THE biggest misconception people have about engineering is that it’s not a compassionate career.
That’s according to Aisling Hahessy, a senior structural engineer in the buildings team at Arup.
Aisling, who is currently the lead structural engineer for the concrete works for the expansion at Mallow General Hospital, will be a keynote speaker at the eighth annual I Wish STEM showcase on February 10.
The event is designed to inspire, encourage and motivate young female students to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.
Over 15,000 female secondary school students from Ireland and across the globe will attend the free, virtual event to hear Aisling and other high-profile speakers deliver their key message which is firstly that STEM is a career that’s open to everyone, regardless of gender.
And secondly, that it’s one where you can help people and shape the world.
Aisling, who was awarded Engineer of the Year by Engineers Ireland in 2021, is passionate about promoting engineering as a career and was a panellist at the first I Wish showcase in 2015.
She’s firmly of opinion that an engineering career is both impactful and meaningful, and allows you to have a direct impact on society and people’s lives on a large scale.
One of the more rewarding aspects of her career is seeing the direct contribution she has made in reducing inequalities in the world alongside the wider engineering community.
Since joining Arup she has worked on a wide range of international projects including buildings and railway stations in Ireland, Canada, the UK, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Peru, as well as community development projectsin Rwanda, Uganda and Bangladesh.
A few years back, she also travelled to Rwanda with a group of volunteers for a bridge construction project. The bridge allowed locals access healthcare and schools during rainy season, when they’d otherwise have been cut off.
“That was a pivotal moment in me understanding the impact engineering can have on people’s lives,” she said.
Amy Fishbourne, Business Development and Marketing Lead of Arup at One Albert Quay said that female students crave role models like Aisling, and exposure to other young STEM professionals.
“Since Arup got involved with the event we’ve noticed that girls struggle to make that connection between shaping a better world and STEM careers; and when they hear Aisling’s story it’s a real light bulb moment for them,” she said.
Amy said that I Wish is instrumental in starting conversations among the female students who attend: ‘I remember in 2016 one student coming up to our stand saying that after hearing the speakers she was really interested in becoming an engineer, but that her parents were encouraging her to do medicine.
Since 2015 they’ve had 280 Arup staff involved at the event and they also reserve some of their TY placements for girls they meet at I Wish, and encouragingly she is seeing the situation improving at industry level.
“For example last year, 51% of our graduate intake was male, and 49% female which was fantastic. But more still needs to happen. We need diversity in all its forms, both because it’s the right thing to do but also because it’s good for business.
It’s a win-win.”
Aisling agrees there’s still a long way to go, to encourage more girls into the industry.
A lot comes back to confidence, and a feeling that ‘boys are just better’ at STEM according to I Wish director Sharon Lombard.
Last year they surveyed female students’ on their attitudes to STEM.
Of the 2,449 who took part, 77% reported a lack of confidence in their ability in STEM subjects, highlighting the real need to de-gender these subjects.
The survey found that for Leaving Cert 2021, just 13% of females took construction studies at higher level and only 8% took engineering.
However, 55% said they’d like to have engineering or construction studies taught at Leaving Cert, but the subject is not available in their school.
Some 85% said didn’t see enough role models in STEM; 88% didn’t have enough information about courses and 89% said they didn’t have STEM work experience.
Sharon said: “Our catchphrase is ‘no girls gets left behind.’ We want every girl in Ireland to have equal access to STEM, to have enough choice. We want them to know that it’s ok to be a female engineer or an IT analyst,” said Sharon.
The I Wish objective is to make this ‘a whole of society’ issue, to work with girls, teachers, parents to empower girls to think positively about STEM and their role in it, to change the narrative and show girls how STEM changes the world for the better, so girls know that their voices at the STEM table.
“We need to move the dial and ensure the next generation are raised by empowered parents,” concluded Sharon.
Registration is open for the eighth annual I Wish STEM showcase which takes place on Thursday, February 10.
Featuring over 70 inspirational female STEM leaders and gender equality advocates, speakers set to share their stories and experiences include Mary Robinson, the first woman President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Mairead McGuinness, the European Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and the Capital Markets Union; and Orla Keane, Deputy Ambassador at the Embassy of Ireland in Washington DC will also speak along with London Breed, the 45th Mayor of San Francisco, who is also the first black woman to be elected mayor of the US city.
Further speakers include Anna Hill, founder and CEO of River Cycleway Europe, a design innovation company pursuing the positive disruption of urban transport sectors across Europe;
Brenda Romero, an award-winning game designer; and Imelda Hurley, CEO at Coillte, Ireland’s state forestry company. To be opened by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, there will be five different sessions running across the day, each approximately 90 minutes in length, hosted by RTÉ TV Presenter Sinead Kennedy.
Also taking to the virtual stage throughout the day will be speakers from leading science, technology and engineering firms including Deloitte, Arup, AWS in Communities, Dell Technologies, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, PepsiCo, Stripe and Stryker.
Last year’s digital showcase was seen by 15,000 people in 19 countries and similar numbers are expected this year.
For more information and to register for the free event see iwish.ie/register. To follow on social media, use the hashtag #IWish22 #nogirlgetsleftbehind and visit the following channels: Twitter: @IWish_ie Facebook: @IWish Instagram: @iwish_ie LinkedIn: @iwish