Dónal Óg encourages students to pursue a STEM career

This week, STEM South West takes place virtually. EMMA CONNOLLY talks to Donal Og Cusack, who is taking part in the event, aimed at students with an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, to look at a career in these industries
Dónal Óg encourages students to pursue a STEM career

Donal Og Cusack, who is taking part in th STEM South West 2021 event this week. Picture: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

FROM starting his career as an electrician, to now working as a senior engineering manager for a leading global pharmaceutical, Dónal Óg Cusack is proof of the world of opportunities that exist in the STEM sector.

And now he wants to share his story with young people to show them both the different routes into the sector, along with the exciting career options that await them there.

The GAA stalwart is part of STEM South West 2021, which will take place virtually on January 13.

The event is aimed at students with an interest in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, and its goal is to encourage Ireland’s future workforce to look at a career in these industries to show them how exciting, interesting and exhilarating the subjects can be in the real world.

Saoirse O’Shea, Regina Mundi enjoying the display at the Analog Devices stall at the STEM South West 2019 showcase, last year.
Saoirse O’Shea, Regina Mundi enjoying the display at the Analog Devices stall at the STEM South West 2019 showcase, last year.

That’s where Dónal Óg comes in. The same passion he shows for GAA, he also has for his career, and he wants young people, male and female, to know it’s all within their reach.

He says the first message he’ll be sharing on the evening is that STEM is for everyone, and to dispel the myths of it being a traditionally male and tech-driven space.

Donál Óg has worked with medical device company DePuy Synthes, Johnson & Johnson in Ringaskiddy for around 20 years. He’s a Senior Engineering Manager with an Engineering, Science and Technology Division, leading a digital and automation systems team worldwide.

But after doing his Leaving Cert, he served his time as an electrician’s apprentice with Sean Ahern Electrical on Cornmarket Street.

Donál Óg worked in various fields in industry as an electrician, before going on to work in different electrical engineering fields, working his way up to his current position.

Far from belittling his original career choice as an electrician, his second message is to illustrate the various paths into the industry.

“There’s a view that there’s only one path into the industry and that it’s just for a certain cohort of people but nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

Going forward, he said, the industry needs a blend of people, from traditional scientists, to communicators to problem solvers.

Borrowing a well-used phrase he said: “The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again. We need people to be upskilling and to be ready to meet both the demands and opportunities that lie ahead.

“Technology is not going to go into reverse, and a huge part of our future is in STEM.”

Organisers say the virtual event will be a fun and educational STEM experience for young people, their parents, guidance counsellors and teachers, that will provide a window into the world of STEM: the types of careers that will be available in the sector in the future and the pathways that students can follow to achieve their career goals.

Dónal Óg urged young people, and people of all ages, to attend the event if they have just a shred of curiosity.

“It will really open up to you how broad an area it is, and how it needs people from all disciplines,” he said.

Dr Fiona Boyle, ACE Agritech Centre of Excellence working with 3D glasses at the STEM South West 2019, last year. Picture: Darragh Kane
Dr Fiona Boyle, ACE Agritech Centre of Excellence working with 3D glasses at the STEM South West 2019, last year. Picture: Darragh Kane

The exhibition will feature demonstrations in virtual reality, robotics and astronomy, as well as thought-provoking talks from experts in the areas of construction, information technology, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, electronics, weather-forecasting, agri-technology, environmental engineering, and cybersecurity.

Marguerite O’ Sullivan, Senior Engineering Strategy Leader, STEM SW Chairperson spoke of the wealth of opportunities Ireland’s STEM sectors have to offer generations to come.

She said: “With demand for STEM professionals and associate professionals in the EU expected to grow by approximately 8% between now and 2025, much higher than the average 3% growth forecast for all occupations, the opportunity for young people to enjoy a successful career in the Irish STEM sector has never looked brighter.”

Dozens of other speakers are lined up for the evening, including the following industry stalwarts: Laurence O’Rourke, European Space Agency Engineer; Niamh Shaw, Scientist, Engineer and acclaimed STEM education and space enthusiast’; Ciara Sheehan, founding member, and Jillian O’Donoghue, committee member of the WiSTEMCIT-MTU — a student-led society that was set up in 2019 to enourage women across all STEM sectors to reach their ambitions and fulfil their career goals and Madeleine Murray co-founder of Change by Degrees.

There will also be speakers from global pharma and tech giants including Johnson and Johnson, Gilead, Plas, Pepsico and more.

Shane Ruddle, Director of Engineering, Gilead, concluded: “Providing STEM education of the highest quality is essential if Ireland is to deliver on its ambitions to be a hub of technological creativity and an innovation leader.

“Innovation 2020, Ireland’s strategy for Research and Development, Science and Technology, highlights the critical importance of excellence in STEM Education to ensure the continuous development of a pipeline of talent to support both Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and an active ecosystem for indigenous start-ups.”

The event runs from 5-9pm on Wednesday, January 13. See stemsouthwest.ie to register to attend.

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