International Women in Engineering Day – Q&A with Helen Skeffington Kelly

Engineering Futures | Griffiths & Armour

Today marks International Women in Engineering Day and to celebrate this date, we caught up with Helen Skeffington Kelly. Helen was one of the recipients of the Engineering Futures bursary initiative in association with Engineers Ireland and the ACEI, which was created to support and inspire young people into considering the traditional Engineering sectors as a viable career path.

We took the opportunity to discuss Helen’s experience since being awarded the bursary and her aspirations for the future.

Hi Helen! To begin with, can you tell us what inspired you to choose Engineering as a career path?

In September 2017, I commenced studying General Entry Engineering in D.I.T. Bolton Street. I had never studied any engineering related classes in school, but it was something that had always interested me, and a subject I believed I would be well suited to. I chose the route of Civil/Structural Engineering as I had always been intrigued by buildings, their makeup, how they were constructed, and the end product. This passion for buildings had been instilled in me from a young age by my late father. I had always wanted to be just like him when I grew up and so Civil/Structural engineering was a logical choice for what to study at university.

How has the Engineering Futures bursary supported you?

In my second year, we were informed of the Griffiths & Armour Engineering Futures Bursary in association with Engineers Ireland and the ACEI. I decided to apply as I knew a summer internship would be an invaluable experience while I was still in university and was delighted when I had been awarded the bursary. The financial help has enabled me to focus on my college work and work less while studying and the summer internship has given me a chance to get real-life experience and apply my knowledge from university. It taught me a lot about civil engineering and gave me the knowledge I needed to complete both my dissertation and my course.

The bursary has provided me with a lot of great opportunities that otherwise would never have been open to me. The networking events have given me invaluable connections within the industry. I feel the bursary is an opportunity that will continue to help me past college and when I am starting out in my career, something that I am hugely appreciative of.

We understand that as part of the bursary you have been able to attend networking events and presentations. Which have been some of your favourites?

A few months after being chosen to receive the bursary, myself and Alan Spillane (who was also chosen to receive the Engineering Futures bursary) got the opportunity to meet everyone from the interview panel again for lunch. We discussed what would happen in the coming months and what the bursary would mean for us and were informed of the upcoming EFCA Conference that was taking place in May in the Westin Hotel, Dublin City Centre. As part of the EFCA Young Professionals day, we got the chance to go on a site visit to the National Children’s Hospital construction site and attend a number of presentations. We were introduced to the EFCA president and the ACEI president. This was a great opportunity to meet people involved in the industry at all levels, from experienced engineers and recent graduates. Speaking to graduates about the projects they were working on and what they had learnt since they left university was interesting and informed me of what I could be working on once I was qualified and working in the industry.

Most recently, on 26 February, Griffiths & Armour hosted a roundtable event in Dublin, with leaders in the Irish construction sector in attendance. Alan and I had the great opportunity to attend and got the chance to promote the bursary and what it meant for us as engineering students. It was another great networking event, as we both got the chance to talk to people that we could one day be sitting in front of for a job interview or meet again at similar events. It was great to hear what they thought were the most pressing issues in the construction industry and discuss what myself and Alan as newcomers thought should be addressed in the industry.

What was your experience like on your summer internship with an Irish consulting engineering company?

I chose to do my placement in Barrett Mahony Consulting Engineers (BMCE). My role as a summer placement was to assist the design and project engineers on several projects. I worked with the civil engineering team mostly on residential developments. However, I also got the opportunity to learn and gain experience about geotechnical engineering, I was able to work on some large developments in the UK and went on numerous site visits where I had the chance to see where the future developments would go.

My internship allowed me to apply my theoretical knowledge gained in university to real-life projects I gained experience in report writing, drainage systems, hoarding design and much more. The experience I gained from my placement has helped me greatly this past year and has shown me how the theoretical and work environment come together. I chose my final year thesis topic on Sustainable Urban Drainage, a topic I gained great experience on while working with BMCE during the summer and thanks to their invaluable help throughout the year, I completed my thesis successfully.

Engineering can often be seen as a male-dominated industry. What has your experience been like since pursuing this career path?

When I entered my first year in Engineering, I was one of three females in the class, in my second year I was the only girl in my class. Engineering remains a male orientated industry.  I was driven to achieve good results and demonstrate that women can function in this industry on the same level as their male counterparts. It was with great delight to open my third-year exam results and realise I had achieved an overall grade of 85%. I am now progressing my level 8 at Napier University in Edinburgh, this will be the start of a new journey in my education and life and I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes me.