

When the NSF grant expired in 2007, Georgia Tech picked up and expanded the ADVANCE Program to include support and retention of women and minority faculty. Fox played a leading role in launching the ADVANCE Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Initiative that would give rise to the campus-wide Equity, Diversity, and Excellence Initiative (EDEI) in 2012.

“The EDEI was initiated to focus on faculty mentoring and transparency in all faculty processes, including retention, promotion, and tenure," said Archie Ervin, vice president of Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. “Bias awareness and accountability are also included so that we can make processes equitable for all involved.

“Mary is a tremendous intellectual leader who has epitomized what the ADVANCE professorship should mean,” he added. “She brings ideas to the table that are grounded in research and policy analysis, especially as they relate to gender equity and gender equity transformation issues at Georgia Tech.”

The ADVANCE goals are complemented and informed by Fox's groundbreaking research.

“I address ways in which the participation and performance of women and men reflect and are affected by social and organizational features of science and academia,” she said. “My work has shown that participation and performance are shaped not only through characteristics of individual scientists, but also through characteristics of settings in which academic scientists and engineers are educated and work, and of other social institutions such as family systems that interact with science and academia.”

Helping Create a New Field

As an academic subject, the study of women in science was virtually nonexistent when Fox was in college. Over the course of her career, she has brought acceptance and national recognition to the issue through her research and ADVANCE work and numerous articles in 60 different scientific and scholarly journals, books, and collections.

In 2017, Fox was elected to be a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science “for distinguished research on women and men in scientific organizations and occupations, and for national leadership on issues related to diversity, equity, and excellence in science,” read the citation. The recognition was a tremendous honor for someone who helped build an important new research field.

Fox's inexhaustible commitment to her research extends into the classroom as well.

“In academia, our main output is talent, and the ways in which she works with her students to develop their talent and expertise is phenomenal,” said Husbands Fealing. “They really value what she is putting into them as individuals for their professional development. In fact, she uses a large part of the stipend she receives as an ADVANCE professor to support her student collaborators.”

The comment pleased Fox. “I love my students!” she smiled. “Their enthusiasm, curiosity, energy, and questions are what keeps me vital.”

Throughout her involvement with the ADVANCE Program, Fox has cultivated ongoing communication and collaboration among Tech leadership, other ADVANCE professors, college deans, and faculty. It helps keep ADVANCE relevant and focused on realizing the Institute's diversity and equity goals, now and in the future.

“I expect ADVANCE to continue to be an integral part of Georgia Tech even as it evolves and develops from the original design,” Fox said. “I remain committed to the continuing success of the program, and if I can help in any way, I stand ready to do it.”

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Mary Frank Fox, professor in the School of Public Policy, is stepping down as ADVANCE Professor in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

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Michael Pearson