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Speech by the Tánaiste at Science Foundation Ireland’s “Young Women in Engineering Scholarship Awards”

Thursday 23rd October 2008

It is a great pleasure to be with you here this morning for the 2008 DELL/Science Foundation Ireland Young Women in Engineering Scholarship Awards. Now in their third year, these awards aim to attract and encourage more high-achieving young women to undertake engineering courses at third-level and, importantly, supports them throughout the duration of their undergraduate careers.

This year, I understand that competition for the 10 awards was exceptionally high,and I would personally like to congratulate you all.

I would like to now formally announce the recipients of the 10 awards:

  • Grace Burke and Anna Killeen from Christ King Secondary School, Co. Cork.
  • Justine Forkin from Our Lady’s Grammar School, Co. Down.
  • Saorlaith Ni Shuibhne from Coláiste Ghobnatan, Co. Cork.
  • Stephanie Quinn from Loreto Secondary School, Co Wexford.
  • Emma Tarpey from Castletroy Community College, Co. Limerick.
  • Niamh Nash from Laurel Hill Coláiste, Co. Limerick.
  • Máire Kane from Dominican College, Co. Galway
  • Leah McCabe from Coláiste Chiaráin, Co. Limerick
  • Carol Murphy from St. Mary’s High School, Co. Cork

Congratulations to all of today’s award recipients - you are all at a key stage in your lives and in your educational journey. I am greatly encouraged – as a woman, as a public representative, and as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment – by the level of enthusiasm, leadership and commitment shown by these young women and also the many others who applied this year.

The success of the awards is testament to SFI and DELL’s commitment to seeking out and supporting Ireland’s engineering talent.

It is quite appropriate that we are gathered here today, in the wake of Budget 2009 which was, by any objective estimation, a major statement of intent as regards prioritising engineering and science in this country.

Budget 2009 saw the Government reiterating its commitment to investing in engineering and scientific research by announcing capital funding of over ¤300 milllion for the continued implementation of the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006-2013, of which ¤179 million will be allocated to Science Foundation Ireland.

We remain firmly focused on creating a world-class scientific and engineering base here in Ireland – one that will compete on the global stage.

You will be very much part of this process, should you choose to continue along this path, and it is our collective hope that you will, indeed, be spurred on from your success here today to further explore the potential and opportunities offered by engineering. The eyes of the scientific and engineering community are on you today, and you should feel very proud. We are confident that you will ‘fly the flag’ for engineering among your peer group.

Of course, selling the “engineering” message can sometimes be a difficult task. After all, the term “engineer” is often a curious one. How, exactly, does one accurately define an engineer? I suspect that if we were to walk from here around the corner to St. Stephens Green and pose that very question to 100 random people, we might well get a wide range of differing replies!

It was N.W. Dougherty, a University of Tennessee Professor in Civil Engineering, who once described the ideal engineer as “a composite...not a scientist, not a mathematician, not a sociologist or a writer; but they may use the knowledge and techniques of any or all of these disciplines in solving engineering problems." Here today we have ten adaptable, broad-minded young individuals from all over the country and a diverse range of possible careers awaits you all.

As most of us are aware, within science and, specifically, engineering as a discipline, women are underrepresented. If not fittingly addressed in the long-term, this will hinder our global competitiveness.

In these increasingly challenging times, Ireland’s sustained economic growth and prosperity depends upon attracting and investing in Ireland’s young intellectual talent.

Approximately 18% of Science Foundation Ireland grant holders are female, so there remains a considerable challenge for us all to reach out and connect with aspiring female engineers in our schools and colleges nationwide and further afield. I firmly believe that we are making progress in a systematic fashion.

The SFI/DELL Women in Engineering programme has been instrumental in raising the profile of engineering as a career choice for women in recent times. Addressing the gender imbalance in engineering, however, is a slow process and there are no quick fixes.

To put this challenge in context, there are other professions where the male to female ratio is strikingly uneven. For example, there are efforts being made by Government to address the significant shortage of young men choosing to become primary school teachers in our schools. I am happy to say that our endeavours in this regard are yielding results. So the challenge of achieving gender balance and diversity in the workplace is certainly not unique to women and engineering.

Engineering as a career has much to offer women, and people, I think, sometimes forget just how broad and flexible a discipline it is. With a wide variety of courses available - from civil and mechanical engineering to digital media, energy and biomedical engineering - the subject area is vast, exciting and challenging.

ENDS/ETE1958a

Last modified: 23/10/2008

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