Emerging from five-month hibernation

The pandemic closed life down on our little island just days after Christmas.

After a long winter’s hibernation, Ireland has just started to lift the lid. For months, I’ve rarely left home. Aongus got Covid the week his worksite opened back up, just after Easter. But despite staying right by his side, I didn’t contract the illness. I actually tested negative twice, but had to isolate (for what seemed like forever) nonetheless.

I did, though, get a wave of something while Aongus was sick. I felt drained, although not to the same extent as Aongus was.

It hasn’t helped that the big volunteer/publication project I’m currently wrapping up has taken five-times the effort it should have. I couldn’t be happier to see the backside of this lockdown. Or this project….

Fortunate for my sanity, things are gradually opening back up in Dublin, and the sun sometimes shines. My flat is still a nice sun trap which makes life bearable.

In the past couple weeks, Aongus and I have had a few nice outings.

We had a lovely coffee and pasta last weekend sitting outside the Clayton Hotel in Ballsbridge on our cycle ride to Dun Laoghaire. I’ve always admired this majestic Victorian building but had never ventured onto the grounds.

Last weekend, visiting friends’ back gardens was finally allowed again. We had an absolute ball visiting our friends Diana, Stefan, and Diana’s mum on Sunday evening. We’re looking forward to the day we can welcome them to our place for a meal. (Inside visits are off limits until one of the two families is fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid. We’re well in our way to meeting the criteria!)

Yesterday we ventured out again, taking the local commuter train down the coast to Bray—the town where Aongus and I met over five years ago—and this time we hiked to the top of Bray Head.

I thought I’d been to the summit before, but I’m now sure I remembered wrong. It’s a surprisingly steep and rugged path. Back in the 50s and 60s, there was a chair lift, seen as necessary since it’s so steep.

We chose the climb since part of the Bray to Greystones cliff walk had collapsed, and that favorite path wasn’t an option yesterday.

There’s a spectacular view from the summit, and I’m glad we’ve had that experience. It’s not likely I’ll have it again!

I can’t wait to get fit again. The gym opens tomorrow and I’ll be in the pool bright and early!

Although tomorrow is a bank holiday here, Aongus and I working so we can take off Friday for a new adventure on wheels! We’re going to re-live a favorite itinerary from last summer. Stay tuned!

Call for Special Issue “Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in STEM for a Sustainable Future”

My colleague here at TU Dublin, Dr. Gavin Duffy, is organizing a special focus issue on topics near and dear to my heart: sustainability, diversity, and STEM.

Please see their call for submissions, which I have pasted below.


Dear colleague,

We are happy to announce the possibility to contribute to a Special Issue “Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in STEM for a Sustainable Future”, edited by Sustainability, an open access journal by MDPI.
There is evidence that many key performance indicators of academic and non-academic organizations related to the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are strongly determined by the diversity of the workforce in these organisations.  This points to a need to ensure that increasing diversity becomes a key goal for both STEM educators and STEM industry. Evidence suggests that the number of women resigning from technological job positions remains unacceptably high. For example, in western countries, only 20% or less of graduating engineers are female, and often fewer than 10% are part of the engineering workforce.  To increase diversity, equality, and inclusion in STEM education, many different approaches can be implemented at different levels and to different target groups.
This Special Issue aims to address research mainly related to:

  • Theoretical insight into the reasons for this imbalance;
  • Empirical evidence, experimental approaches, and best practices of recruitment and retention in STEM education;
  • Ideas and policy to support gender balance careers in a STEM context.

You can find practical information at the link
https://www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability/special_issues/equality_diversity_inclusion_STEM
Author BenefitsOpen Access: free for readers, with article processing charges (APC) paid by authors or their institutions. Some benefits for articles rated best by the Editorial Board and the Editorial Office can be partially discounted.

Anita Tabacco, Politecnico di Torino (anita.tabacco@polito.it)
Gavin Duffy, Technological University Dublin (gavin.duffy@tudublin.ie)
Alicia García-Holgado, University of Salamanca (aliciagh@usal.es)
Rachel Riedner, The George Washington University (rach@gwu.edu)

Globetrotting in Malaysia, India and China

I’ve been covering more ground these days than normal. In a typical year, I’d never have been able to take time away from teaching during the fall semester to attend so many conferences. But this year, everything is online.

This past Sunday, I was able to deliver a two-hour workshop in India and then record a keynote speech for a conference in China. I also recently spoke on a panel in Malaysia.

I have never been to any of these places, though I would truly love to go! Nevertheless, digital platforms have allowed me to be an active part of discussions all around the world.

China

Here’s a sneak peek at my keynote speech for the Chinese Society for Engineering Education’s 15th International Symposium on Science and Education Development Strategy.

The Symposium’s theme was “Innovation of Engineering Education System under Global Challenges”.

My presentation is titled Equipping STEM graduates for global challenges via design thinking.


The production quality isn’t flawless, but given that I had ZERO tech support, I am proud of the outcome. I tested various apps for superimposing video over the slides, selected one, and managed to produce this video. All. On. My. Own.

The folks in China are polishing it up now, and hopefully inserting captions. It will be formally presented at the conference in Hangzhou, China on December 10th, 2020.

