About 1 in 10 construction science students are women, and the annual Homecoming service project represents a diverse cross-section of volunteers.
Clemson has always felt like home for Anderson native Ally Bedenbaugh.
Now in her senior year at the University, the construction science and management major finds herself leading the annual Homecoming home-building Habitat for Humanity service project on Bowman Field. It’s both a service to her community and a calling from her childhood. Just as important, it is also a unique part of her Clemson Experience.
Women in construction
As a child, Ally liked to draw and sketch. And while that may not sound like an unusual hobby for a child, her source of inspiration took some by surprise, her family recalls.
“Most kids draw landscapes or pictures of something they’ve seen, but Ally would draw floor plans for houses,” says Kenneth Bedenbaugh, her father. “That was kind of unique.”
As Kenneth took on home improvement projects or engaged in woodwork, the youngest of his three daughters was never far away. Expressing a keen interest from an early age, Ally learned how to use tools and discovered a passion.
She was raised in the shadows of Clemson University — Ally graduated from T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson, South Carolina — so the campus adorned with Tiger Paws seemed like a logical next step in her education. Kenneth ’89 and his wife, Michelle ’91, met at Clemson. Her older sisters, Molly and Emily, are also Clemson graduates.
Both of her older sisters pursued medicine for their studies and careers: Molly is a doctor and Emily a nurse. Ally went in her own direction.
“She was thinking architecture at one point but ended up in construction science and management because there’s a little more ‘doing and building’ things,” Kenneth says.
A place to grow
Once accepted, it didn’t take long for Ally to notice she was not like most of her peers. According to Clemson’s Interactive Factbook, the Fall 2021 semester saw an enrollment of 242 men and just 28 women in construction science and management. Nationally, in 2018, women represented just 1.5 percent of the construction workforce, according to the National Association of Women in Construction.
“You definitely notice it,” Ally said. “There are probably four or five women total in my classes. But I don’t feel out of place at all.”
She brings a work ethic and a passion that has earned her the respect of her peers and mentors. And when the student chapter of Pickens County Habitat for Humanity found itself in search of an assistant coordinator for its annual Homecoming build in 2021, Ally volunteered.
She spent the majority of that Homecoming Week shadowing her classmate, Addison Dicks, at the build site, and when he graduated in May, she eagerly stepped into the role of coordinating the Bowman Field build.
Women make up 9.9 percent of the construction industry in the United States. —National Association of Women in Construction, 2018
“We organize around 300 volunteers, mostly students, each year,” she says. “We basically build the shell of a house, with the flooring, walls, roofing and siding. We will complete the build on Friday of Homecoming Week, and then the home will move into the local community for a family in need.”
Bob Hogan has served as faculty adviser for the Habitat chapter for about five years, following in the footsteps of Chris Heavner. A professor emeritus of architecture and former director of undergraduate studies at Clemson for many years, Hogan has marveled at Ally’s leadership.
“Her temperament is even-keeled, and I haven’t seen her get flustered at all leading up to this week,” he says. “She’s been a fundraiser even though we have a chair for that. She’s a spokesperson, in addition to all of her other duties as coordinator. When an issue comes up, you can see the wheels turning as she’s thinking about how to handle it.”
Ally cited Hogan’s mentorship as a significant factor in providing her with confidence. She also fell back on past internships, which have provided her with more than 1,200 hours of experience in the field.
The gender pay gap is significantly smaller in construction occupations, with women earning on average 99.1 percent of what men make, compared to 81.1 percent across all occupations. —National Association of Women in Construction, 2019
Included was a stint earlier this year with JDavis Industrial Services, a local construction business. After learning the company’s project management systems, she was given the opportunity for field experience.
“I absolutely loved coming home dirty,” she said. “I loved the hands-on work of pouring concrete, installing siding and painting. At the end of the day, I felt productive.”
As the Habitat for Humanity home springs to life on Bowman Field, Ally’s parents, who still live in Anderson, have made several trips to campus to check in on their daughter and show support as she leads such an important event.
It is the 30th home constructed through the Habitat for Humanity volunteer build. Hogan says with each passing year, he grows more anxious as costs for materials continue to rise and fundraising efforts are strained. But he also enjoys the same excitement working with students who never question their collective ability to complete the project — students like Ally.
“Ally’s going to be great in this profession,” he said. “She knows where she’s headed and what she wants. She has a passion for this work and will do really well, both from the standpoint of working with clients and with those who will ultimately work for her.”
The Pickens County Habitat for Humanity at Clemson University (Campus Chapter)
•29 homes completed since 1993.
•30th build taking place October 12-21, 2022.
•250-300 volunteers participate in the annual home build.
•~1,800 volunteer hours worked on each build.