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Encouraging children to question the world around them provides fertile ground for STEM

ESB Science Blast supports teachers and parents to foster science, technology, engineering and maths, helping to power the next generation of talented problem solvers

Environmental engineer Ciara Gurhy was one of those kids who asked a lot of questions. She had an endless curiosity about how things worked, a natural inquisitiveness that was encouraged at home and in school.

Now a graduate engineer with ESB, her experience growing up is the reason she is such a huge advocate of ESB Science Blast today.

ESB Science Blast is a free educational programme, designed to help foster a love of science, technology, engineering and maths in primary school children.

Gurhy, who is 24 and from Clonsilla in Dublin, credits her own parents and teachers with fostering her love of STEM subjects.


“I’m the oldest of three and growing up we had loads of problem-solving toys around the house, like jigsaw puzzles and K’nex, which are engineering bricks a bit like Lego,” says Ciara.

“My parents were also very outdoorsy people and were always bringing us camping and hiking in the forest, so I grew up with a love of nature too and, from a really early age, wanted to find out more about it.”

That natural inquisitiveness was further developed by the Scouts, of which she was a member for years.

“The Scouts is big into independence and teaching you problem solving skills by having you figure things out for yourself. I also loved their respect for the countryside, taking only memories and leaving only footprints.”

Little wonder that Ciara was on her primary school’s Green Schools committee, helping her school achieve flags for waste reduction and water and electricity conservation.

“I was really lucky to experience that as a child,” she says. “Our school always celebrated Science Week too, where we’d go into different classes and each teacher would demonstrate something interesting like how an electricity circuit powers a lightbulb or how a lemon can be a battery.”

All these activities sparked a love of science in her.

“It was so good to be in an environment where you were given time to stop and think about things,” she explains. “To me that’s what ESB Science Blast does, it gives children that reason to stop and think, to break something down to see how it works.”

With ESB Science Blast, a whole class chooses a scientific question, such as ‘why is the sky blue?’, and then sets about answering it, displaying the results of their research at one of three national events.

Ciara will be an ESB Science Blast judge this year, something she’s really looking forward to, particularly as she had first-hand experience of the benefits of school based initiatives that make STEM subjects fun.

In Transition Year, for example, she took part in Scratch, a computer programming initiative that taught her to code her own games. She’s a huge supporter of the Coder Dojo community-based computer programming clubs too.

“Initiatives like these are great ways of giving kids valuable skills at an early age, in a fun way,” she explains.

For her own part, she always loved maths, not because it came easy to her so much as because it was challenging. “I think that’s just part of my personality,” she explains.

She took honours maths for the Leaving Cert and studied applied maths as an extra subject outside of school, just for fun. “I would always leave my maths homework until last because I enjoyed it the most,” she says.

Yet despite her obvious academic ability, it was only by chance that she ended up studying engineering at third level.

“I met my neighbour one day when I was in sixth year, and she asked me what I was going to do in college, and I just didn’t know. She said in passing ‘Well you like problem solving and you like science, why not do engineering?’ I didn’t even know it was an option but when I looked into it, I thought that fits me perfectly - and I’ve never looked back,” says Ciara.

“It just shows you the impact an adult can have on a young person by simply showing an interest and it also shows how important it is to tell young girls that STEM careers are an option.”

Top of the class

Not alone did Ciara go on to study engineering at Trinity College Dublin, but she graduated top of her class with first class honours and a master’s degree in Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering.

She was accepted into ESB’s graduate programme straight from college and now works as an environmental engineer with the energy company.

Among the projects she is currently working on is the construction of a windfarm in Mayo. “Sometimes it strikes me how funny it is that as a child I used to build windmills with K’nex, and now I’m doing it for real.”

Part of her job is ensuring the windfarm’s building schedule doesn’t impact negatively on bird breeding patterns in the area. “It’s being built on a bog so we also have to make sure that the foundations are solid while at the same time the water going back into streams remains pristine,” she explains.

Renewable energy has always been of interest to her. She wrote her master’s thesis on the subject of wave energy, a technology she believes ESB will be to the forefront of in the years ahead, as part of its commitment to getting to net zero carbon emissions.

“It’s part of why I enjoy working for ESB. As someone who loves the outdoors so much, its values align with mine,” she explains.

Work with purpose is important to her. “You want to feel like what you are doing matters. For me it’s important that the work I do is for the betterment of the planet, not the opposite,” she says.

It also matters to her that every encouragement is given to girls at both primary and secondary level to study STEM subjects.

That’s why she believes initiatives such as ESB Science Blast are so valuable. “It’s so important that girls in school see a career in STEM as achievable. To do that you need to keep them curious, keep opening their minds to how the world works, and keep teaching them that they can do anything they want if they work towards it,” she says.

“It’s so easy go through life just taking things for granted and not questioning. What I love about ESB Science Blast is that the whole class is given that time to stop and think about how something works, and then try and figure it out themselves, with everybody in the whole class doing it together.”

ESB Science Blast encourages teachers and parents to foster a love of science, technology, engineering, and maths in primary school children. The non-competitive programme, which runs in Dublin, Belfast and Limerick is often a first step towards a career in these sectors. To find out more log on to esbscienceblast.com