India

Being asked to deliver a workshop for the Indo Universal Collaboration for Engineering Education (IUCEE), I invited two colleagues along to help. Inês Direito, Manish Malik, and I have conducted similar workshops in the past, and we built on that foundation. We developed our past work further for the workshop we delivered November 22th, 2020.

Ours was on component of a set of workshops to help people in India build research skills in engineering education.

We provided An introduction to literature reviews in Engineering Education.

Here’s a link to our slides, which we have assigned a CC-BY license so others are free to draw from our work as long as they cite us.

Alternatively, you can click any of these images to view the slide presentation.

Here’s an overview of the content:

You are welcome to download the journal article we analyzed in the workshop. You might also have interest in the systematic literature review (SLR) we published on grit.

Here’s a pic of one of our team’s workshop prep sessions:

Malaysia

I also got my colleagues involved when I was invited to serve on a panel in Malaysia. Actually, I was invited to serve on two panels for this conference, but one occurred 1-3 AM my time, and I decided to stick to the one held during daylight hours! After all, I was teaching here in Dublin on the same days as the conference.

The speakers from the Women in Engineering plenary are pictured above. They were absolutely amazing. Such inspiring leadership and fabulous work! The speakers were:

  • Rosmiwati Mohd-Mokhtar, USM, Malaysia 
  • Shannon Chance, Technological University Dublin, Ireland 
  • Anne Gardner, University of Technology Sydney, Australia 
  • Naadiya Moosajee, WomEng & WomHub Co-Founder, South Africa 
  • Siti Hamisah binti Tapsir, MOSTI, Malaysia 
  • Sharifah Zaida Nurlisha binti Syed Ibrahim, CEO, MMC Oil & Gas Engineering Sdn Bhd, Malaysia

This was part of the 8th Regional Conference in Engineering Education (RCEE). It was organized by the Centre for Engineering Education (CEE) and the Faculty of Engineering at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.

The overall conference was on “Engineering Education Leadership in an Uncertain World”.

I presented work by Bill Williams, Inês Direito, and myself on Middle Eastern women’s experiences of collaborative learning in engineering in Ireland. Here’s a link to a recent conference paper on the topic.

We have also written a blog on this which will soon be published by TU Dublin — stay tuned and I’ll share that once it’s out.

I got to attend several other day-time sessions at the conference, including the closing session, pictured above. The crowd was warm and enthusiastic. They were really interested in learning what women from Oman and Kuwait had told me about how engineering is practiced in their countries.

Global perspective

I’m delighted to have had these opportunities. Back in 2006, when I decided to earn a PhD in Higher Education, I had a goal to learn to see patterns at a global scale. I wanted to equip myself with the research skills to to affect change and to enable myself to move abroad for work.

Getting involved in the global Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN), and now serving as its Chair, has enabled me to connect with others in meaningful ways — to analyze the way we teach, study data on efficacy, publish research outcomes, and help improve engineering and architecture education.

In addition to learning some new skills in video capture and editing this past week, I also expanded my skills in Photoshop and created a new logo for REEN. The entire REEN Board gave feedback to improve the design, and I’m pleased to unveil it to you now:

Cycling Killarney National Park in Kerry, Ireland

Aongus and I held a vote the other night. Our best day since moving back to Ireland from London? We unanimously agreed:

Our day cycling in Killarney National Park.

This was one of four days we spent in County Kerry, and the 20 or so hours we spent in Dingle ranked a close second (see prior blog posts on Dingle, Slea Head, and stone forts along the Ring of Kerry).

Awakening from Lockdown

When the Irish government said “Lockdown is lifted–go forth and spend your money on domestic tourism”, we readily agreed! “Let’s head for Kerry,” I exclaimed. “It will be a treat to see Killarney when it’s not full of tourists!”

Indeed, Killarney, its National Park, and its famous Muckross House are typically packed to the gills with Americans.

We arrived safely after a 3.5 hour drive from our home in Dublin. As this was right at the end of lockdown #1, we had not yet been able to buy a bike rack for our car.

Arriving in Killarney, we found many people who were delighted to welcome tourists. Those in the hospitality industry have really suffered, financially, during lockdown. Nonetheless, we found one hotelier who was terrified of my accent. “No, I’m not straight off a plane,” I reassured her. “Dublin is my home.”

Hiring bikes

After a fair night’s sleep and breakfast in a nearly vacant cafe, we rented bikes in Killarney town and headed for some scenic routes.

Muckross Abbey

Our first stop of the day was Muckross Abbey, a place I’d never visited before. The stone abbey is absolutely spectacular. It is surrounded by a cemetery, woods, and fields.

We spent a good hour exploring the Abbey’s multi-story ruins.

Muckross Abbey offers magnificent views at every turn.

Sweeping panoramas abound.

And there are some beautifully preserved details, like this stone relief.

To the side of the worship space is housing for the monks. The plan is straightforward enough, but when exploring it you’ll experience a maze of rooms, passages, and stairs. Delights are tucked away. They reveal themselves, to the persistent traveller, piece by piece. Most rooms are well lit, but Aongus found a dark and spooky one (photo below).

