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Dolores O’Riordan, University College Dublin, Ireland

Dolores O’Riordan is vice president of global engagement at UCD in Ireland. She sat down with The PIE to discuss challenges around diversification, the institution’s overall international agenda and why hearing a string quartet play The Beatles at EAIE 2016 in Liverpool left a mark.


"It's a privilege to get up every day and play, perhaps a small but nonetheless an important, part in connecting the pieces together"

Describe your work.

I develop and implement global engagement strategy, my academic background is in food science, and I’m very much involved in the global reach, particularly seeking a global sustainable diet.

What is the biggest challenge of the profession?

In the UCD strategy, we are seeking diversification in terms of nationalities, student population and in faculty and staff. A challenge for the staff is for us to really understand the cultural background [students] are coming from to provide an educational experience in a working environment that will really allow them to thrive.

With students from 150 different countries, it can be difficult to ensure we’re catering to all their needs. Many are coming from different learning styles, food preferences and languages. So we try and provide experiences so they can flourish both academically and socially.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change?

I would want equality from a global education point of view. We absolutely encourage mobility, and particularly physical mobility abroad, yet there are many barriers to mobility, with finance being a major one. A key objectives of our global engagement strategy is a global experience for all and I really feel strongly about that.

What do you like most about your job?

The experiential learning at UCD. Taking on this role gave me an extra layer of learning beyond my academic discipline with the opportunities to experience new cultures first-hand.

Going to a country and being among the people is when we really begin to better understand others. You can learn so much at a distance, but being immersed in a culture, and understanding the frames of mind of others from a cultural and political point of view, understanding the educational systems all around the world… it fuels the desire to make the experience here on the UCD campus more amenable to all.

Considering the greatest challenges affecting society, such as climate change and world hunger, we’re privileged as a university to have some of the brightest and best minds in the world addressing these issues. So, part of my job I’ve really enjoyed is working with partners who will help find solutions for those social challenges.

There must be a co-creation of the solution, so it’s identifying universities and partners that share UCD’s values to help make the world a better place and to future-proof it for the next generation. It’s a privilege to get up every day and play, perhaps a small but nonetheless an important, part in connecting the pieces together.

What has been a defining moment in your career?

A major defining moment was on the completion of my PhD in food science. At the time, there were not many people doing a PhD in Ireland in applied science and typically the academic world is what you were trained for.

I was about to embark on the traditional route when I was offered an interview in industry and ended up staying there over six years. It was my entry into working in a global environment, so it is what opened up my world, particularly within Europe.

“What I took from industry has helped me in my initial days of teaching in preparing undergraduates”

What I took from industry has helped me in my initial days of teaching in preparing undergraduates. I then understood the world where they were going out to work and it also shaped my research questions because I realised what industry had and didn’t have the answers to. Both trajectories have really informed each other.

Can you tell us about UCD’s international campuses and / or joint programs outside of Ireland and their importance?

Putting it in context of the overall international agenda within UCD, we describe ourselves as global university. With over 33,000 students on this campus, 31% are international and they come from 150 different nationalities around the world.

To extend our reach around the world we have five global centres: one in New York servicing the American market, one in Delhi servicing Indians, and we also have centres in Kuala Lumpur, Dubai and Beijing. The global centres are helping bring the brightest and the best students to Ireland.

UCD’s joint international projects and emphasis on SDGs have deepened our relationships with partners from a research point of view as well as from an innovation and impact point of view, broadening our global footprint.

This year, as a university, we wanted to focus on Africa in its broadest sense. We considered what the world is facing regarding the challenge of having a sustainable food production system as we all cope with climate change hitting each of us differently. Africa as a continent has coped with major droughts and floods over the years so there’s a lot of opportunity in that one area alone to work together to build more partnerships and to connect to industry in Africa.

Who is one of the most inspiring students you’ve met?

I have been at the university now almost 30 years and have met many inspiring students. A student of mine who really has always impressed me but recently has had a great achievement is Dr. Eunice Marete, whom I first encountered as my PhD student. To support herself, she did extra work outside of her PhD and towards the end of her program, she gave birth to her first son in Ireland and finished her PhD on time.

She served as the interim registrar at a university and recently interviewed for a post in Kenya and within days of returning to Africa she reported to me that she has been appointed to the Kenyan Commission for University Education as the deputy commissioner secretary in charge of the quality of education. It’s an amazing achievement.

What is the most memorable international education conference you have been to and why?

One of the most memorable conferences was EAIE in Liverpool in 2016 because it marked the launch of UCD’s first global engagement strategy that I had just developed and implemented. So I suppose it was putting forth a commitment to global engagement on the world stage. I particularly remember the opening ceremony in Liverpool where they were playing a tribute to the Beatles. It was a beautiful string quartet who played “Here Comes the Sun”.

And the in listening to the lyrics, I felt that first strategy was UCD’s hope and that it was pulling us on to the global stage. We were already on the stage, but the strategy was poised to give us a stronger position and a greater reputation. It’s always good to have a plan and to map out what you’re going to do, and to have that uplifting music to go with it is something that always has stayed with me.

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