As a minority student entering the College of Engineering at the University of Delaware five years ago, Manuela Restrepo knew that having someone believe in her abilities was critical.
During her sophomore year, Restrepo found that “someone” in Jenni Buckley.
For her positive influence on Restrepo and thousands of other girls and young women at UD and across the country, Buckley, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, has received the 2016 E. Arthur Trabant Award for Women’s Equity.
In 2009, Buckley and orthopedic surgeon Lisa Lattanza co-founded the Perry Initiative, aimed at inspiring young women to be leaders in engineering and orthopedic surgery, when they offered the first Perry Outreach Program for high school students in San Francisco.
“We started Perry with just 15 girls, and I quickly realized what an impact you can have if you share what you do with people and show them how passionate you are about it,” Buckley says.
Today, the nonprofit runs some 30 day-long outreach programs nationwide, with participants performing mock orthopedic surgeries and conducting biomechanical engineering experiments.
“The Perry Initiative’s programs have reached thousands of young women over the past six years while also offering UD students the opportunity to teach and mentor high school girls,” says Amy Trauth-Nare, associate director at UD’s Professional Development Center for Educators.
In 2014, Buckley and Trauth-Nare co-advised an interdisciplinary team of senior design students, including Restrepo, in the development of Orthopaedics in Action (OIA)—curriculum kits that teach science, mathematics, and engineering concepts through medical experiments. The kits are now sold nationally through Sawbones, a leading manufacturer of anatomical models.
With Buckley’s guidance and support, Restrepo gained not only a sense of belonging at UD but also valuable experience through Perry and OIA. When she graduated in 2015, she was offered a full-time job as a program specialist at Perry, where she is now responsible for the logistical aspects of the organization’s programs.
For Sarah Masters, who earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2014, Buckley has grown from adviser to mentor to colleague and friend.
Now serving with Buckley as co-adviser of the Society of Women Engineers at UD, Masters says that Buckley tirelessly supports her mentees while giving them the freedom to grow. She also credits the young professor with taking the time to get to know her students and understand their potential.
“Over the past three years, Dr. Buckley has given me mentoring and leadership opportunities that pushed me outside my comfort zone but allowed me to grow tremendously,” Masters says. “Her guidance and support have had a profound impact on my life.”
Buckley’s approach to engineering education is to apply nationally what she learns locally for the greatest impact.
“If I visit a couple of middle school classrooms a year, I can affect maybe 60 girls,” Buckley says. “But through programs like The Perry Initiative, we can reach thousands. Perry has expanded beyond my wildest dreams, and its success made me realize that I wanted to be an educator full time.
“But as engineering educators, we have to be careful not to throw away our engineering hats — we have to engineer our impact,” she adds. “It’s easy to focus on one student success story and then move on to the next one, but we have to think more broadly if we want to increase the number of women enrolling in engineering programs.”
For Buckley’s colleague Dustyn Roberts, also an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, the award came as no surprise.
“As an engineer, when Jenni sees something that needs fixing, she fixes it,” Roberts says. “The time, money, effort, and coordination are all details to her. When it comes to women’s equity, her work with the Perry Initiative is the obvious example. What started as a weekend project has turned into a legitimate nonprofit that reaches thousands of girls a year, and she has never taken a salary from it.”
“She is selfless and giving of her time, more so than anyone I have ever met,” Roberts adds. “Having Jenni as a colleague is a constant motivation to never accept things the way they are if they could be better.”
About the E. Arthur Trabant Award for Women’s Equity
This award was established in recognition of President Emeritus E. Arthur Trabant’s support for women’s equity at the University of Delaware. The recipients and their families are honored at a luncheon in the spring semester.
The E. Arthur Trabant Award for Women’s Equity is given annually to any individual, department, administrative unit, or committee who has contributed to equity for women at the University.
It defines “contributions” broadly to encourage as wide a range of nominations as possible, but examples might include developing exemplary programs or curricula, implementing innovative policies and procedures related to women’s equity, and enhancing existing services to women.
Nominations for the award are accepted from any member of the University community. Self-nominations must be accompanied by at least one supporting letter from outside the unit.