Clare Boothe Luce grant helps build new future for women in engineering

Megan O. Conrad, Ph.D.
Megan O. Conrad, Ph.D. is excited about the work that awaits here at University of Detroit Mercy.

University of Detroit Mercy’s College of Engineering & Science is now home to the only current Clare Boothe Luce Professor in Michigan. 

Funded by a five-year, $476,000 grant from Henry Luce Foundation’s Clare Boothe Luce Program, Megan O. Conrad, Ph.D., will serve as a role model and mentor for women in the STEM fields.

The Clare Boothe Luce Program’s mission is to increase participation of women in the sciences and engineering at every level of higher education and serves as a catalyst for college and university efforts toward this goal.

As an undergraduate engineering student at Marquette University, Conrad usually found herself surrounded in class by male students, both in the seats and in front of the class. But when she returned to Marquette for her doctorate in biomedical engineering eight years later, she found herself working with more female students.

That may have been partly a change in times, Conrad said, but she also believes the biomedical engineering field is attractive to women interested in engineering who don’t want to enter the automotive industry.

 “I think there are as many young women interested in science as there are men, but maybe they don’t feel comfortable pursuing those fields,” Conrad said, adding that her male colleagues have always supported her work and treated her well. Still, she appreciates the philosophy behind the grant-making body’s aim. “Having more females involved creates a community and will help students feel more comfortable following their interests.”

A new program

In April, Conrad attended an event at which Detroit Mercy Mechanical Engineering and Nursing students presented assistive living devices to the disabled people for whom they were designed. This event, at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit, was the culmination of Faces on Design, the capstone project in the University’s Mechanical Engineering program.

“I was particularly impressed by a team that built an extension into the base of a cane that, when activated, could help a user with mobility issues lift their foot into or out of a car,” Conrad said. “The extension efficiently collapsed back into the cane so the patient could immediately use the cane for walking. Through my experience conducting disability and rehabilitation research, I have met many patients who could use a similar device and I feel it is very marketable.”

“We wanted a faculty member who could expand upon what we have built over the past several years with the College of Health Professions and the Mechanical Engineering capstone course,” said the College’s former Dean, Gary Kuleck.

“And to have such a strong candidate essentially in our back yard was even better,” Kuleck added. Conrad most recently was assistant professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Oakland University. “This grant is a recognition of the University’s commitment to creating opportunities for women in STEM fields.”

The grant to Detroit Mercy will fund a tenure-track professorship.

 “The field of engineering has a shortage of women engineers and I am certain that Dr. Conrad will inspire prospective students we may have missed in the past,” Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Darrell Kleinke said.

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