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UCD’s president celebrates Irish culture

Orla Feely, University College Dublin’s first female president in its 169-year history, is hosting a series of events this autumn focusing on Irish culture and tradition to kick off her historic tenure.

Feely will be visiting campuses in the US later this year

The events at Ireland’s largest university will celebrate “our university and our community at this time of transition,” said Feely.

In her inaugural lecture, Feely praised influential people throughout her early life and her ground-breaking career in the STEM field. “The 1970s and early 1980s brought advances in technology that seemed to open up new worlds,” she recalled.

Graduating herself from UCD in 1986, Feely and her classmates knew “the world is our oyster”.

But there were few jobs available in Ireland at the time, so she and fellow graduates left the country en masse, in Feely’s case, to Berkley for her PhD.

“What I want to see into the future is a university that can and does land real positive change”

While there, she said she went from being the “subject of pleasant conversational curiosity to the subject of intense professional curiosity”.

“Senior figures whom I encountered in Silicon Valley and its universities were getting wind of the fact that something was happening in our country, and they wanted to know more,” she said.

“Ireland was transforming economically, industrially, and socially in a story that just had very few parallels around the world.”

Feely argued the most significant driver behind this was the fact that 70% of STEM graduates in Ireland hailed from UCD.

“I saw how this country went from being an economic backwater to a country, that even with all of the problems, has accrued success, capability, reputation, and wealth that would have been unfathomable to me [earlier].”

She referenced UCD leaders collaborating with their counterparts internationally, growing Ireland’s academic reputation around the globe.

“What I see in UCD today, what I have seen in UCD in its impact on my own life, and in the life of Ireland, and what I want to see into the future, is a university that can and does land real positive change in the world at a time when many, and in particular those of our students’ generation, feel powerless at the scale of the challenges facing the world,” Feely said.

“I want us to lift our ambition around the scale of what we can contribute to the big global concerns to engage at a new level with Ireland and with the wider world to understand and advance our strategic positioning and to get her stories out there with conviction and purpose.”

She implored the UCD community to prepare students for the future of work and of life and the role of technology, sustainability, and belonging in that preparation. “We don’t know how the world will evolve over the term of my presidency, but one thing we can be certain of is that the world’s response to unfolding climate and biodiversity crises will be absolutely central to this.”

Feely, along with Dolores O’Riordan, UCD vice-president for global engagement, also presented opening remarks at the inaugural Global Experience Summit at UCD earlier this month. The summit featured a keynote address from speaker Guido de Wilde from the University of Amsterdam about building student communities and developing 21st century competencies for the challenges of today.

The event gathered a wide range of national and international speakers and participants explored a multitude of global engagement opportunities for students and staff. Attendees also discussed the role of higher education in developing active global citizens.

Feely will be visiting campuses in the US later this year to continue her work in promoting internationalisation and collaboration amongst higher education and industry partners across the globe.

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