10 bright sparks igniting STEM communities in Ireland

10 Dec 2015

Signing off the final 10 in Ireland’s Sci-Tech 100, we have a collection of bright sparks sharing their passion, talent and curiosity for all things STEM with the wider community.

Ireland's Sci-Tech 100

Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is a package bursting to the brim with excitement – but we know not everyone sees it that way.

There are stereotypes to be challenged, a new generation to inspire and changes to be made to the fundamental culture around STEM to ensure these disciplines and sectors are not only accessible to all, but also engaging as many people as possible.

These 10 amazing advocates are sharing their skills, igniting curiosity, inspiring creation and motivating people to engage with STEM in ways that have never before been done. For that, they deserve our unmitigated praise.

1. Shane Bergin

Shane Bergin, co-founder, City of Physics

Shane Bergin, co-founder, City of Physics. Photo via Twitter

A physics lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, Dr Shane Bergin has stretched himself far beyond the comforts of Dublin’s oldest college, hosting Bright Sparks on RTÉ Radio as well as founding City of Physics along with Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin – the pair also, on occasion, moonlight as Siliconrepublic.com columnists.

The duo set up City of Physics back in 2012, receiving a small grant to put physics advertisements along the DART line in Dublin. This has grown into a four-week celebration of all things physics with public events held around the city to spark interest in the topic.

“Society will only reap the real benefits of research in science and technology when we ‘own it’,” says Bergin, “when it’s part of our culture like GAA, music or talking about the weather.”

2. Mari Cahalane

Mari Cahalane, head of BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition

Mari Cahalane, head of BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition

Mari Cahalane is head of the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE), which is now in its 52nd year (and its 16th being sponsored by BT).

Up to 200 BT employees volunteer every year to help run the show. Cahalane, who has been with BT since the ’90s, first got involved in BTYSTE in 2001 – BT’s first year as organiser and sponsor – where she acted as an employee volunteer. She became head of the project in 2009, taking on a year-round role that involves development and delivery of this inspiring exhibition from end to end.

In recent weeks, BT confirmed that it is going to continue to sponsor the event until 2018 and, this year, a record 396 secondary schools have entered the event.

3. Mary Carty

Mary Carty, co-founder, Outbox Incubator

Mary Carty, co-founder, Outbox Incubator

Mary Carty is the co-founder of Outbox Incubator, the world’s first incubator programme for girls under 22 who are innovating in STEM, which took place in London this summer.

Carty co-founded Outbox Incubator with Stemettes founder and Inspirefest 2015 speaker Anne-Marie Imafidon after the pair met through Twitter. Next year, Inspirefest 2016 will bring Carty to the stage along with some of the participants from the inaugural programme.

Carty is also a board member of the Irish Internet Association, as well as a business development consultant, a lecturer, author and frequent keynote speaker.

4. Sinead Kelly

Sinead Kelly, An Cosán

Sinead Kelly, education programme co-ordinator, An Cosán, addresses Silicon Republic’s Women Invent Meet-up in Dublin. Photo by Conor McCabe Photography

Since 2010, Sinead Kelly has been the education programme co-ordinator at An Cosán, a community organisation based in south Dublin that aims to support access to learning, leadership and enterprise.

As part of that role, she has been the project manager of the organisation’s Young Women in Technology programme since January last year. Additionally, Kelly is playing a leading role in Techmums, a movement aimed at teaching mothers digital skills in order for them to empower their whole family.

Techmums founder and Inspirefest 2015 speaker Dr Sue Black went to An Cosán last summer to train Kelly and others so that they could bring the Techmums programme to Ireland. Later this week, a second Irish Techmums programme launched in the Digital Hub will celebrate its first graduates.

5. Bernard Kirk

Bernard Kirk, director of the Galway Education Centre and co-founder of Excited

Bernard Kirk, director of the Galway Education Centre and co-founder of Excited. Photo via Joe O’Shaughnessy

Bernard Kirk is one of the most forward-thinking people in Ireland today in terms of looking at the ever-changing world of technology we live in and making sure the country’s youth are well-prepared for it.

Having been the director of the Galway Education Centre for nearly 20 years, he has used his philanthropic sensibilities to expand outreach programmes across the world and in Ireland. Most notable in recent times is his work as one of the co-founders of the Excited Digital Learning Festival along with the former Minister of State for Training and Skills, Ciarán Cannon, TD.

