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Women in STEM Q4 2022

Role models and early exposure boost women’s interest in STEM

Image provided by IMR

Niamh Malone

Marketing Manager, Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR)

Two women share their experiences in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) industry and offer advice to inspire others.

Ana Santos and Maria Isabel Meza Silva both found their way into engineering professions, but that’s not all they have in common — they both share fond memories of their childhood, sparking their interests in STEM.  

Natural problem-solver 

Ana’s interest in STEM began with her doll’s hair. The doll came with coloured hairspray, and she found it so fascinating that she didn’t want it to run out. “My father read the contents of the hair spray container and said: ‘That’s a very simple composition. Let me make it for you!’ It was such a pleasure for me to keep using the hairspray without having to worry about it running out.”  

For me, STEM careers are associated with solutions. I believe there’s always a way, and our capabilities are endless,” Ana adds. 

Now, she is a water research engineer at Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR). Although Ana believes STEM is still generally a male-dominated environment, she’s pleased that it’s slowly changing, with many female role models in the industry to inspire her.  

All you need to do is look around to understand the value of manufacturing.

Finding value in everything 

Isabel — who now leads IMR’s outreach and education programmes — remembers falling in love with engineering when her father brought her to a factory where her favourite cereal was made.  

When Isabel moved to Ireland, she was surprised to learn that not everyone found the manufacturing industry as attractive as she did. Isabel says: “All you need to do is look around to understand the value of manufacturing. It’s everywhere — from the phones we use to the food we consume.” 

She explains that the goal in her current role is “to bridge the gap between the school’s curriculum and the industry’s needs by sparking enthusiasm towards advanced manufacturing and STEM.” She adds that girls often grow up believing that STEM is for boys, and they’re better than girls in this field. “Showcasing STEM role models can have a positive influence on girls’ interest and engagement with STEM.”  

Encouraging industry interest 

IMR is working to create hands-on learning environments for classrooms which can increase girls’ self-confidence and self-efficacy. Their programme promotes real-world learning opportunities, and they’ve had success with their latest evaluation revealing that 60% of the participants considered a manufacturing/engineering career after completion.  

Isabel concludes: “It’s our duty to work in collaboration with schools, the Government and industry to raise awareness of the exciting and rewarding career opportunities in the manufacturing industry available for students.” 

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