Brigid Walsh is now working to bring renewable power to businesses across Ireland, but she hasn’t had a traditional road to the world of engineering.
Those of you who went to college, do you remember your first day? For Brigid Walsh, as a mature student in her 30s with two young children, there was a mixture of excitement and fear.
Walsh, who now works as a contracts manager at the renewable installation firm Enerpower, started her path to further education in 2002. She was offered a place on the Vocational Training and Opportunities Scheme, which led to her completing her Junior Cert maths the following year and her Leaving Cert in 2005.
“I used to have my little son on my lap when I’d be studying away and my daughter on my other knee and I just loved it,” Walsh said in conversation with Siliconrepublic.com.
This time of her life sparked a love for education, and particularly everything to do with engineering, which led to her further developing her skills in statistics, maths and the AutoCAD design software.
However, Walsh said her first interest in engineering dates back much further than when she decided to return to education.
“I always loved construction,” she said. “I’d always be outside building something or doing something or I would have paved back gardens.”
‘You’re in a minority as both a woman and a mature student’
Her big turning point came in 2006 when she successfully applied as a mature student to a course in engineering at IT Carlow. In 2011, she graduated with a honours degree, but she said the experience, while exciting, “was also terrifying”.
“It was necessary to put my life, and my family’s life, on hold as I left behind the security of a full-time job and salary and embraced the day-to-day life of full-time education. In the early stages, I did worry as to whether or not I had made the right decision,” she said.
“You’re in a minority as both a woman and a mature student, as well as having two babies at home. However, almost immediately, I realised how right the decision had been, and quickly came to understand that I was experiencing one of the most rewarding and uplifting stages of my life. I gained self-confidence throughout my time there.”
Now, her passion in life is all-things renewable and she plays a large part in Enerpower’s biggest renewable energy installations – the largest of which included more than 4,300 solar panels on the roof of Lidl’s distribution facility in Newbridge, Co Kildare.
These panels will reduce the facility’s carbon output by 473 tonnes annually, the electricity usage equivalent of 240 homes.
Working in renewables
“It’s been amazing to work with the Lidl team and watch their confidence and assurance that what Enerpower has done is a very high standard,” she said.
For Walsh, working for a renewables company allows her to focus on an area she said she is passionate about – trying to tackle the climate crisis. Not only that, but it helps her continue her passion for constantly educating herself.
“I’ve travelled to the Netherlands and the UK to learn the new systems, and as soon as I’ve learned them, there’s new systems coming out again,” she joked. “I find the fast pace of it challenging, but absolutely exciting as well.”
In giving some advice to any later bloomers in academia, Walsh said it’s important to focus on what inspires you to give you what you need to succeed.
“Me personally, when I got the opportunity, I wasn’t going to turn it down and I wasn’t going to waste it,” she said.
“Each time I felt I was improving, I just felt that my confidence and my ability grew.”
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