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.

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:

Southeast Ireland: Cycling around Rosslare

Last weekend we tested out our new car-mounted bike rack. We researched good cycling routes, loaded the bikes for an overnight trip, and struck out Saturday morning for Wexford, the sunniest county in Ireland. On the island’s southeastern-most tip, County Wexford enjoys the highest number of summer days per year on the island.

En route to Wexford with bikes ready to roll.

We parked the car at our hotel in view of Rosslare Harbor, with its ferry port and boats to France, the UK, and elsewhere in Europe and fueled up with a sandwich.

Then we set out to find peaceful waters by bike. The port is the starting point for the Irish leg of a major European cycling route, with three sub-routes circling the area. It’s part of a larger European system of touring-friendly cycling roads.

Our cycling route this day totaled about 37 km and, with its loops, provided us options if we ran out of steam. We didn’t run out though! We chose tranquil little roads, were passed by the occasional car, puzzled at the road signs, and asked other cyclists for advice. GPS really helps with navigating roads in Ireland, but groping around can also be fun.

Ladys Island

Our first stop: Ladys Island, also called Our Lady’s Island. The island itself is a bird sanctuary, and the peninsula beside it is accessible to people and is a religious pilgrimage site. We completed the pilgrimage route by bike. There was evidence of recent outdoor masses beside the castle-like ruin. We explored a old cemetery, recently reclaimed from the brush. There were many people walking and cycling in the area.

The church here reminded me of the one in Staunton, Virginia, called St. Andrews, where my grandmother went. Designed during the same neo-Gothic loving era, I’d say, and not terribly old.

Carne Beach

We enjoyed the sounds of all the lovely birds and then we struck out for Carne Beach. It was beautiful and blue and the water seemed warm enough for a swim although we didn’t try. We just enjoyed the sun, sounds, breeze, and colors.

Rosslare

Then we cycled a long stretch to Rosslare village and beach. It was packed with weekend holiday-makers so we didn’t stay long. Turned away from a restaurant at 4:30 PM, we decided it was best to find food without delay. Rosslare doesn’t currently have capacity to serve many in restaurants and it was full of blow-ins from Dublin, like us.

We cycled back toward the Harbor and were fortunate to find the last table at Culletons of Kilrane where we enjoyed one lovely plate of fish and chips and another of salmon-wrapped cod. The high quality of the food was a pleasant surprise! And pulled pints of Guinness to boot!

The pub we tried before this one was filled by funeral-goers from the burial we’d passed earlier in the day, near Lady’s Island. As an Irish person, Aongus is 100% certain the pub booking was linked to the funeral. This is the only possible explanation, he insists. As an American, I’m not sure I can explain how he knows, even though I read up on funeral rites in the book “How to be Irish” by Daniel Slattery. Actually, I’ve read that funeral chapter twice, but some details still evade me. 

After dinner, we returned to our hotel and settled in for the night. The cycle route here is lifted off the street and was safe enough even after a pint of Guinness, which Aongus says was rocket fuel for me. I virtually flew home. 

Breakfast wasn’t well organized at the hotel, but Supervalue did the trick. We ate on the back deck of the hotel, then packed up and drove back to Lady’s Island to soak in a bit more birdsong and delicate tranquility.

The highlight of our whole trip came at the end, with an impromptu invitation to lunch at the holiday home of our friends Richard and Geraldine. I’d stayed the night with them once before here in Rosslare, between days of RoboSlam events that our team conducted throughout county Wexford, but Aongus had never been to their home. 

As we’d only chosen this destination the night before, I messaged Richard on the way down to see if they might be visiting Rosslare on this particular weekend. 

Geraldine and Richard arrived in town after us, but welcomed us with (virtually, not literally) open arms! I thought we’d meet at a cafe or on the beach, but they were eager to have guests and graciously invited to their place, nicknamed “Five”. Try finding that on Google Maps!

This was my first time visiting with friends in person since mid-March, and it was really good for my mental health to reconnect with beloved others. I even got to expand upon my new-found knowledge of Irish politics and governance by sharing ideas and perceptions with them. 

County Wexford and the Hays family gave us a lovely weekend and we look forward to visiting both again!

