Jodi O’Brien

Professor & Chair


As a sociology professor at Seattle University for more than 20 years, Dr. Jodi O’Brien specializes in social psychology, religion and sexuality.

Beyond the classroom, she’s spearheading a revolutionary research program as principal investigator of a nearly $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advance Program.

Known on campus as SU Advance, “The National Science Foundation—Institutional Transformation” grant, now in its fourth year of a five-year program, is titled What Counts as Success? Recognizing and Rewarding Women Faculty’s Differential Contribution in a Comprehensive Liberal Arts University.

Through this university-wide grant, the goal is to advance women and minoritized faculty in higher education. SU ADVANCE is evidence-based, consisting of focus groups and in-depth interviews with nearly 80 faculty members. The original steering group began in 2016 with seven faculty members, which today has expanded to more than 30.

“In earlier decades, women—and certainly men—of color and LGBTQ individuals were denied access to faculty jobs,” says O’Brien. “Simply by being who they were, it was difficult to get such positions.”

One of the biggest barriers women and minoritized groups now face is “often the work they want to do—such as community-based efforts—is not seen as valuable. It’s a barrier because it means you have to somehow change yourself and your passions and most importantly, your expertise, to fit the institution.”

Despite the success of higher education fostering more diversity among faculty, O’Brien says “institutional policies, practices and orientations haven’t truly changed.”

“As we continue to hire more diverse faculty,” O’Brien continues, “we need to also keep pace with transforming our institutional systems so they make the best use of the talents, contributions and expertise of those faculty”—a point O’Brien is highly passionate about and considers the way forward.

By 2020, the intent is to establish both “new processes for promoting faculty for mission-oriented activities and training our faculty leaders (deans, department chairs and evaluation committees) to participate in holistic faculty formation, which is very different than simply evaluating faculty performance,” O’Brien states.

O’Brien sees the grant as an exciting opportunity to apply strategic and intentional thought to revision practices that represent “the potential vibrancy of the faculty and subsequently the students.” She hopes to eventually apply the results among the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. O’Brien smiles and acknowledges “it’s ambitious!”

Collaborating alongside Dr. O’Brien is CoPrincipal Investigator Dr. Jean Jacoby, associate dean and director of the Project Center at the College of Science and Engineering.

“One of Jodi’s many strengths is her ability to forge partnerships and engage faculty from across campus in SU ADVANCE, which has resulted in a cohesive, enthusiastic team working toward a shared goal,” says Jacoby. “Her leadership exemplifies her deep commitment to the university’s mission and values. In working closely with her during the past five years, my appreciation of Jodi as a distinguished social science scholar and a strong, reliable project leader has only grown.”

Jodi O’Brien

January 4, 2020

Links to check out: