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Women in STEM 2020

Did you know Miss Universe Ireland is a NASA Datanaut?

Fionnghuala O’Reilly

NASA Datanaut and Miss Universe Ireland

Fionnghuala O’Reilly is an engineer with a BS in systems engineering. She has been using her year as Miss Universe Ireland to make diversifying STEM industries her mission.

How did you get into STEM?

When I was 14, I attended a summer programme at the University of California, Berkeley that changed my life.

For the next three years, I studied science, technology, engineering, and maths with other students like me who shared the same interests.

My family never had much money and we travelled often because of my dad’s career in the American Army. I attended 11 public schools before age 18.

Often, society puts girls and women in a box and sometimes we even hold ourselves back.

As the daughter of an African American mom and Irish dad, I didn’t grow up seeing many women in media who looked like me.

But this programme taught me that you can’t be what you can’t see. It showed me the possibilities of a career in STEM and how amazing it could be to become an engineer.

I gained so much confidence in myself and learned how important it was to give my studies my best effort.

I would not have become an engineer without the teachers and mentors that showed me that I shouldn’t wait for others to make space for me. I must make space for myself and others like me so they can reach their goals too.

Why did you pursue Miss Universe Ireland?

As a Dubliner who comes from a mixed-race family, becoming the next Miss Universe Ireland meant that I would have the opportunity to share my story with young girls who could see themselves in me.

I think there are young Irish girls out there from all backgrounds who can relate to my interests in STEM while also having a passion for beauty and fashion.

Often, society puts girls and women in a box and sometimes we even hold ourselves back.

I pursued the crown because I wanted to use the international Miss Universe Organisation’s platform to advocate for women and diversity in male-dominated industries like STEM.

Women are dynamic and multi-faceted and should be encouraged to pursue all of their interests instead of being minimised.

What changes have you been able to make?

Since I won Miss Universe Ireland in August 2019, I have been able to work with fantastic organisations all over the country and internationally to promote my message of inclusivity for all.

Engineers Ireland named me the Engineers Week 2020 Ambassador; I was a headlining speaker at the Women in Tech Dublin Conference and was a featured speaker at Space Week at the University of Limerick.

In October 2019, NASA invited me to the NASA Goddard station in Washington, DC, where I met with top leaders who endorsed my campaign for Miss Universe.

I am honoured and proud to have been able to use my reign to do as much as I can to support women and diversity in this industry.

Even though the world has slowed, and my reign looks very different from what I ever could have expected, it has been important for me to find ways to support others, especially young students who haven’t been in school for months.

Recently, I partnered with Microsoft Ireland’s Dream Space programme for RTE’s Home School Hub to make an impact by bringing STEM learning to the living room.

If this year has taught me anything, I have learned that there is always a way to make a difference.

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