We caught up with the winner of our Women Invent Tomorrow competition to find out how she got on during her once-in-a-lifetime trip and to delve into the mind of a young Irish woman getting ready to pursue a career in STEM.
Last summer, Silicon Republic asked young people aged 12 to 18 to vote for Ireland’s Greatest Woman Inventor from a shortlist of 10 pioneers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
Kerry teenager Eimear Donovan gave her vote to Dorothy Stopford Price, the Dublin-born physician who brought the BCG vaccination to Ireland and was a champion in the fight against tuberculosis. For backing the winning woman, Eimear was then selected at random as the winner of the competition’s grand prize: the trip of a liftetime to visit NASA’s Space Center in Houston, Texas; the Intel Museum in Silicon Valley, California; and the City by the Bay, San Francisco.
By the time it came to choosing the competition winner, Eimear had forgotten all about entering and was both surprised and delighted when her mother, Mary, received an email letting the family know they’d be leaving Listowel for the mid-term break.
Eimear says she learned a lot from her trip, which involved an education on the evolution of Intel’s microchips and a tour of the control room at NASA. The trip then ended with four days to chill out (and shop!) in San Francisco.
The highlight of the trip, for Eimear, was the visit to the Houston Space Center. “I was always interested in space when I was younger, but then I didn’t really have [that interest] any more in secondary school because there was no subject about it,” she said.
Eimear at the NASA Space Centre in Houston, Texas
Science for girls
Science subjects have always interested Eimear and biology is her current favourite. “I gave up chemistry this year because I had too many subjects, but I do biology and ag-science now, and you can do physics in our school too,” she said.
Eimear said science subjects are popular in her all-girls secondary school, though regular visits to another school are necessary. “We go over to another school in the same town for ag-science – the boys school,” Eimear explained. “They have ag-science so we travel over to that school to do it there.”
Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common in girls’ schools across Ireland. Thankfully, though, it has not dissuaded Eimear from pursuing science subjects at third-level. She believes that many of her fellow students have intentions of continuing to study science in college, and the idea that some courses are better suited to men is dying out. “I think that used to be the case but in recent years there have been way more females going into these courses, so it’s kind of accepted now,” she said.
Eimear gets a tour of the Intel Museum in Silicon Valley, California
Highlighting female role models
It’s these women working in, studying and contributing to research in STEM the length and breadth of the country who Silicon Republic aims to highlight in its Women Invent Tomorrow campaign, with the very intention of inspiring young women like Eimear.
And a good thing, too, as the textbooks fail to highlight women like those we selected as Ireland’s greatest contributors to STEM. “I always associated science with men because in our biology book […] it’s mostly male scientists that made discoveries, so it was really interesting to read about all the women as well,” said Eimear.
In fact, Eimear had already learned a bit about Dorothy Stopford Price before voting for her as Ireland’s Greatest Woman Inventor. “My mom is a science teacher and she had a magazine of all famous women scientists. I read that she introduced the TB vaccine in Ireland and I thought that was really good so I picked her,” she said.
‘Father of genetics’ Gregor Mendel is also one of Eimear’s favourite scientists. “I was always fascinated by Gregor Mendel,” she said. “I thought it was really interesting how he discovered everything using the pea plant.”
(From left) Sarah Sexton, Intel Ireland; Eimear’s dad Louis; Eimear; Richard Allen, president and CEO of the NASA Space Center, Houston; retired Lunar Module spacecraft technician David Cisco, the group’s tour guide; and Eimar’s mom Mary
Eimear is now studying hard in the run-up to her Leaving Certificate examinations, in which she hopes to get A grades in biology and ag-science. Top of her CAO list is a new course on podiatry in NUI Galway, a decision prompted by its potential for a future career.
“Nowadays, everyone just goes to the section on career opportunities,” said Eimear of the numerous college prospectuses she and her peers have sifted through – a clear reflection of the times we live in.
Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic's campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland.