Clemson’s TIGERS Advance program, which aims to improve gender and racial equity at the University, is recruiting for its fourth Trailblazers class.

Trailblazers is an academic year program for all faculty that focuses on developing gender equity in leadership. Participants engage in action research leadership projects and developing leadership skills.

tigers advance logoTrailblazers is one of the initiatives created by TIGERS Advance, which launched in 2016 with a $3.4 million grant from a National Science Foundation (NSF) program called ADVANCE: Increasing Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers. The greater goal of TIGERS – Transforming the Institution through Gender Equity, Retention and Support – Advance is to build a culture encouraging diversity, inclusiveness and respect for all members of the Clemson Family.

Director Margaret Ptacek said the program began as both a research project and a program to increase the number of women faculty in STEM fields. Since its inception, TIGERS Advance has grown to include all disciplines as “the result of its innovative and systemic institutional transformation approach to reduce gender inequity and all forms of social injustice, and provide opportunities for all faculty, both men and women, to advance their careers and enjoy work/life balance as members of Clemson University,” according to its website.

Because it is a partnership between NSF and Clemson University, the principal investigator on the grant is Provost Bob Jones. While the grant will run out in September 2022 (after being extended a year to make up for the “lost” year due to the pandemic), Ptacek said the University will continue supporting the most important and effective TIGERS Advance initiatives indefinitely.

One of those is the Trailblazers initiative, which so far has had more than 80 participants who meet monthly in three-hour workshops to listen to speakers, examine case studies and discuss how to increase gender equity in departments and colleges, especially at the leadership level.

Since Trailblazers began, at least 10 women who went through the program have been promoted to leadership positions, among them Amy Lawton-Rauh, who now is associate provost for faculty affairs, and Saara DeWalt, the chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, Ptacek said.

“Trailblazers creates a space that I find is difficult to create in our lives,” said Lori Pindar, director of Undergraduate Studies in the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, who was in last year’s Trailblazer cohort. “While discussions and actions around equity happen, they often can be lost amid the stream of other events and activities that require our attention.”

Assistant professor Cynthia Sims and clinical assistant professor Angela Carter of the Department of Educational and Organizational Leadership Development in the College of Education and Karen High, professor in the Department of Engineering and Science Education in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, are leading this year’s Trailblazer program.

“Being a Trailblazer is an investment in one’s self as we focus on leader and leadership development,” Sims said. “The Trailblazer program provides a safe place to try out leadership roles and identities. It is not a big bang project, but one that is evolutionary in its approach.

“I believe the Provost’s Office, TIGERS Advance, the Trailblazers and the Office of Inclusion and Equity have started us down that road and Clemson is at a better place toward realizing gender equity than when I started here six years ago,” she said.

Trailblazers helps participants have what Ptacek called “a more socially just lens” when they are involved in faculty job searches to ensure every faculty member receives the same treatment and opportunities.

“I hope the legacy that I leave for Clemson is that it’s a more diverse and equitable environment for women faculty when I leave than when I came here,” she said.

The deadline to apply for the 2020-21 Trailblazers program is Aug. 31. The application and additional program information are posted online. The first meeting is Sept. 4.