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Mary Ashley, PhD

Dr. Ashley is a tenured Professor of Biological Sciences. Dr. Ashley is the creator of LEAP (Landscape, Ecological, and Anthropogenic Processes) and Principal Investigator.  She is also a Lead Facilitator for the WISEST (Women in Science and Engineering System Transformation) program.

Dr. Ashley has been actively involved in the WISEST programs since its inception.  She started as the Facilitator for Biological Sciences in 2003 and continued through 2009. She has served as the first Lead Facilitator of WISEST. As Lead Facilitator for WISEST, Dr. Ashley, conducted on-on-one interviews with every woman faculty member in the 11 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) department to find out about their work climate as UIC faculty, and to discover ways in which WISEST may help them in their career development.

Once the interviews were concluded she spearheaded the movement to convince the Provost to take steps to improve the number and the climate for women faculty at UIC. In particular, to recruit more women faculty into the science, engineering, and mathematics departments, establish infant care services on campus, provide gender and diversity training to search committees, heads, and deans, achieve gender equity by adopting a pre-emptive retention program by rewarding successful women faculty at UIC before losing them to other institutions, to promote education regarding gender issues by seminar series, as well as more occasions for women to present their research on campus. 

In 2004 Dr. Ashley drafted and send a letter to the Provost containing the above recommendations, co-signed by 10 other Facilitators. Since that time, many of the recommendations have been adopted, while others continue to be key issues being worked on by WISEST and the Climate Task Force.

Dr. Ashley also participated in meetings of the WISEST Executive Committee as spokesperson for the group’s 11 STEM departments of senior faculty Facilitators. She voiced their individual concerns and recommendations to groups, which included Provost, the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, the Director for the Center for Research for Women and Gender, the Vice-Chancellor for Research, among others.

As a Facilitator for Biological Sciences, she has built coalitions with facilitator’s from the ten other STEM departments. Working with the other female Full Professors in STEM and the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, she strives to improve the climate for women faculty and decrease their sense of isolation in those departments where they are a distinct minority.

Dr. Ashley assembled an interdisciplinary team from several colleges, many departments at UIC, and Chicago area partners and wrote an NSF IGERT proposal for graduate training program. The IGERT was funded to $2.8M in 2006 with Dr. Ashley as Principal Investigator, and thus was born LEAP (Landscape, Ecological, and Anthropogenic Processes). This is a multidisciplinary training program focused on understanding ecological processes in human-dominated landscapes. A coalition of practitioners of scientific disciplines with relevant economic land social sciences disciplines, LEAP has the overarching goal of improving the integration of human activities with those of native species, natural communities, and ecosystems. Already, an impressive amount publications with student authors has resulted.

The project spans three colleges, six departments, and many Chicago partners, and will train a total of 25 doctoral students over 5 years.  This specifically benefits UIC women, a large percentage of the doctorial students supported by the LEAP grant are women.  LEAP has generated local and national recognition as an innovative new approach to training UIC students for careers in environmental science, policy, and administration.

Dr. Ashley has been especially active in mentoring female, minority, and international students. She has mentored more than 25 graduates students, half of them women, since joining the faculty as UIC in 1992.  Many of the students Dr. Ashley has mentored have gone on to win an array of prestigious awards and fellowships. In 2009, Dr. Ashley was on of three recipients of the UIC Graduate Mentoring Award. 

Serving as a senior advisor for the Science Curriculum Development Project in the UIC College of Education, Dr. Ashley, helped bring in two NSF-funded grants for this work.  She also teaches one course each year in the UIC College of Education program, ‘The Biological World’, to UIC students who will become future k-8 teachers.

Dr. Ashley continues to be a role model for female graduate students and young faculty member, having successfully balanced a career and family, she has two children, all while pursuing and attaining tenure track, keeping up with her research, mentoring graduate students, and playing an active role in improving conditions for women and minorities all over UIC.

Past Woman of the Year winners


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