Coding, in particular, is a passion of Kirk’s; he was involved in the establishment of EU Code Week and Africa Code Week, as well as helping set up Khan Academy Maths Camps worldwide.

6. Harry McCann

Harry McCann, director, Digital Youth Council

Harry McCann, director, Digital Youth Council

It is not possible to overestimate the impact Harry McCann has had on the Irish tech scene – and he’s only 17-years-old.

A largely self-taught coder, McCann is a tireless advocate of tech education, striving to do his part to close the talent gap in tech. At the tender age of 15, he started his first company, Kid Tech, writing courses to teach kids everything from coding to graphic design. Through Kid Tech, McCann taught more than 1,000 students.

The following year, McCann founded the Digital Youth Council (DYC) to give young people in Ireland a voice in STEM. Now director of the DYC, he manages the day-to-day running of the organisation.

McCann is also a member of the Government Data Forum, which advises the Government on opportunities and challenges arising from the growth of the digital economy, somehow balancing all of this alongside his studies as a fifth-year student at Scoil Mhuire, Kildare.

7. David McKeown

David McKeown, Science Hack Day Dublin

David McKeown, co-founder, Science Hack Day Dublin. Photo via UCD Innovation/Flickr

Now one of the most-loved STEM events on the Dublin calendar, Science Hack Day has grown and grown since it was first introduced to Ireland in 2012 with a lot of help from research engineer and lecturer at University College Dublin (UCD), Dr David McKeown.

Along with a team of dedicated volunteers who “work their fingers to the bone”, McKeown helps bring people of all ages together to hack anything and everything, all in the name of science.

As a vocal STEM advocate at events, like Inspirefest earlier this year, he is also the co-founder of Dublin Maker and has written recently of his efforts “to create events that support the maker communities in Ireland”.

8. Mary Moloney

Mary Moloney, CEO, CoderDojo Foundation

Mary Moloney, CEO, CoderDojo Foundation

As CEO of the successful CoderDojo Foundation, Mary Moloney has built upon the great work begun by James Whelton and Bill Liao in 2011, and furthered by the founding of CoderDojo Girls by Sarah Doran, Niambh Scullion and Noel King in 2013.

Moloney became familiar with CoderDojo when her then nine-year-old son attended coding classes and she was inspired to set a dojo up in Sandyford. Today, CoderDojo has grown to more than 850 dojos operating in 62 countries worldwide. Within Europe alone, CoderDojo classes reach more than 25,000 students.

Moloney is an experienced senior executive, having held a number of lead positions at Accenture and clients of Accenture’s, including partner, managing director and multiple C-suite positions. She is also involved in non-profit initiatives such as the Dublin Fringe Festival, Institute of International & European Affairs and the European Women’s Network.

9. Sean O’Sullivan

Sean O’Sullivan, founder, Mathletes

Sean O’Sullivan, founder, Mathletes. Photo via Diane Cusack

Sean O’Sullivan is one of Ireland’s best-known entrepreneurs, with a history in tech eventually culminating with a spot on the TV show Dragons’ Den. Founder and MD of SOSV, O’Sullivan’s history with MapInfo and NetCentric made him his name, but it’s for what he has created in LearnStorm Ireland, the all-Ireland maths challenge, that we note his work as a game-changer.

Originally called Mathletes, the challenge was started three years ago by O’Sullivan and Khan Academy, a not-for-profit on a mission to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. This year’s competition has just been launched, with a €20,000 prize fund for students and schools up for grabs.

10. Vicky Twomey-Lee

Vicky Twomey-Lee, community and diversity-led tech events organiser and founder

Vicky Twomey-Lee, community and diversity-led tech events organiser and founder

Vicky Twomey-Lee has an impressive number of strings to her bow. With a background in software engineering and a deep love of Python, Twomey-Lee was destined to get heavily involved in programming circles. Her passion led to her involvement with Python Ireland, and the related PyCon Ireland, as well as inspiring her to found PyLadies Dublin, the first PyLadies chapter in Ireland.

A champion of diversity in tech, Twomey-Lee is also co-founder, co-organiser and mentor at Coding Grace, providing friendly adult workshops for those who want to learn about coding and other technologies. She is also a director of the recently launched Women Who Code Dublin.

Her advocacy for change doesn’t stop at gender diversity, however, as she also encourages young coders to embrace a diversity of technologies and languages in order to stand out to employers.

Fireworks image via Shutterstock

Disclosure: SOSV is an investor in Silicon Republic

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