The highlight for me was the central cloister with its ancient Yew tree. Such incredible majesty, reaching up to the Heavens!

We discovered spiraling stairs to the upper floor…

…where I got so mesmerized looking around that I whacked my head on the lintel of a low doorway! I think I was gazing up at the chimney (shown below) when that happened.

I recovered, though, and discovered the Monks’ sleeping quarters. At the end of the room, we found even more stairs. These went up to the main tower.

The inside of the tower was architecturally spectacular.

In spaces like these, the iPhone’s panorama feature provides loads of fun.

We had a great time exploring each nook and cranny.

Here’s a view looking back down toward the main entry of the worship space, and the relief we saw earlier.

Here I am walking the lane back to the Abbey’s carriage parking area, where we had left our bikes.

When you visit, if you are not on bikes, consider taking a carriage ride out the Abbey.

On this tourist-free day, the horses had little work to do.

Muckross House & Gardens

Muckross House itself was closed, though the gardens and cafe were just opening back up from hibernation.

Approaching the house by bike we enjoyed this view:

The surrounding landscape was carefully crafted and meticulously cultivated.

The picturesque view out from the front terrace of the house nearly takes your breath away.

The whole place is a masterful work of art.

Here’s a Yew tree in the garden:

Leaving the house, we headed out toward the National Park’s stand of ancient Yew trees.

Ancient Forest

This ancient forest of Yews is simply unforgetable. So lush. Covered in mounds of plush green moss.

It’s hard to do justice to this dramatic landscape.

But suffice to say, I felt like a Hobitt!

At the edge of the forest we found dramatic views of the northern lake.

Dinis Cafe

Our bike rental guy had shared ideas of where to stop–including important pointers since few spots were going to be open for lunch. Dinis Cafe, he thought, would be open today. It had been shut for lockdown and this was its first day back in action.

I arrived at Dinis a bit before Aongus:

Dinis Cottage is a quaint little house perched on the hillside, overlooking the southern lake from two terraces with picnic tables.

I enjoyed a nice hot bowl of soup and picturesque views (of the lake, and the man).

And then we were off again….

…to explore some more.

Torc Waterfall

Our next big stop was at Torc Waterfall.

It’s a short walk up hill from the car (and bike) parking area.

Viola! Here’s the waterfall in all its splendor. Aongus isn’t too keep on heights, so he’s hanging on to ensure I don’t fall over the edge!

Or perhaps he’s considering shoving over the edge? 😉

The stairs upward beckoned, promising more adventures, paths, and views. We decided to get going downhill, however, as we had another big adventure in mind.

We did take time, though, to marvel at various trees on the way back down to the car park where we’d locked our bikes.

Muckross House to Killarney

Our tour route took us back around, past Muckross House for a second time.

Northern Loop

Returning to Killarney town, we found a second wind and continued on toward the Northern Loop.

Throughout the day, we set our bikes aside, taking side trips by foot.

I long to canoe here someday. Canoes are rare here, however. Kayaks and motorboats are far more common. Aongus didn’t even know what a canoe was!?! People here often call kayaks “canoes”.

Isn’t this view inviting? It makes me want to paddle away….

Ross Castle

On the road to Ross Castle, we discovered more phenomenal vistas:

These photos are of Ross Castle, operated by Ireland’s Office of Public Works (OPW), but closed on this Covid-ridden day.

Ross Peninsula

Our tour around the Ross Peninsula rounded out the day so nicely.

Offering more moss, more green, and so much more lush. Here Aongus models a fine Marino wool sweater we brought back from our last trip to New York:

Memories of this place are great fodder for dreams. There’s almost no place I’d rather spend a day.

Overnight in Killarney

After out adventure, we returned to Killarney for a second night.

We’d not dined out for all of lockdown, and this was a very welcome treat! Aongus loved his first night’s chicken burger so much that we returned to the same pub for night #2. He’s very serious about his food:

The next morning, he was recharged and ready to roll!

Ladies View

We caught a final view of the Killarney lakes from the famous “Ladies View” on our way westward, toward the Ring of Kerry.

As with many iconic sights of Ireland, Aongus had never seen these places before–it took an American to show him America’s favourite highlights!

We are both delighted we grabbed the opportunity while it existed. Once lockdown #2 lifts, we certainly will return again!

Stone Forts along Ireland’s Ring of Kerry

Feeling a bit claustrophobic these days. We’re two weeks and three days into lockdown #2 here in Ireland, and my big outings of the past weeks have involved the fish market across the street and nearby grocers.

In fact, I wrote this blog post on the stone forts in County Kerry for you long ago–just after lockdown #1 lifted and the Irish government encouraged us to travel the country (to spend tourist “dollars”).

Since then, I’ve been so busy with work that I never got around to posting. Maybe it will brighten your autumn day….

I’d like to introduce you to Staigue, Cathergall and Leacanbuile–three impressive and ancient stone forts. The first of these is on the southern side of Kerry’s famous ring, whereas Cathergall and Leacanbuile are in the northwest corner of the Iveragh peninsula (aka Kerry’s largest peninsula synonymous with “Ring of Kerry”).

Here’s someone else’s list of all the stone forts of Kerry: http://www.theringofkerry.com/visitors/36-sights/ring-forts

Cathergall and Leacanbuile lay just northeast of Valencia Island. If you are visiting by car, you can reach them by driving to Cahersiveen, taking the bridge northward, and following the brown heritage signs. They are clearly marked and open to tourists. Park your car in a lot at the mouth where two paths join. The path to the right lead to the Cathergall stone fort, while the one straight ahead takes you to Leacanbuile.

Google map of the Iveragh peninsula, showing locations of forts.

Meagher and Neave (2004) say Cathergall and Leacanbuile date from the 9th or 10th century and were owned by wealthy farmers. On the other hand, Rick Steves says they were all “built sometime between 500 BC and AD 300 without the aid of mortar or cement”. The placard posted at Cathergall resolves this by stating they are “notoriously difficult to date”. (I included a photo of that sign, below.)

To reach Staigue fort, drive to Castlecove and turn northward. Again, the signage is clear.

You may notice other circular mounds covered in green along your journey. Kerry is covered in forts, but many are buried and not accessible—the land where they are is now privately owned.

You’ll find all three of these on Rick Steve’s Kerry tour, although they appear to be missing (or perhaps hidden) in the Michelin Guide. You can find details about them from a book like “Ancient Ireland: An Explorer’s Guide” written by Robert Meagher and Elizabeth Neave, and published by Interlink Books in 2004.

All three forts, according to Rick Steves, are about 2.5 miles off the main drag. It is so very well worth the effort to find them, in my opinion!

Staigue stone fort

Approaching the fort by car on the rainy day of our visit, we inched past wandering sheep. The stone fort eased into view through thick fog, periodically crystallizing into drizzle….

Then WHAM: the Staigue fort revealed itself in all its wintry glory. (Okay, yeah, it was June, but I assure you that it FELT like winter.)

Staigue is a fortress, perched on an elevated plain but surrounded on three sides by hilly slopes, and sheep! It measures 90′ in diameter and the height of the walls varies, reaching 18′ at the highest point (Meagher & Neave, 2004).

The entry is small and hidden. From the approaching path, it’s off to the right, tucked away behind and below the clumps of grass. At its base, the wall of the fort is 13′ thick. You viscerally feel the weight of the stone and the thickness of this wall when crossing the threshold.

Here, just inside the entry door, Aongus stands:

This is the view you find as you enter through the small passway of a “door”, protected today with a gate. Despite there being a gate to keep sheep out, people are quite welcome. This site is free to visit.

The thick stone walls vary in height, and undulate like the surrounding hills.

The interior is ringed by stairs that would have made the compound easier to defend, I’d say, by allowing many people to scale the inside quickly. The outside wall was designed to be impenetrable.

You can scale the interior walls. It takes some care, especially on a rainy day!

Here, you feel you’re on top of the world….

…yet somehow safe.

Cathergall stone fort

The next day, we discovered the Cathergall fort is even taller, higher, larger, and more dramatic than the Staigue.

I’d actually visited all three back in 2003, and Cathergall is the one that stuck in my mind the most, with its intricate stepped terrace stairs, water views, expansive landscape, and towering presence.

From Cathergall, you can see the Leacanbuile stone fort as well as ruins of a castle called Balleycarberry (built much more recently than the forts, but in worse condition).

You’ll catch glimpses of Cathergall from the road and also the walking path:

As shown in the panorama below, you see the entryway to the right. You feel the weight of the wall below you and the expansiveness landscape to the east:

Here’s a view looking to the northwest:

The stair system on this fort is even more extensive than on the other forts. It reminds me of the stepwells of India.

As with the previous fort, it appears there’s an inner core of fill. This one, however, is covered in grass.

Tiny little plants cling to its sides for life.

Leacanbuile stone fort

From the path up to Cathergall, you can view Leacanbuile across the fields.

We enjoyed watching a farmer and his dog practice herding sheep in the field between the two forts.

This third fort is the smallest and most intimate of the three publicly-open stone forts on the Ring of Kerry. This one feels the most like a residence, whereas Stiague and Cathergall feel more defensive. In fact, the sign says, there were four houses inside the wall. This handy plaque provides detail:

Below, you see the rooms, as well as the wall covered with grass and tiny little plants. And you can notice my little head popping out the top of “House A”.

This fort feels more like the beehive housing complex, also bounded by a stone ring, that we saw later in our trip, on Slea Head just west of Dingle. Featured in a separate blog on Slea Head.

The floor inside the ring undulates in a way the others don’t, and I’m not sure what the original ground level would have been–perhaps below what it is now?

None of these four Houses have roof coverings today. There are, however, some covered passageways inside the walls and they are shown in the darkest blue hatching on the plaque.

In the photo below, the entry is straight ahead (the white dot is the plaque beside it). In this fort, the entry is not covered, but there is still a gate to keep animals from entering.

As noted above, we visited all the sites the weekend after the Irish government opened the country up for travel from within. As such, there were few visitors and all were residents of the island.

These sites are not guarded.

We were appalled to find one set of families visiting both Cathergall and Leacanbuile that day, letting a half dozen children play tag and run recklessly along the walls of both forts. They left visible damage, with a number of stones loosened or entirely displaced (at the entry where they’d been jumping across from side to side in their game of tag) at Leacanbuile.

As frustrating as this was, it did, however, make for a visually dramatic scene: silhouettes of dancing, laughing and running children wholly engaged in their game, atop these majestic structures.

I hope you’ll show these ancient beauties plenty of respect and due reverence, when you visit for yourself.

Architecture Scribble Book now at booksellers

Introducing the “Architecture Scribble Book” — a brand new book from Usborne Publishers.

As with the “Engineering Scribble Book” published in 2018, I served as consultant on the content and presentation for this book project. These are outreach projects I completed during my Marie Curie fellowship at University College London.

The front cover of “Architecture Scribble Book”

The “Architecture Scribble Book” is an activity book for kids, chock full of principles we teach architecture students at university level, presented in a way that is fun and easy-to-understand.

Pages from “Architecture Scribble Book”

Much like the “Engineering Scribble Book”, this “Architecture Scribble Book” aims to give kids a taste of this STEM-oriented career. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Some people like to add an A to STEM, making it STEAM, to make sure the art and architecture side of things doesn’t get overlooked. These books show that architecture and engineering are both highly creative fields!

Covers of both “Scribble Architecture” and “Scribble Engineering”

With this architecture activity book, kids get to learn about design and technology as they build skills and understanding, and learn about the values architecture need to hold to do their jobs well.

Here’s a video by Usborne Publishers on the architecture book:

Lessons include spatial planning, daylighting, geometry, structural properties, material reuse, universal design, effective use of materials, and much more.

Kids also learn basic conventions of representation, such as those used in floor plans, elevations, and perspective drawings.

Pages from “Scribble Engineering”

These concepts are similar in some ways to those covered in the “Engineering Scribble Book”, but the content is unique. Together the make a very nice set.

All said, the “Architecture Scribble Book” is a lovely addition to the Usborne series, and could make a great gift for the children on your Christmas gift list.

Here’s a video by the publisher on the engineering book:

A Day of Family Remembrance

Mass card for my Dad.

My Dad passed away one year ago today. It’s never easy to lose a parent, but I’m thankful I was able to be there in Virginia with him in his final stages. It was a long and hard fought battle with carcinoid cancer. Dad loved life and resisted leaving us with all his might.

I really feel for those going through life’s end stages alone during Covid.

As today is Dad’s one-year Anniversary, Aongus and I remembered him; we celebrated his life, our love and our small circle of friends. In the days leading up, we have chatted with relatives on the phone.

Today, we tried to stay busy and make the most of the day. We started late-ish, with a breakfast of blueberry-raspberry, buckwheat pancakes and a side of bacon.

Then Aongus headed out by bike to visit his auntie and I jumped on a Dublin Bike to meet colleagues for a walk around the new campus of TU Dublin.

View of campus from above.
The building my Kevin Street colleagues will move to after Covid.

I got a bit of exercise alongside Damon, John, and Heitor—at a much greater distance from them than unusual. In the past we’d have had our sleeves rolled up building robots!

Masks and 20’ between us each today. Still, it was great to see them and view the progress on TU Dublin’s new buildings!

I went straight from campus to join a virtual mass, said for my father at a church nearby. Aongus had asked the priest at St. Michan’s (Dublin’s oldest Catholic community) to mention him and put in a good word. The Irish are careful about marking anniversaries like these and remembering their forebearers. It was so kind of both him and the priest.

A kind gesture from my sweet partner.
A screenshot of the mass. It was really lovely. Third weekend in October is mission Sunday, and my Dad was a generous donor to such causes.

Drawing can be therapeutic, so I decided to make a couple videos for my Tech Graphics students. The strategy I developed for teaching them Hand Drawing online has been working out well, so far. Hope it holds out! Marks are nice and high and they seem to be learning well.

A lesson in architectural graphics.
Constructing an ellipse.

Mid-day, my friend Cinaria dropped over an amazing home-cooked Arab meal. I met Cinaria via a Facebook discussion on preparing applications for Marie Curie fellowships. She grew up in Kansas and I in Virginia. More recently, she has been doing research on lung cancer here in Dublin. Such admirable work!

Aongus and I had planned to have Cinaria for in for a visit, but a few days ago the government said no more discretionary visits to other’s homes. As it was, I met her on the Quays just long enough to exchange a bag full of goodies she had prepared. I do look forward to having her over as soon as health regulations permit.

Since lockdown, we’ve had only two other people in the flat besides ourselves–a washing machine repairman and a graduate engineer I’ve been mentoring. It will be nice to get back to normal one of these days.

Cinaria dropping lunch by, so very thoughtful!

The meal Cinaria cooked for us was extraordinary! It was clearly cooked with both skill and love. Really lovely flavors!

Cinaria is an amazing cook!

How blessed we are to have friends and health and delicious food during these trying times.

Aongus and I were thoroughly delighted.
Cinaria even baked up dessert! ❤️

Thank you, Cinaria, Damon, John, Heitor, and Auntie Eithne, for helping make our day a positive and uplifting one!

We will end the day with a swim at the gym. Then it’s headlong into another intense week of work.

I may be far from home and family, but I felt surrounded by love today.

Discovering Dublin: Isolating at Home (3/)

At the start of Ireland’s lockdown, we had some adjusting to do. New ways of living and working, for sure! Aongus was working from home for about six weeks, with the occasional visit allowed to his work site to make sure things were locked up tight and everything looked right. We found new ways to exercise and study together, expanding out the balcony during nice weather. Such weather is rare here, and even our south-facing balcony isn’t usually warm enough for outdoor work.

I really started to notice little things, like how dramatically the sky changes from hour to hour, day to day here. The view from my balcony was every-changing–a painting of gorgeous pastels and a hundred different types of clouds.

Early on, Aongus was completing a training model online. I tried to stay fit with online zumba and Down Dog yoga.

This day was warm enough for balcony use, so I took a little break with one of the books I’ve read this spring, a gift from Inês, called “Quite: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking”. Appropo for this period of isolation!

On the other hand, the look of work didn’t have much diversity. As I do educational/social science research, I don’t require access to a lab. I already had plenty of data collected that I could work with and study during Lockdown.

For me, life during lockdown looked a lot like this, each and every day:

Don’t get me wrong, each of these images captures something I found interesting! The diagrams, for instance, came from a UCL ‘show-and-tell.’ Researchers in Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (CEGE) are doing fascinating work tracking Covid—looking for patterns—from how droplets move, to tracking the flow of a sequence of coughs by someone tapping to pay on a bus (shown here), to transmission patterns across cities and countries. Really interesting and important stuff! I was Tweeting up a storm that day, to share knowledge with others. Took care not to give away too much detail as the researchers were reporting, to close colleagues, research they had underway.

For me, it has been fun to attend meetings and events in places and with people I’d not have had easy access to in the spring of a teaching semester—like these UCL events and the Big Engineering Education Research Meet Up.

Here’s a screenshot of our UCL team coordinating one of the EER Meet Ups of the spring–Paula, John, Inês, and me (providing perspectives from REEN and TU Dublin). I love this group of people and was glad to work with them over the spring even though we live in two different countries.

There was also teaching to be done online, and new teaching arrangements to be planned for next year as well. I’m preparing materials for the Tech Graphics modules on hand drawing for the autumn, as the pile of tools on my dining table testifies.

And there was meal after meal after meal to prepare, as you’ll be well aware. Sometimes fancy, sometimes new (fried peaches on the suggestion of my cousin, Rebecca). A colleague from TU Delft, Dr. Gillian Saunders, crated this nifty mask and mailed it over to me. It’s coming in handy, especially since the Irish government has recently stated asking us to wear masks, and requiring them on public transit.

In addition, there’s been the occasional birthday party, with Zoom allowing us to gather from all around the world. Happy b-day, Tarrah Beebe and Mike Miminiris!

Aongus has gone back to work now, and I’m here working from home as has been my norm. I like working at home better when it’s sunny, but I pray most for sunny weekends. I must admit, most of my religious/spiritual intentions have gone for those less fortunate than we’ve been—this facing sickness, stress, and hardship due to Covid or living with addicted or abusive people.

We’ve been blessed and have been able to grow together during this time. We attempt to make each day new and interesting, whether it’s learning a new theory or just pulling out our Frank Lloyd Wright socks (a gift of my recently departed Dad). Other ways I’ve passed the Covid-time include studying for the Driver Theory Test (scored 40/40, yeah baby!) and—now that businesses have opened—finally getting haircuts and new glasses to match my improved prescription. I didn’t buy the Corbu specs (shown below) but they were fun to try!

Discovering Dublin: Phoenix Park in Isolation (2/)

Aongus and I hadn’t spent much time in Dublin’s very large urban park prior to Covid-19. We were, afterall, just returning to Dublin after two years in London.

Our last days in London for Christmas 2019, ending my two-year fellowship and heading home to Dublin.

I’d moved back at the start of January and got things organized. Aongus followed on February 5th. Luckily, I already settled back into the flat and gotten things arranged nicely when he touched down on the Irish tarmac–a full month before isolation set in.

A couple days after Aongus’ return, things got very busy for me at TU Dublin. I was appointed to Chair and launch a new degree program. We held the induction on February 14. We were four weeks into conducting modules that when the pandemic hit and campus buildings shut down. From then on, work was all from home.

When the Irish government asked us to keep inside a 2-kilometer radius from our homes, and only venture out for necessary purchases and daily exercise, I pulled out a map on the “2kmfromhome” app and very happily discovered the entry to Phoenix Park fell within our allowable zone. I loaded the radius map as my phone’s wallpaper for easy reference–that made Aongus feel a bit claustrophobic! He’s not used to such a small bubble. His parents, aunts and siblings live outside it. Sadly, he couldn’t see his parents anyway, as they live in a nursing home. There have been very few visits. His dad had symptoms of Covid but tested negative. His mom had no symptoms but tested positive–go figure. Both are doing fine, but lacking visits has really taken a toll on his dad, who is fully aware of what’s going on.

Considering the radius, I wasn’t quite sure where entering the park alone would get us. During an online School meeting, which we held weekly for months until summer break officially started, I mentioned in the chat box that we had the entrance to Phoenix Park in our allotted circle. A colleague said, oh how lucky! A friend of hers had the same situation. Catherine said it meant we could use the Park in full, as long as we were carrying verification of our address.

To me that made logical sense–afterall, the masses of Dublin living near the Park we couldn’t all stand in the first hundred feet of the entry gate.

And thus began…

Our love affair with Phoenix Park

Soon we cycled to the park using Dublin Bikes, with a picnic of left-overs in hand for sustenance.

That first day we didn’t make it too far, but on our next trip we discovered the expansive views of the field at the Pope’s Cross, with amazing views over the city of Dublin toward the Dublin Mountains.

Park it, Deer…

We also discovered the deer of Dublin, so calm and tame.

The deer cluster by gender–doe and children together, and bucks in their own groups. In the forested area shown at the top of this blog (with the nifty leg warmers, a gift from ‘me mum’), we once saw an organized lesson in being a male deer underway. There were three sets of young males with antlers joined, play wrestling, and one more deer–who appeared to be the coach. We didn’t get a photo that day, as we weren’t allowed by the Park Rangers to stop to observe. By loud speaker they announced “Keep moving. You’re here for exercise!” or something of that sort. They weren’t messin’ that day–taking no shite….

Fortunately, over time, the sense of panic and urgency has subsided. If you leave the deer be and avoid crowds, you’ll be okay. It is usually easy enough to stumble on crows if you don’t move far for the entry at Parkgate Street.

…and chill

The deer have really loved having the park free of cars–the park is so large that motorists have typically used it as a cut-through, taking their cars at high speeds to get to the other side without much regard for pedestrians and cyclists, families and children. High-speed and rude drivers in the park, along with the poor quality of the pavement in the cycle lane leading into and out of the park, had previously discouraged me from cycling there.

I had, however, cycled to the US Ambassador’s Residence once to hear a NASA astronaut speak at a Fulbright Ireland event. There’s a sizable slope going into the park that takes some determination to climb. I felt so unwelcome by the hill and the rough pavement of the cycle lane going in (the car pavement is nice and smooth here), that I had avoided this park in the interim. I hoped–and still do–that they will repave the cycle lanes near Park Gate. Can’t imagine what has kept that simple act from happening.

This is the back side of the US Ambassador’s Residence. It faces south, toward the Dublin mountains and the Pope’s Cross. (See, nifty leg warmers!)

Although we’d enjoyed our Dublin Bike adventure that first day, but realized we’d need our own bikes. My own had been stolen from my courtyard some years before, but our maintenance guy gave me a discarded bike as a replacement. I’d parked it on the balcony, but hadn’t much luck using it. Mostly, I needed a more comfortable saddle.

So, in March, I was quite pleased to discover that Pavlov at Bolton Bikes could get it back up and running. It’s heavy and I have to baby the gears, but it works and it has been nice and reliable. Bolton Bikes repairs and also sells used bikes. We were very fortunate to buy one for Aongus that suits him incredibly well. Neither of our bikes is a magnet for thieves, which is fortunate since rates of bicycle theft are off the charts right now in Dublin.

I didn’t even report the earlier theft–really no reason since the police don’t really investigate.

Our bikes have worked out fine. They really serve us well and we are learning to love them and the freedom they provide.

…enjoy a scenic overlook

On our second or third visit to the park, we found the far end, to the west, had the fewest people. We’d ride out there and eat a quick snack, tea, or sandwich before cycling back home.

Ireland had an amazing streak of glorious weather, in March and April. Perfect like this for several weeks. We discovered this stunning view at the far end of the park, and reaching it became a regular goal:

…and a quiet little pond

Over time, we ventured into the gated area around the pond. The water lilies were delightful; my photos haven’t done them justice.

Aongus enjoyed feeding crumbs to the ducks and geese.

Just be yourself!

As the weeks progressed this corner of the park remained sparsely attended. We encountered very few people and were even able to curl up with a book on occasion. Wild and free and happy as can be….

(…but not in America!)

Speaking of America, I felt safe enough in Phoenix Park to attend the very first Dublin-based rally in support of Black Lives Matter.

Stand up for what you believe…

I elected to attend the #BLM rally in Phoenix Park, as I believed there would be ample room for social distancing. This location meant participants weren’t likely to get hemmed in as I feared would happen near the American Embassy. My assumptions were correct.

There was plenty of space where we assembled at the driveway entrance to the Ambassador’s Residence. There was also plenty space as we processed slowly around the property in a long single-file line, and one the rear/southside of the house where we knelt for a minute of silence. Any groups were households that arrived together. Many couples and a few families, and many brave individuals as we did not know what to expect. I saw this advertised on Twitter, with two locations available so everyone could stay in their allowable zone (which, by this time was 5km, I believe).

In any case, I was glad to be able to do *something* to support the #BLM cause, and to achieve that without violating any rules. It was a very small thing, but I had to make a stand for justice and also stand in solidarity with my hundreds and hundreds of Black American friends, colleagues, and former students. And in memory of my honorary grandparents, Bush and Ravella and their daughter Dot. So many people I know and love who had the opposite of a head start in US life simply due to the color of their skin.

Incidentally, a newspaper photographer showed up and took our pictures at this rally, but as there weren’t any juicy scoops to be had, the pics didn’t go viral. Even a telephoto lens couldn’t make this particular crowd look too dense!

All the Guards and Park Rangers who came around expressed sincere support for the cause.

It was a lovely and heartwarming event, and a story you probably didn’t hear on official news outlets.

…just let time drift by.

Since lockdown, I’ve come to know and love Phoenix Park. I truly hope it remains a place that’s safe for families, children, and people of all levels of ability to use safely.

One last set of views out across the Dublin Mountains, daydreaming and soaking in the peace and quiet:

Racism in Science and Society

I just attended an online event called “Racism in Science and Society”. It involved an hour-long interview with Angela Saini, and it was supported by six or so organizations in Ireland, including Women in Research Ireland (WiRI) which a colleague of mine from the Marie Curie Alumni Association, Dr. Susan Fetics, helped establish. Susan was one of the moderators today.

Last social gathering of Marie Curie Alumni Association’s Irish chapter before Covid shut things down. Shannon Chance and Susan Feltics shown here. Susan was one of the organizers for today’s event.

I’ve read half of Siani’s book “Superior: The Return of Race Science” and have heard her speak in the past about this book as well and her prior book, “Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong“. I’ve heard Saini speak twice in person at UCL and 2 or 3 times now online.

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Angela Saini and the cover of her 2019 book.

Interestingly, Saini has two different master’s degrees, the first in Engineering from the University of Oxford and a second in Science and Security from the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. Since I research engineering education and I also taught at a Historically Black College/University in the States for 15 years, I follow her work closely. Simply put: it’s close to my heart.

In this blog, I share content from Tweets I posted during the event. I’m sharing this because the event wasn’t recorded, so I wanted a way for others to learn about the topic and what went on today.

The event was well-organized and they sent helpful reminders. The hosts of this online event even provided a sign language interpreter. I wondered: if this method was more effective than auto-captioning?

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The host, speaker, and sign language interpreter.

Siani said medicine is keeping race science alive today, more than any other area. Medicine perpetuates the belief in genetic differences that don’t exist. Genetics is the last place to look, she insists, it’s best to look first at social and cultural factors.

Histories of oppression have led to differences in health outcomes, not underlying genetics.

But, even now during Covid, people jump straight to the racial myths, Saini says.

Saini says some of the most promising work to rectify racial myths in medicine is happening in the USA, as there is the recognition that racism is still occurring. There’s more happening in the USA than in Britain and elsewhere in the world, she believes, as in the UK (where she lives and grew up) there is clear reluctance to accept how pervasive racism is.

Incidentally, Saini is of Indian heritage and grew up classified as black in the UK, I learned from her book. This helped me understand why a UK-based collegiate of mine calls herself black, whereas she’d probably use a different term if she were of Indian heritage and living in the USA.

These ideas about race are steeped into us from a very young age. It’s all about power, she says. The dominant group frames their dominance as if they have some innate… superiority.

Saini left Twitter earlier this year due to experiencing abuse, which explains why I couldn’t locate her to tag her. Those with extreme views try to engage journalists and scientists via social media, and suck them dry. They and the algorithms they use are clever; often they have few followers but they cause frustration because they aren’t going to change their opinions but they demand ongoing conversation, they dish out abuse, and they drain energy that can go to something more productive.

Of course, for those without other outlets (Saini is a very well-known journalist in Britain), social media does give us a voice, she acknowledges.

I, for one, miss having her on Twitter.

She helped found “Race and Health” @raceandhealth, a group that looks at issues identified above.

Saini says she wrote “Superior” to get things straight in her head. She hopes readers share in some of this clarity she found by writing it.

She spoke about being surprised things have changed so fast right following the death of George Floyd, such as the re-naming of lecture halls and theaters.

I, myself, have seen Floyd’s murder as a tipping point. I’d been expecting things to boil over in the US–I envisioned another summer of 1968 as the only way that an adequate level of change would happen. Things just weren’t improving fast enough. It was one of the frustrations that caused me to leave the USA and move to Europe. I am glad to finally see change, but I am sad that it’s going to be painful to acknowledge the past and heal.

Recently, UCL announced, via campus-wide email I received, that it is changing names of a building and a lecture hall. Eugenics and race-science had a home at UCL, and the university is seeking to right some wrongs.

Saini says that universities need better systems of accountability; the balance of power in universities is still out of whack. Accountability has to come from the top. Groups like the ones hosting this session today need to work together to lobby universities for better accountability, she says.

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The sponsors for today’s event.

She ended by saying that our societies need to change through education and by teaching empathy from a young age.

I was glad to hear Saini say this, as my colleague, Dr. Carlos Mora, and I are working to study empathy in engineering education. And in a similar vein, I’m working to create a special focus issue on empathy in engineering practice and education to be released next spring.