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:

Ethics in Engineering: Calling for a Revolution

The platform Engineering Matters aired Podcast #59 on “Empowering Ethical Engineering” on June 25, 2020.

Bernadette Balentine is the host of Engineering Matters, and in podcast 59, she featured guests from Mott MacDonald, Canada’s Corporation of the Seven Wardens, Engineers Without Borders UK, the University of Leeds, the UK’s Institution of Engineering and Technology, and me, a Visiting Professor at UCL. You can find it at this link.

The podcast tells a fascinating story about a catastrophic bridge failure that happened in Canada, explaining how the overall engineering profession there responded by developing and adopting a strict code of ethics.

The overall podcast is 37 minutes, and I’m featured only briefly (around minute 28.5). In this post, I’ll provide a little more detail on the work I’ve been doing that led me to be included.

As you probably know, I was a Marie Curie Research Fellow at UCL for two years, and I still serve as a Visiting Professor there at UCL. I have a keen interest in the built environment and I’m also a registered architect in the States with LEED-AP credentials. My research specialty involves how people learn engineering and architecture.

During the Fellowship, Engineers without Borders UK came to me asking for help with research idea. As a result, my team and I conducted a small-scale qualitative study where we interviewed nine civil/structural engineers practicing in London about their perceptions of ethics and, specifically, of global responsibility—what it means and how they enact global responsibility in their day-to-day work. I reported this research while speaking with Bernadette for the podcast.

Bernadette asked what factors we had identified that prevent engineers from acting on ethical beliefs. Here’s some of what I said:

Even when early career engineers see opportunities to do something in a better, more ethical or responsible way, they often have trouble getting the idea accepted. Cost and time constraints limit their choices. Small and private projects nearly always prioritize cost and over environmental or social sustainability. 

Early-career engineers can influence material selection and thus carbon footprint to some degree, but many other decision are out of their scope of work. Crucial decisions were made long before they got involved. They select materials, run calculations, and make more detailed decisions, but they are often involved in a small portion of any given building or infrastructure project. Even when they see an opportunity to do better on a private project, their client usually only accepts it is the idea if it also saves money or time. 

That said, larger public projects provide more opportunity to protect the public good—and they hear about public discussions. But it’s other professionals, such as architects and planners, who often drive those discussions. On the other hand, the senior managing engineer we interviewed was quite able to affect things on a large scale; he had quite a lot of sway in decision-making and frequent opportunities to protect public Health and Safety. He took pride in doing so, and he also reached out to help mentor others to develop such skills. 

Early-career engineers told us they lack reliable tools for calculating environmental and social impacts of various options. Quite surprisingly, most don’t recall having discussions in university about sustainability. While they say ethics was probably covered in their professional practice classes, none of this was covered in a way that was “sticky” enough for them to recall it. Most learned about this after university, through CPD courses, their own research, and company induction programs on Health & Safety and anti-corruption with an implied focus on anti-bribery. 

Overall, the early career engineers in our study expressed: 

  • A lack of tools for demonstrating benefits of environmental or social action
  • Some degree of shortfall in training/preparation
  • Feelings of disempowerment due to decisions being made further up the business or by clients who didn’t value sustainability

One of the most important findings of our study was that the engineers felt empowered to act on job-site Health and Safety more than other areas. Job-site Health and Safety was the one thing, they said, that consistently trumps cost. They were also clear on company rules for reporting gifts.

This led me to wonder: Might we use the levers that facilitated sweeping change across job-site H&S and anti-bribery to facilitate quick change in other areas related to ethics—specifically environmental and social aspects of sustainability and justice? 

A helpful example was relayed by Malcolm Gladwell. In it, Korean Airlines went from having one of the world’s worst flight safety records to one of the best, and they did this by changing their own culture (with help of consultants) to allow individuals to raise concerns and challenge authority without personal retribution, without fear of reprimand.

I believe engineers need more of this type of empowerment and protection. The narrative Bernadette Ballantyne has woven on “Empowering Ethical Engineering” illustrates how Civil Engineering in Canada did precisely this.

It’s well worth a listen, regardless of whether or not you “engineer” things!

The Iron Ring worn by Canadian engineers after taking their oath to protect Health and Safety of all. Learn more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Ring and on the Engineering Matter podcast.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for more details of our study, as we prepare various findings for publication in research journals. Many thanks to my research collaborators Inês Direito, Rob Lawlor, and John Mitchell, and the Advisory Board appointed by EWB-UK to help guide our work. Financial support came from the European Commission via my Marie Curie Individual Fellowship and a grant to EWB-UK from the Royal Academy of Engineers UK.

Architect-cheers! Fully licensed as an Architect

Is that Architect-cheers or Architectures? Today I’m cheering that my updated license has arrived!

With so many moves across ocean and seas, some of my mail never reached me–including an invoice from the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation in my home state.

Every two years I pay fees to keep my Architectural Registration current, entitling me to practice in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Every year, I also pay fees to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards to hold a Council Record, which is a national-level endorsement that makes getting registered in additional states easier.

I don’t stamp architectural drawings, so I don’t really *need* to hold a license, but I like to stay current and support the licensing and professional development system. Plus, it’s been nice chatting with the folks at NCARB and VDPOR who assisted me along the way. I’ve always believed that being licensed with up-to-date knowledge makes me a more effective architecture and engineering teacher.

By holding a license in Virginia, I’m allowed to use RA or Registered Architect after my name. By holding a council record, I can use NCARB as well. And then there’s LEED-AP, which indicates I hold a credential in Energy and Environmental Design, also earned through rigorous testing.

In the States, the designation AIA is probably the most widely recognized architecture tag after one’s name, and although I’ve been admitted to the American Institute of Architects, I am not an active, dues-paying member so I can’t use those letters now. The fees add up too fast! It would be great to get Chartered as an Architect over here, through RIAI (Ireland) or RIBA (Britain). As you can see, this is all very complicated. The standards, codes, and construction practices vary so much from one country to the next, that each of these would require additional study, testing, fees, and ongoing country-specific professional development.

To get this little piece of paper from Virginia back in my hands, I needed to complete a series of training modules and tests to show I have current knowledge of best practices in the States. I used downtime over Christmas and the pandemic–along with NCARB monographs–to study:

  • Sustainable Design Part I: Green Building Standards and Certification Systems
  • Sustainable Design Part II: Integrated Design
  • Sustainable Design Part V: Trends in the Profession, Performance, and Practice
  • Accommodations for Seniors
  • The Hidden Risk of Green Buildings
  • Building Design and Security
  • Building Envelopes Part I: History and Types
  • Barrier-Free Design and the 2010 ADA Standards
  • Improving Building Performance Part I: Building Performance and Post Occupancy
  • Improving Building Performance Part II: Planning, Conducting, & Applying the POE

Perhaps due to COVID it took a month for the envelope I sent to Virginia with the reinstatement application, check, and proof of CPD to arrive at the office in Richmond. So slow, despite the fact I paid €8.70 (nearly $10) to send registered mail. In the meantime, I’d given up hope, called and found them all in the office and fully caught up with all incoming mail, so I paid by credit card using old-fangled fax technology. Yep, Irish mail is slow, but US use of fax and paper check indicates banking technologies could stand to be updated. The envelope arrive a couple days later, and the folks at Virginia DPOR very conscientiously mailed my paper check back to me. I got it a week ago.

Today, I discovered a new license in my postbox, complete with correct and current address. I’m delighted to have it in safely hand!

Discovering the new TU Dublin

It’s been a great start-of-semester and welcome-back here in Dublin. I’ve been settling back in at TU Dublin, since the first of the year. I’ve been learning to juggle a host of new job responsibilities along with my favorite existing projects. There’s so much work to be done!

In addition to teaching first-year engineering modules/courses, I have also been helping launch the new MSc in BIM, working on curriculum development (which buys out half my work time), finalizing research projects for publication, and drafting my final report for the 2018-12019 fellowship I had to UCL.

I’ve also attended a host of special events:

  1. The launch of TU Dublin’s new strategic plan
  2. A two-day conference on “Rethinking the Crit” in architecture and design education.
  3. Tech support workshops for staff on Brightspace and Agresso
  4. Personal wellbeing workshops for staff on insurance and personal finance.
  5. A planning sessions with our ever-expanding RoboSlam team preparing for Dublin Maker 2020 (June 2020) and our upcoming Engineering Your Future week (May 2020)

TU Dublin’s new Strategic Plan

The unveiling of the strategic plan was quite well organized and inspiring. The speakers and panelists all did a great job explaining the shared aspirations of our academic community. I hope the details are as well done as the vision they presented.

Soon, I’ll read the plan and see how it matches up against the evaluation rubric I published back during my doc studies, which you can download here.

Chance, S and Williams, B. (2009). Assessing University Strategic Plans: A Tool For ConsiderationEducational planning: the journal of the international society for educational planning, 2009, 18(1), 38-54.

The take-home message of the strategic planning launch was that TU Dublin values diversity and inclusivity. The student voice was clear, strong and impressive. The leaders were well-spoken.

TU Dublin’s workshop on “Rethinking the Crit”

I attended a hands-on conference alongside architecture students from all over Ireland as well as teachers and critics from Ireland and abroad.

The workshop was organized by my College’s office for Learning Development, under the direction of Patrick Flynn, our Head of Learning Development. In many places, his role would be called Vice Dean for Academics, but DIT (the parent of TU Dublin) tended to do things its own unique way.

As I’m part of a team developing a brand new Architectural Engineering curriculum, this conference on how to improve the studio jury system was of great value to me. That Arch Eng course will graduate people ready for architecture licensing.

One of the presenters, Dr. Kathryn Anthony, literally wrote the book that got this conversation rolling: Design Juries on Trial. It was published in 1991 but there’s still a lot more uptake needed of her ideas across the globe. She collected data at Hampton University, where I used to teach, and at HU we used many of the techniques she proposed—with great success.

I hope to use techniques we discussed to help improve architecture education near and far.

Evaluating Grant Proposals for the European Commission

This past Sunday night, I hopped on the Eurostar from London St. Pancreas–and in just over two hours I disembarked at Midi station in Brussels. I love that Chunnel!

I’ve spent the week working alongside other experts from around Europe to evaluate projects proposed for funding. This is an activity I am doing to develop more skills with regard to grant writing and program design.

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Aongus took the underground over to St. Pancreas Sunday night, to see me off as I boarded the Eurostar.

This is a job that requires a great deal of concentration. We’ve each been working for weeks–studying 30-page proposals, 7-8 of them per expert,  and then creating very detailed individual reports, comparing and compiling these into group reports, and then meeting face-to-face on-site in Brussels to discuss each proposal in depth. The scores we assign will be used to determine which organizations will receive funds to support doctoral and post-doctoral researchers.

 

Through this process, the European Commission and its Research Executive Agency (REA) provide detailed, specific feedback to applicants as well as numeric scores.

Many applicants succeed and receive financial support, but I’ll admit that with the sums provided, competition is fierce.

I believe this funding is well spent. It builds the capacity of researchers to do great work and learn important new skills. It yields results that make life and systems better at the individual, organizational, national, regional, and international levels. It produces valuable research results in a vast array of fields and disciplines.

The evaluation process is extremely important. It has to be done with extreme care. It is a huge amount of work, and the experts involved take the job very seriously.

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The evaluation itself is confidential, but pictures of Brussels I can share. 🙂

Many dozen experts have been involved this week, as reviewers and quality control officers. Our purpose is to deliver accurate and reliable results.

 

As a scholar from the States, I particularly value the feedback given to applicants in this process. Great care is taken to keep the scoring open, transparent, and fair, and to yield consistency from year to year as well as between proposals.

It’s a tight-knit process with a demanding timetable. And we’ve done remarkably well at staying focused and on track.

Why do I see the results of this process as valuable? In the U.S., fellowship and grant applicants rarely get feedback. I suspect it’s a result of the litigious nature of “American” society that funding agencies don’t want to open themselves up to questioning, and they won’t let applicants know what was seen as weak about the proposal. They will provide only very general feedback if any at all. I’ve had this experience with at least three different funding agencies in the USA. It was exceedingly frustrating and turned me off from wanting to keep bashing my head against a rock (even though I had a relatively high level of success winning grants for educational/learning sciences!).

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The plaza next to the building where evaluations are conducted.

Working here at REA, our primary focus is on achieving accurate scores that can hold water. There’s much less paranoia on the part of the funders, in my opinion. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be the same fear of redress–in the case of any mistake, the program managers actually do want to address it in a way that is fair to the applicant. Transparency and proper channels for redress/appeal are foundational principles of the programs that REA funds.

 

Because REA’s process provides reliable feedback, I myself was able to improve one past proposal that wasn’t successful on its first submission. I was able to learn and to re-submit. By addressing the points raised in the first evaluation, I was able to secure funding the second time around!

In the United States, I’d have been left in the dark, making the same mistakes over and over again. In my experience (having submitted 3 unsuccessful proposals, 2 successful proposals, and one pending proposal to various  MSCA programs evaluated via REA), the European evaluation system is FAR better than the US system. A knowledgable colleague told me yesterday that the overhead costs for evaluating and managing/overseeing the quality of these MSCA programs is lower than typical of other similar programs worldwide.

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Dinner at Lyon!

I can’t say this work is pleasurable, but I do enjoy being here, working hard, and feeling satisfaction by week’s end. It’s sometimes bittersweet, though, as it is Thanskgiving and, also, yesterday would have been Dad’s 74th birthday. He died five weeks ago, right after my assignments for this job arrived. Therefore, I didn’t get to talk with him yesterday. And, since this particular review always falls on Thanksgiving week, I’m spending my fourth Thanksgiving Day in Brussels, missing turkey in the States with family yet again.

 

In the evenings of this evaluation week, however, I do enjoy dinner out with other experts and my walks through the city to the Grand Place and the Royal Arcade. Hopefully tonight, the Christmas Market will be up and running! It’s 6:40PM so I need to get going and pack up my things for the night.

On Monday night I went out and I got to enjoy Moules et Frites at Lyon.

If you are capable and interested in serving as an expert evaluator, you can set up a personal profile in the Participant Portal (see instructions at https://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/docs/h2020-funding-guide/experts/experts_en.htm). When REA needs your expertise, they may well send you an invitation to serve.

 

Meet emerging research star: Carlos Mora

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Carlos and his youngest daughter, Estela.

Back in March 2019, I received an email out of the blue regarding a researcher in the Canary Islands, Dr. Carlos Efrén Mora, looking to recruit a mentor.

Specifically, Carlos wanted help writing a fellowship proposal to conduct Engineering Education Research on social responsibility, and he had contacted a Special Interest Group I work with as a member of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI). This particular group studies Educational Research Methods and I’d mentioned at a meeting in 2018 that I was looking to help/host prospective fellows in Engineering Education Research.

Because Carlos was proposing a topic I have been studying for Engineers without Borders UK, I jumped at the chance to help. I emailed him right away and we set to work.

Carlos emailed me a copy of a proposal he’d previously submitted, and as I’ve successfully secured the funding under this scheme twice before, I reverted with more feedback and strategic advice.

Carlos and I worked tirelessly from March until the deadline for our target program in mid-September.

It was a grueling process, but Carlos is extremely hard-working. I must say that Carlos enthusiastically accepted every ounce of critique that I and my colleagues doled out, and he used it to improve his plans and ideas. The ability to welcome criticism is rare but so very important. It’s one of the most important skills I learned in architecture school! Carlos has it, too!

To make sure Carlos had the best chance to win funding, I assembled a team of superstar researchers and advisors. Their job: to poke holes in all his arguments and make sure the content was in the right places (ie, the places the evaluators will expect to find them while they are scoring his work).

I was elated with the results. In all, I believe we have an excellent chance of receiving funding to conduct research together–I as his mentor/supervisor/PI and he as a full-time research fellow working aside me at TU Dublin, hopefully starting in August 2020.

The text of the proposal is exceptional. The scientific merit is clear, the work plan is strong, the planned secondment is second to none, and the early-stage researcher has shown outstanding promise. He has a dedicated mentor by his side–one who is working hard to build her own research record and raise the visibility and credibility of EER globally.

Since we submitted in mid-September, Carlos has already secured some financial support from his own university to start some of the work.

