While Franklin & Marshall College was among the pioneering institutions in the latter half of the 20th century to establish teaching positions for faculty couples, two geoscience professors led the vanguard, and one in that duo helped turn work-life balance into campus policy.
Thirty-two years after Carol and Andrew de Wet became the first dual-career faculty members at F&M, and less than 15 years after Carol de Wet helped establish policies for child care and child-birth considerations for tenure-track female faculty, her work is being honored.
The Dr. E Paul & Frances H. Reiff Professor of Geosciences has received the Association for Women Geoscientists Outstanding Educator Award for 2021.
“The committee indicated your outstanding service in all three categories recognized by the award, but many were extremely impressed with the powerful statements written by your nominators on the vast impact your contributions to education, outreach, and mentoring have had on countless individuals and the geoscience community,” wrote Rutgers University Geoscience Professor Lauren Adamo, chair of the association’s award committee.
In particular, Adamo wrote, de Wet’s colleagues cited her contributions, “especially in trying to better the female geoscience community with initiatives such as ‘stop the clock’ and ‘dual careers’ [that] have had and will continue to have long-lasting impacts on generations of female scientists.”
Perhaps difficult to fathom today, not more than 30 years ago colleges like F&M wrestled with the idea that married faculty could work in the same institution, and that women could have a career and raise a family and do both successfully, but with support from their employer.
“I entered the middle stages of that becoming something new and different, to see women as faculty members in geoscience departments,” de Wet said, pointing out that a mere 50 years ago the field of geosciences was dominated by men.
While faculty members in the same field often marry, the concerns about a couple taking jobs at the same college or university included salaries, benefits and tenure. However, in the late 1980s, faculty couples started arranging with institutions to share one position and salary.
With her husband, Andrew, now professor of geosciences, de Wet proposed that F&M allow them to share a position that opened for a sedimentologist, her field specialty. Andrew is a geographic information systems specialist (GIS).
“Andy and I had just moved to the States, having finished up our Ph.Ds at Cambridge in England, and were looking for jobs,” de Wet said. She recalled offering F&M administrators, “You get two areas of expertise in geology for the price of one, so to speak, and we both get a job in the same place.”
The de Wets shared one salary, but each received their own office and computer. After two years the position became tenure-track, and they both re-applied and received tenure.
“For us it was a fantastic, wonderful thing that F&M did and I think it was ahead of its time,” Carol de Wet said. “After that it became a relatively common approach.”
The transformation for higher education was hardly smooth; colleges struggled to accommodate women who were married or who wanted to get married or who planned to have children and everything that entailed, from the proper amount of time off for births to providing day care.
“There was this mindset that needed to be changed,” said de Wet. In 2006, she became special assistant to F&M President John Fry and Provost Ann Steiner on women and family issues. “We all worked to create a policy, the childbirth and adoption policy, that codified and simplified the process for a female faculty taking time off to give birth.”
They also created policies such as flextime to allow parents extra time to get their children to and from school, made childcare accessible with a childcare center, and offered “stop the tenure clock” to allow pregnant professors more time to attain tenure so they could focus on adjusting to their infant while not worrying about deadlines.
“F&M has always been a forward-thinking institution in these areas and often in the forefront,” de Wet said.
More than three decades later, during which time she and her husband worked together and raised a family while pursuing their teaching careers, de Wet helped with that mindset. “It was really important to me to try and help other women move themselves, their careers and their families forward.”
More Earth & Environment Faculty Earn Awards
Faculty in the Department of Earth & Environment have earned a number of awards recently. The recipients are:
--Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Eve Bratman won the 2020 Lynton Keith Caldwell Prize for her 2019 book, “Governing the Rainforest: Sustainable Development Politics in the Brazilian Amazon.” The Caldwell Prize, an award from the American Political Science Association, recognizes the best book on environmental politics and policy published in the past three years.
--Tim Bechtel, teaching professor and director of the Science Outreach program at F&M, received the Geological Society of America 2020 Public Service Award for, among other efforts, facilitating and directing college student involvement in public school STEM education; organizing free, family-oriented, hands-on science activity events; giving talks on his own research or Earth Science current events to civic organizations including libraries, Chamber of Commerce and Rotary; and using his professional geophysics expertise for humanitarian land mine detection and de-mining applications.
--Roger Thomas, John W. Nevin Memorial Professor of Geosciences, Emeritus, received the Paleontological Association’s Best Paper Award for 2020 for his paper, “Pelagiella exigua, an early Cambrian stem gastropod with chaetae: lophotrochozoan heritage and conchiferan novelty.” His work highlights a recent discovery in Pennsylvania of fossil snails that confirms an evolutionary link to worms, predicted 25 years ago by molecular biologists.