Purdue Profiles: Mary Ellen Bock

October 19, 2010

Mary Ellen Bock, professor of statistics and presidential ADVANCE advocate. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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Mary Ellen Bock, professor of statistics, has experienced the benefits of diversity in both her personal life and career. Through her work with the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE-Purdue program, for which she serves as presidential ADVANCE advocate, she hopes to help improve faculty and student success by increasing diversity across campus.

Why did you decide to become a part of ADVANCE-Purdue?

I was acquainted with some people who are involved, and I was impressed by their advocacy. I was also impressed that the leader of this grant is President Córdova. So when I stepped down as head of the statistics department on July 1, it was a good opportunity to become involved. For me, it is about helping to make changes in Purdue’s STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Why did Purdue implement ADVANCE?

We have realized that Purdue students are ultimately going to live and work in a very diverse workplace and community. The workplace will likely have much more ethnic and gender diversity than that of their parents. ADVANCE wants to play a part in preparing them for that world. We seek to foster a more diverse workforce in STEM disciplines at the University.

What is the focus of ADVANCE-Purdue?

ADVANCE aims to develop systemic approaches to increase the representation of women in STEM disciplines. Of course, this has a broad effect -- it affects all of the students and faculty members. It generates a ripple effect around the globe because Purdue has a big worldwide influence.

An important goal of the Purdue-ADVANCE program is to engage all faculty members in bringing about this kind of transformation. We hope to increase the success of women faculty in STEM, as well as the number of women of color in STEM disciplines who are in tenure-track positions.

A key tool for doing this is the Purdue Center for Faculty Success, which focuses on programming and activities for faculty on the West Lafayette campus. Purdue-ADVANCE wants to connect the research about this and make the center an integral part of the campus, along with institutionalizing the ideas that lead to faculty success.

What does your role as presidential ADVANCE advocate entail?

I would like to help make connections between departments and ADVANCE. I hope my experience being a department head will offer some insights about the institutionalization of the ideas ADVANCE develops regarding faculty success. I’m also interested in connecting more faculty members with the cultural centers – the Black Cultural Center, the Latino Cultural Center, the Native American Educational and Cultural Center.

How did you become involved with women’s advocacy, one focus of ADVANCE?

I spent a couple of years at National Science Foundation and had a great education there about what was happening around the country. It opened my eyes to the fact that there were great opportunities for women in the science and engineering disciplines but far fewer were participating than you would expect.

What is your favorite part of working with ADVANCE-Purdue?

I get the chance to meet interesting and talented faculty from all across the campus. And then there are the speakers and advisors from outside Purdue who come to ADVANCE events. They’re national experts and extraordinary people.

What is ADVANCE-Purdue working on right now?

The ADVANCE-Purdue Center for Faculty Success sponsors many activities ranging from Work-Life Balance events to a Mentoring Institute. The ADVANCE team also recently participated in a conference for pre-tenure women led by the Women’s Resource Office.

I recently participated in a search chair workshop on faculty hiring they sponsored. The workshop helped the participants think about how to remove unnecessary bias in the search for new faculty. The workshop reminded us that we all have preconceived notions that may affect our judgment.

More information

For more information on ADVANCE-Purdue, visit www.purdue.edu/dp/advance.