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Visiting London’s Carnaby Street with the Mora family

Though al that is exciting, we are currently in the no-mans-land called the grant evaluation period. Researchers work for months on end to craft a research proposal. They send it off with the greatest of hope in their hearts. And then they wait and wait, and wait–often at least half a year–to hear back.

Typical success rates for the program we’ve requested run 9-14%.

What to do while waiting? Celebrate!

After we got the proposal submitted, Carlos brought his family up to London from the Canaries to meet me. Carlos and I held a work meeting on the first day of their stay.

This was the first trip off their Islands for the Mora kids, and I was delighted to be part of their big adventure. (The whole family has been getting excited about the possibility of spending a couple years in Dublin! They came to London this time since it’s where I am currently working.)

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Pre-dinner photo shoot. Beautiful food!

I planned one of the four days of their visit, and, as usual, I packed too much in. We all did new things–I’d never eaten Ramen before but Celia said it would be “a dream come true” so we all agreed!

Our lively chatter silenced when the food arrived for dinner.

We soon unanimously agreed again: we will be eating Ramen together again in Dublin ASAP. It was delicious!

The photo album below starts with a photo from the Canaries and another taken at the airport–Carlos sends me family updates regularly and it’s fun seeing the kids grow!

 

 

 

Wedding Weekend with Nigerian-British Flair

Engagement photo of Folashade and Damilola.

My beautiful and intelligent colleague, Dr. Folashade Olayinka (who I traveled to Johannesburg with 1.5 years ago to teach a Master Class) decided to marry her beloved Dr. Damilola Olaniyi last weekend, so on Saturday, November 9, 2019, I headed for the Putney Bridge tube bright and early. It was a cold day, but bright and full of energy.

My own beloved Aongus walked me to the station. Even though the invite was just for one, he wanted to set me off on the right course for the weekend.

At Liverpool Street Station, I met up with my best Plus-None, Dr. Inês Direito, and we head off for Chelmsford by train, excited for a new adventure.

When we arrived in Chelmsford, our room wasn’t quite ready at The County Hotel, but we found space to change into wedding attire–with “Colours of the day” specified as “Emerald Green & Gold” we did our best not to clash!

We taxied from the Hotel over to All Saints Church on Church Lane, Writtle, Chelmsford CM1 3EN, UK for the Church of England ceremony, held in a historic venue and officiated by a pastor who delivered an informative lesson on love, and in quite an interesting way.

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The Nyamapfenes, Abel and Tari, with Inês and me at the church.

Our colleague Dr. Abel Nyamapfene had already arrived with his lovely wife, Tari.

Inês and I had a ball getting to know her. Considering we arrived at 12:20 and the bride marched down the aisle at 1:40, we had ample time to get to know each other–and I assure you we had a delightful time doing that in such a lovely and lively setting. I look forward to seeing Tari again some day.

During the ceremony, from my seat along the outer wall of the side nave, I was able to see the exchange of vows. I had never realized quite how much Neo-Gothic columns limit paritioners’ viewing angles. Thanks to my colleague Dr. Fiona Truscott, and the book she lent me on English architecture, “A Lust for Windowsills” by Harry Mount, I was able to discern that this church is, specifically, “perpendicular Gothic“. A nice treat to be in such a space for a celebration of marriage! I recognized the last song and happily sang along, despite being chronically out-of-tune.

Hylands House, the reception venue. (Photo copied from the couple’s wedding page.)

The reception was held at the beautiful and elegant Hylands House on London Road, Writtle, Chelmsford CM2 8WQ, UK.

 

Graduation pic of Dami and Shade. Doctors of Engineering!

At the reception, we learned many things, and we got to watch video of the wedding ceremony the couple had in Nigeria (prior to this ceremony here in England). Incidentally, the newlyweds were both born here in Britain, of parents born in Nigeria. They have lived here all their lives, but visit Nigeria frequently. I sometimes say Shade is the most British person I know!

During the toasts, we learned that Shade was born at University College London (UCL) Hospital, on the campus where she and I worked together until she moved to Queen Mary University of London. She completed all her higher education degrees at UCL. Her new husband, Dami, also earned his doctorate in engineering at UCL. In fact, the two met at UCL in 2011. Their subjects are slightly different, however, as Shade has a doctorate in Chemical engineer, while I believe Dami’s doctorate is in aeronautical engineering.