Lovely outdoor lunch with Richard and Geraldine. Plus Aongus and Shannon.

Discovering Dublin: Last days of normal life (1/)

Something was about to change here in Dublin on the night of March 11th. I knew this, and thus felt hesitation as well as excitement for an interesting day as I headed into work on the 12th.

You see, TU Dublin had an Open Day planned to show female high school students about our apprenticeship courses. My colleagues and I had put a lot of work into planning this, although we anticipated things could change due to coronavirus. Later this day, life was to shift decisively about our world here in Dublin.

The Last Day ‘Open’ at TU Dublin

A glimpse of Bolton Street with drama in the sky.

We waited anxiously for word from the university about closures. In the meantime, we took care. Although plans went ahead and during this Open Day, the new norms of hand sanitizer and social distancing appeared. Wee conscientiously worked to hold intimate conversations about life plans at a two arm’s length–not an easy feat in a loud and active space like the lobby of Linenhall, home of the TU’s Dublin School of Architecture.

Attendance on this Open Day was higher than one would expect given the uncertainty of life, but not as high as the past year. Only a portion of those who reserved places made it to D2 that day. It was well worth my own four-block walk into work to meet girls from as far as Wicklow who’d ventured up to meet us.

Setting up for the day.

I provided tours of the facilities–bricklaying, plumbing, carpentry, metal fabrication, painting and decorating, laser cutting and 3D printing, automated fabrication–at Linenhall and Bolton Street where apprentices learn. Those taking our sampler program, “Access to Apprenticeship” get to use to all these workshops, and to complete a small project in each to help them determine which to specialize in by completing a full course.

At the end of the event we heard that campus buildings would close that night at 18:00; after this, classes would meet only online.

The BIM modules we offer in my program did indeed meet that night, all online, thanks to the collaborative working platform my colleagues use to teach BIM. Kevin Furlong, Barry McAuley, and Emma Hays took it all in stride and kept on delivering! I was truly impressed.

Working it out during Covid-19

I already worked half time on research, so I actually labored from home 50% of my working hours, pre-Covid. For me, work life after the 12th of March looked pretty similar to before–lots and lots and lots of time at my laptop. There was less variety, though, and much less human contact.

I missed feeling creative. I wasn’t able to blog, as I didn’t feel reason to celebrate during a time of fer and hardship.

I got work done, but not with my normal level of zest.

The first two weekends after the campus shut down, we weren’t yet asked to isolate (we never officially ‘locked down’) but the government was asking us to keep our distance from others.

My household has one other person, Aongus, and this fact has kept me sane during isolation. I’m glad I haven’t had to go through this pandemic living alone. That said, my guy has much higher exposure to the outside world than I do, and could inadvertently drag Covid-19 home at any time.

As you probably know, Aongus and I really enjoy our weekends. We love getting out, exploring the world, getting exercise, fresh air and sunlight. In fact, not feeling pangs of guilt for taking weekend off is a major reason I moved to Europe from the USA. You’ll recall that Aongus and I made the most of every minute in London during my two-year fellowship there. We had plans to make the most of our precious weekends together in Dublin upon our return.

A Sunday at Greystones Beach

Sliding into a new normal, we had a couple weeks to adjust to freedoms and habits that were slipping away. We were still allowed to drive and explore, but were required to stay away from others. Our gym was still open during this time, as well, though we were distancing.

On Sunday, March 15, Aongus and I drove out to Greystones, where we were able to distant from others on the beach. We enjoyed the solitude in the cool winter breeze off the Irish Sea.

And we learned that lunches and loos were few and far between. From this day forward, we packed sandwiches whenever we ventured out, and planned ahead for long period of loo-less-ness.

The difficulty finding these that day told me that things were going to change more radically. We drove to some favorite spots hoping for lunch, but couldn’t stop because they were packed with people.

We did, however, find joy in simple pleasures: an apple, the sunshine, and loving company.

Holi-day at Bull Island Marshes & Dollymount Strand

St. Patrick’s Day was a holiday, so we made another trip trip to the sea, still pre-lockdown (to use the phrase lightly–we’ve never officially ‘locked down’ in Ireland to the degree of many other European countries).

Although Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade had been cancelled, and tourists discouraged from coming, we residents were still allowed out, but asked to keep our distance.

Aongus and I headed out to Bull Island, by car, as was typical for us before coronavirus. Walking and Dublin Bikes were our other main forms of transportation, and where they didn’t bring us, a bus or car would. “Back then”, we would never have dreamed of cycling to Bull Island or Dollymount Strand; they seemed so very far away.

Bull Island is a favorite among Dubliners though, and when we arrived the beach looked far too crowded to allow the distance I required, so we instead explored the marshes.

My colleague Damon Berry had recommended that I check them out, and this was the first time I latched onto the idea. Aongus and I had a nice picnic in the dunes.

Of course, we hoped to find passage across to the beach by way of the dunes, but the waterways prevented that. Nevertheless, we enjoyed discovering a tranquil strip of Bull Island where few people venture.

By the late afternoon, the beach had cleared out (it was the bottleneck along the wall that had presented the problem passing others) and we were able to visit the strand, which is called Dollymount.

As you can see, Dublin is quite chilly during March, but any opportunity to go outside, walk, and soak in the sunshine is prized.

Isolation begins

The lifestyle we had known was quickly sliding away. Soon after our visit to Bull Island, the period of isolation began. Aongus and I essentially hibernated for weeks. I was able to keep working from home. He, as a construction site project manager, was able to do some limited amount of work from home and was allowed on site, alone, occasionally, to do essential work, or check for security.

As we have a range of grocery stores (Fresh Market, Lidl, two Centras and a Daybreak) within 1-4 blocks of our flat and the food supply chains serving Dublin never let us down, we were able to source food easily and have learned many new recipes with what we can find in these stores.

That 2km radius we were allowed to travel from home for the purpose of exercise kept us sane, and we looked forward to weekends, hoping and praying for sunshine.

County Kerry: A day in Dingle

The Irish government has allowed domestic travel since June 29, and has been encouraging residents of the Republic to holiday inside the country to help revive the Irish tourist sector. Aongus and I were happy to oblige and we headed out for a four day weekend to the west of Ireland.

Unbelievably, my Irish man—born in Dublin and raised speaking Irish—had never been to Dingle! This rainy little fishing village is a favorite of Americans, and I’ve visited several times since my inaugural trip there in 2003.

The Fish Box is just to the left of Dick Mack’s Pub, across the street from St. Mary’s Church.

This particular overnight stay in this lovely little town included dinner at The Fish Box (amazing!), bed and breakfast at Bambury’s Guest House, and a kayaking trip guided by Irish Adventures.

And yes, we saw Fungie first hand, just 30’ or so away. Such a friendly and adventurous dolphin who has graced Dingle Bay since 1983. The tourism industry loves Fungie, with hundreds and sometimes even thousands of people boating out to visit the people-living dolphin daily.

On our kayaking trip were four learners—a couple from Cork and a mum and son from Dingle—and two instructors. A family of five got their own guide and travelled apart from us.

It was such a treat to pal around with Irish people enjoying their own home place. Truly an ideal time to visit. Especially since the seas were too rough for boating two days before and two days after our own outing. We really lucked out!

The pubs of Dingle were still closed during our visit, so there were no trad music sessions to enjoy, but we were able to do a little shopping. I picked up some exercise gear in hopes of our gym opening next week, and I also purchased a Cornwall Seasalt brand scarf to replace the one I dropped at Bonobo’s of Smithfield in February that so unkindly was never handed over to the lost and found.

Social distancing was easy in Dingle and we look forward to exploring more of Ireland as time, weather, and government guidelines permit. We were so very thankful for this one precious day of fun and glorious weather.

New-ish cap!

Special thanks to Noel of Irish Adventures for excellent instruction and leadership of the tour as well as his gift to me of an Irish Adventures baseball cap. They had actually run out of new caps, but gifted me one off their very own head! And it’s already perfectly broken in. Pop it in the wash and it’s good to go!

The photo gallery below shows an approach to Dingle via the Connor Pass (with new Wild Atlantic Way signage), the town of Dingle at sunset, and our morning out on the weather. Stay tuned for more pics of Kerry to come!

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.