‘We have reached 7,000 transition year student girls in a three year period.’

Ruth Buckley is director of ICT & Business Services with Cork City Council and is also co-founder of ‘iWish‘, an initiative developed to inspire, encourage and motivate young secondary school female students to pursue careers in STEM. Ruth, in the blue dress, is pictured above with co-founders Caroline O’Driscoll and Gillian Keating.

The idea

Gillian Keating had the idea for ‘iWish’ – a play on the initials for the phrase ‘Inspiring Women in STEM’.  Our objective is to encourage more young girls in transition year, to consider STEM career options by giving them the chance to meet with young female roles models and employers from across a range of science disciplines at a pivotal time in their lives.

A lesson learned

In our second year of the initiative, we were booked out for the ‘iWish’ event many weeks in advance of the event. However, several schools cancelled in the run-up and on one particular session a few schools did not turn up. We learned to mitigate against this risk by changing our tactics and having a ‘short list’ of schools on stand-by. We also discovered the importance of regularly monitoring the registration figures from schools.

My pet peeve 

Death by email and the ‘always on’ nature of communications these days is a major challenge, particularly in a not for profit business where many of the key people have full-time jobs. It is important to manage expectations particularly with this mix of people.

Analysis informs decision making 

The importance of listening to our stakeholders and the need for ongoing evaluation have been key to our success. After our ‘iWish’ events we look for feedback from the exhibitors. Also, we conduct a student survey and a teacher survey and dedicate a lot of time to the analysis of same. We use this qualitative and quantitative analysis to inform our decisions on the future design and formats to great effect. Our offering is continually evolving, and our stakeholders have responded by offering even greater buy-in and support. 

Achievements 

Directly reaching 7,000 transition year student girls in a three year period and giving them the opportunity to meet STEM role models and employers at such a pivotal time in their careers. We know from our research and direct feedback that many of the girls are changing their subject choices because of their ‘I Wish’ experience. So far we have managed to keep this offering free of charge for all students – which is particularly satisfying given the quality and professionalism of the event we stage.

Average week 

My average week has changed significantly because with Gillian and Caroline, the other two founders of ‘iWish’, we now work weekends and at night or early morning on ‘iWish’. A pleasant side effect has been the opening up of our horizons and engagement with SFI, multinationals, and the LEOs. 

Marketing 

From the start we have appreciated the importance of investing in marketing and PR, it is crucial to our success, and we have had an extremely positive experience with Cameo Ltd. Our exhibitors appreciate the positive PR and our target audience of parents, students and teachers have been very successfully engaged in a campaign which operates across multiple channels from traditional print media, social media and a strong web presence using a dedicated website which supports on-going communication and registration. The campaign starts formally with a launch at the beginning of the school year and continues using a variety of media and engagements up to and including the ‘iWish’ event.

Funding 

We leveraged our respective networks and sought to get a few key stakeholders on side first before approaching the private sector with a carefully crafted and tailored offering. Our first funding commitment came from the local authorities who understood that our objectives were aligned with both national and local government policy and appreciated our willingness to give of our own personal time and talent at no cost.

If I wasn’t doing this? 

I’d love to work in journalism on current affairs.

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