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The newlyweds

During the meal, Inês and I had the pleasure of sharing a table with the PhD supervisor for each of the two. Shade’s supervisor, Professor/Dr. Eva Sorenson had attended the SEFI 2018 conference with Inês and me in Copenhagen and I sat beside her at the gala of that event, just after she’d been recognized with the biggest award of the conference. I’m getting used to siting among the stars!

Both supervisors got specific call-outs from the couple and the family during toasts–how cool! It looks like you can make a real difference in someone’s life as their PhD supervisor. I hope that’s me someday. (My first PhD supervisee just passed the final threshold before his PhD viva, slated for August 2020–very excited about all that!)

Following dinner, a grand Nigerian buffet, we enjoyed cake and some dancing.

Eventually we headed by taxi for the hotel for some Zs.

 

 

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With Emanuela and family!

In the morning, we enjoyed breakfast with the happy couple and another of our beloved colleagues, Emanuela Tilley (who is currently away form us on maternity leave) along with her beautiful and energetic family. I get far too little time with Emanuela these days! Making every moment count here in England.

 

In the morning, we enjoyed breakfast with the happy couple and another of our beloved colleagues, Emanuela Tilley (who is currently away form us on maternity leave) along with her beautiful and energetic family. I get far too little time with Emanuela these days! Making every moment count here in England.

After a quick walk to the station and an easy train trip back to London, I made my way back to Putney to meet up with Aongus, who’d had to work Sunday, morning until noon.

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Flowers!

I arrived at the flat first, and when Aongus arrived he brought a lovely bouquet for me! I was delighted to find I’d been missed by this incredible man. It’s a pleasure to be surrounded with so much love and support.

Thanks so very much to Shade and Dami for including Inês and me in this–the biggest day of your lives. You make a lovely couple and you seem so comfortable and happy together. Your families seem so warm and supportive, and it looks like they provide great models for healthy interactions and long-lasting love. Your ceremony was beautiful and touching. The bridal party was full of vitality and was beautifully attired (love those bridesmaid dresses!). The toasts were heartfelt. The venues were such a pleasure to experience. The dancing, rituals, and outfits had a distinctly Nigerian flair that was a treat to behold.

It was all so beautiful and festive! And we were so lucky to be there!

#DaSh2019, 9.11.19

Bringing my Dad back into Focus

Losing a parent is emotionally difficult as I’m discovering each and every day. Others who have lost someone close provide the strongest sense of empathy–they know what we are going through and they offer shoulders on which to lean.

I truly appreciate all those who have sent a message or note, flowers, donations.

Those who gave their presence in these difficult days and made thoughtful gestures now hold a very special place in my heart. Those who made the kind effort to join us for Dad’s visitation, funeral, or interment helped provide a sense of confidence that tomorrow will be happier.

Through this blog post, I am bringing my Dad back into focus, if only for a moment. I aim to record my memories before they vanish.

Memories of our Dad

My dad, Donald Massie, truly loved to learn. This he passed to my sister (Heather) and me.

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Dad with Heather and me.

Dad always said Heather and I should try hard in school, for ourselves, not for him. “Your education,” he’d say, “is the only thing no one can take away.” …Bette Midler says it’s your dignity, but that actually can be taken, I believe!

Dad taught Heather and me many things, including how to guide our own learning—how to identify goals, determine what we wanted to know, and figure out how to accomplish learning it. Dad didn’t do our projects for us, as Heather pointed out at his funeral, but he was always there to help.

Dad was an extremely curious person, and he demonstrated his love of learning from the very start. As a small child, he read the Encyclopedia Britannica. This set of books occupied an entire shelf at my grandparents’ house, in all the years they owned it.

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Christmas 2017 or 2018: Shannon, Aongus, Heather, Danny, Glen, Dad, and Kitty Lee.

Even before Dad could read, he’d pour over the pages, avoiding whatever he could from the illustrations, my aunt Kitty told us in Dad’s final days, as we three–Heather, Kitty and I–gathered around Dad’s bedside, supported by the phenomenal nursing staff at Showalter Center and end-of-life experts from Carillion Clinic Hospice. Those were precious days we had together, and a priceless gift provided by those caring medical experts. Showalter’s culinary and administrative folks worked with us and nursing to make the week we had there together full of love and laughter. Dad was truly funny in the moments he could communicate; it was clear he’d built rapport with staff of all ages and backgrounds, and some of the residents like Sharon who became a fast friend to us all. Many of them came to call in Dad’s final week, and Heather helped connect to family via phone and friends and former colleagues who came to visit.

But back to the story of Dad’s lust for learning: he particularly loved reading Popular Mechanics and Scientific American, and any flying magazine he could get his hands on!

Dad also loved trying things out for himself. We learned to learn by doing, just as he had.

At the age of two, he’d observed how a gear shift worked and he gave it a go himself. He climbed up in the driver’s seat of the family Jeep and kicked the manual transmission out of gear. The Jeep rolled down the hill, wrapping around a tree, totaled. He clung happily to the steering wheel.

He’d also as a toddler, we are told, remove the screws from the furniture with his bare hands—so curious was he about how the chairs and table were assembled.

Growing up in the family farm in Fishersville, Virginia, provided many adventures for a kid with curiosity. Dad observed how to use a flexible tube to siphon liquid from a barrel. “No,” the doctor told my grandma, “he isn’t sick,” just a little drunk! Evidentially, that barrel contained hard cider.

Dad wasn’t the only kid in the family stirring up trouble.

Dad’s brother, Phil, was a few years older than him. One day Phil tied Dad to a tree while playing cowboys and Indians. Unexpectedly invited into town by their dad, Phil disappeared. When Phil remembered about my Dad, tied up to that tree, Phil kept mum. No one wanted to earn the ire of my grandad.

Dad spent the day there, strung to that tree.

Their family moved off the farm and into the city of Staunton.

Dad had a newspaper delivery route and he got to know my mom’s brother while doing that job. Dad played clarinet in the school band. He made friends he kept until the very end.

In high school, he got drafted. He got a limited deferment. He married my mom; he hurriedly completed a Bachelor’s degree—starting in Engineering but having to wrap up quickly to meet the limits imposed by Uncle Sam and thus shifting to Business.

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Dad with a newborn, me!

He and Mom decided to have a child before he shipped out for Vietnam, and I was born while he was in boot camp.

My sister came along, like clockwork, not long after his return. There are two-and-one-half years between us. The four lives of my immediate family were indelibly marked by that (senseless) war, in so many ways. Night duty and Agent Orange were particularly treacherous. Of course, I’d wish the whole thing away if I could, but I also recognize that, without that bloody war, Heather and I would not exist.

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Dad at work in Vietnam–so handsome!

In Vietnam, Dad served as an illustrator. In formation, fresh off the plane to Vietnam, his group of recruits was asked if anyone could draw. Hearing no other volunteers, dad put up his hand. Those years studying engineering made a clear difference.

Eventually, he combine that Business degree and illustrating experience, extending it with a Masters in Fine Art gained upon his return using the GI Bill. He subsequently worked as a photographer for the state of Virginia and then supervised the graphics department at the Vet School until his retirement, after 30 years with Virginia Tech.

I have to mention that Dad was the type of parent with kids in tow: he encouraged us to participate in clubs (especially 4-H where we learned so very much), band, and sports. He didn’t volunteer to run these events. He never attended a PTA meeting.

But he was in our corner nonetheless, cheering us on during every performance and award ceremony—and for those there were many.

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I was the friady-cat!

During childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, Heather and I spent many hours at Dad’s office—in the Annex during the 80s and the Vet School later on. We knew Dad’s colleagues well and we learned well from them. We were superbly advised and equipped for any art or photography project we could dream up. And dream we did.

I lived at home for university. Many lunchtimes during my Architecture studies were spent at the Ver School, surrounded by the professors and staff there–engaging in their enthusiastic lunch-time chat.

Many a night during my Bachelor’s and Master’s of Architecture programs were spent in the darkroom with Dad, rushing toward a deadline and/or creating photographic competition boards.

I adopted Dad’s drafting and jewelry equipment as my own. I learned 16mm film and to use 2.25 and 4×5 cameras. I passed on these skills, leading workshops and modules for Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies across my years there.

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Dad’s beloved Musketeer.

He took us and just about everyone we knew up flying. A particularly poignant memory is flying to the site I’d chosen for my Bachelor’s thesis project on Outer Banks of North Carolina. Two friends from architecture school came along, and we timed our landing, two hours out, so that we’d touch down at sunrise. What a glorious day we had, documenting and exploring the island, walking into its town from lunch, splashing in the waves.

The year before in my fourth year of architecture school, Dad and I had rolled up our sleeves and started building a two-seat airplane. We commenced this project in our living room. Dad, my sister, mom, and I had built this house for ourselves.

Soon, the project got too big and we had to construct a large greenhouse on the side of the house.

Dad kept working on that project after I’d completed two Architecture degrees and left town for employment, first in Switzerland (1996-1997) and then in Hampton Roads (1998-2014). Unfortunately, Dad was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer in 1997. It was slow-growing but took its toll nonetheless. The vets doing research on cancer helped dad determine the right dose of Vitamin C to take throughout the day to extend his life as long as it did. Dad beat it for 22 1/2 years beyond his diagnosis.

We never finished that plane-building project, but last spring we donated all it, along with the materials we purchased to help finish the project, to Bototeourt Vocational high school (BTEC). Here’s hoping they can finish it or at least learn from what we’ve done!

These memories–all these memories. I must keep them alive.

My sister also wrote a beautiful and sincere tribute to Dad, and I want to share it as well.

My sister’s tribute to Dad

Image may contain: 1 person, suit and closeup

Photo of Donald Rae Massie – high school senior photo

Donald Rae Massie, my daddy, the world is different without you.
I could always rely on you when I had a question about anything.
I always said that you knew everything. One of the sharpest people I have ever known. With a memory I can only dream of having.
And ready to crack a joke to the very last. You liked to laugh.

When I was a kid and you were watching 60 Minutes, you would yell “Andy Rooney” and I would run through the house, to sit with you and watch and laugh.
When Jay Leno would do Headlines, you would yell “Headlines” and I would run through the house, to sit with you and watch and laugh.
At Christmas when we would give someone in the family a Jeff Foxworthy book, we would all sit and read and laugh until we cried, tears of joy.
Thank you for the love you gave me for irony and for a good laugh.

You were always ready to lend a hand, to help, to teach, to share.

Any project Shannon or I worked on was made better by your advice, your lending of tools, and your guidance on how to use them. We have heard from so many others who have said the same.
We learned to use cameras, compose photographs, develop prints, build our house, use power tools, solve problems, love people of all cultures and backgrounds, and have become strong independent women

I recently learned something that makes me very proud. While you were not keen to fight in Vietnam, you did not try to avoid serving, as those who were able to do so were those who came from wealth and privilege, and those who could not were poor, less advantaged, or of color, and you chose to stand with them and to serve. I thank you for this, even though this service caused so many of the health problems which you so valiantly battled.

Thank you for the love you gave me for nature and beauty – sunsets and oceans and mountains and wildlife and for living.
Thank you for my love of science – of light, of stars, of geology, of space.
Thank you for my love of art – light, color, image, composition,
Thank you for my love of photography – observing, composing, capturing, creating.
Thank you for my love of music – listening, playing, singing, creating.
Thank you for my love of telling a good story – a love which serves me every time I step on stage to embody a character, or when I set out to write a play.
Thank you for my love of the written word, the spoken word.
Thank you for my love of flight, and the joy you gave so many by taking each of us with you soaring through the skies.

What shall I do without you?
But to hold those good parts of me that you gave me and to nurture them.

You wanted every single second of life that God would give you, and your strength was a testament to everyone who had the honor of helping you in your last days. It shall stand for me as a light and way forward to value every minute that I have in this life.

Painting by Donald Rae Massie (Copywrite Donald Rae Massie, all rights reserved by Shannon and Heather)

As noted in Dad’s obituary, we welcome contributions to Warm Hearth Foundations, please designate to the Showalter staff appreciation fund. If you send direct, you can make the designation. The mailing address is: The Village Center • 2387 Warm Hearth Drive • Blacksburg, VA 24060 • (540) 552-9176