Aeronautical Engineering student at UL, Mary O’Donnell from Fermoy holding her scholarship plaque.

Leading the way

An outstanding student from Fermoy has received a scholarship as part of a programme supporting women taking STEM degree courses.

Mary O'Donnell was one of sixteen University of Limerick (UL) students to recently receive the scholarship at a virtual awards ceremony as part of the Johnson & Johnson Ireland Women in STEM2D (WiSTEM2D) Award Programme.

Now in its sixth year at UL, the WiSTEM2D programme is run in collaboration with Lero – the Science Foundation Research Centre for Software and will provide the scholarship recipients with extensive industry mentoring and leadership training.

WiSTEM2D refers to Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Manufacturing and Design. The programme underlines Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to developing and implementing high-impact strategies to support female students undertaking STEM2D degree courses at UL and in universities around the world.

Currently, there are approximately 117,800 people across Ireland who are working in jobs that require STEM skills. However, the CSO reports just 25 per cent of these roles are performed by women, with just five per cent in leadership roles.

Whilst there has been a general upswing in the number of students choosing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects on their CAO applications, uptake among females remains low. Figures from a 2019 UCD Study reveals that over 40 per cent of males list a STEM course versus 19 per cent of females.

Recipients of the Johnson & Johnson WiSTEM2D Award scholarship were also presented with bespoke framed glass artwork created by Fermoy-based artist Suzanne O’Sullivan.

Anna Rafferty, Johnson & Johnson WiSTEM2D University Lead and Director of Strategy, Johnson & Johnson Campus Ireland, said: “At Johnson & Johnson, we recognise that women are still under-represented in the STEM workforce in Ireland. Since 2016, Johnson & Johnson has supported nearly 300 female students across Ireland through the WiSTEM2D programme. Over the last two years, we have worked very hard to ensure that the recipients of this award have not missed out on any opportunities despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.

“We have carried our virtual mentoring sessions and site visits, and continued to help these students build vital support networks. As employers in the STEM2D industry, we are acutely aware of our responsibility to support these young women who will become future STEM leaders.”

Professor Ita Richardson, Principal Investigator in Lero, and Professor of Software Quality in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems at UL added: “These scholarships provide great support and encouragement to our female STEM2D students, who we are committed to supporting. This year’s recipients will be role models for the generation of girls who are currently in primary and secondary school and have potential to be leaders of the future.”

Jessica Dino, a graduate of UL and an aspiring astronaut, is a past recipient of the Johnson & Johnson WiSTEM2D Award Programme.

Speaking about the impact that the programme had on her career progression, Jessica said: “I was very interested in hands-on work in a very technical and fast-paced environment and with the support of a Johnson & Johnson mentor, I received guidance on what careers I could go into that aligned with my goals and grow as an engineer.

“Upon completing my Electronic and Computer Engineering graduate degree, I was given the opportunity to interview for a graduate role and joined the company as an Automation Engineer at Johnson & Johnson Vision. During my free time, I am working on citizen-science projects backed by NASA and participating in analogue astronaut missions and one day, would love to fulfil my ambition to become an astronaut.”

This year’s virtual awards ceremony was attended by Professor Kerstin Mey, President of UL, Professor Norma Bargary, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, UL, John Lynch, Plant Leader at Johnson & Johnson Vision and Kieran O’Connell, WiSTEM2D Sponsor and Director of Manufacturing Engineering at Johnson & Johnson Vision.