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Clemson researcher receives grant to study engineering enrollment of women, minorities

CLEMSON, S.C. Clemson University assistant professor of engineering and science education Julie Martin Trenor has received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award to study social factors that influence under-represented students' decisions to enter engineering fields.

Trenor will use the $415,430 grant to apply the theory of social capital to better understand undergraduate engineering students' academic and career choices related to engineering. Social capital is defined as resources gained from relationships, which can help them achieve goals that they might not be able to reach on their own. For example, a professor might put in a good word for a student to obtain an internship.

Trenor plans to develop a conceptual model for understanding how engineering undergraduates develop, access and activate social capital in making education and career-related decisions based on data collected at six institutions. In particular, she intends to determine if under-represented students, such as women, minorities and first-generation college students, use different mechanisms to access social capital. The educational component of the grant involves providing research-to-practice training for university engineering outreach, recruitment and retention practitioners using webinars and workshops.

Despite efforts in recent years to increase the number of women and minorities in engineering, female enrollment has remained virtually stagnant for 25 years, while African American and Hispanic enrollment has increased modestly. The field of engineering has been compared to a "closed club," which may create barriers for first-generation college students' entry, Trenor said.

"I am committed to increasing participation of women, racial and ethnic minorities and first-generation college students in undergraduate engineering majors," Trenor said. "I know this award will be a major impetus in helping me achieve my career vision, which is to be a national catalyst for change in increasing the diversity of students in engineering."

Trenor joined the Clemson faculty in 2008 after serving as the director of undergraduate engineering student recruitment and retention at the University of Houston. She is the president of the national not-for-profit organization Women in Engineering ProActive Network. Trenor holds degrees in materials science and engineering from North Carolina State and Virginia Tech universities.


Contact: Julie Trenor
Clemson University

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