At Google we are passionate about STEM

The Midlands Science Festival is proud to name Google as a new supporting partner for 2017. We had a chat with Google’s Claire Conneely, Computer Science Education Outreach team (EMEA) to hear a little about the company’s STEM outreach and why its so important for them to support events like Science Week and the Midlands Science Festival.

Claire, we are delighted that you will be supporting this year’s Midlands Science Festival and are proud to name Google as a partner. Can you tell us a bit about the type of STEM outreach that Google does in Ireland?
At Google we are passionate about STEM, in particular Computer Science (CS). I am part of the CS Education team at Google – we are a global team who help millions of students and educators across the world develop technical skills for the future. More than 65% of students will work in jobs that don’t even exist today (http://reports.weforum.org/future-of-jobs-2016).

At Google, want to help prepare them for that future by getting them excited about where CS can take them. Coding allows students to learn with​ technology (not from​ it, as is all-too-often the case) and to be active creators of their own content, not passive consumers. Many transferrable skills can be learned through studying CS, such as Computational Thinking, logic, problem solving – skills that we use at Google every day!

Do you have a science or technology background yourself?
Not exactly… music was my first passion! I originally studied to become a secondary school music teacher, which I did for a number of years and absolutely loved. In those early years of teaching, I
became fascinated by technology and its role in helping students learn, so I decided to return to college to do a Masters in Technology and Learning. From there, I got the opportunity to join a small team in Trinity College Dublin to co-found and develop a new STEM outreach programme, which eventually became Bridge21. I’m very proud that today it’s one of the university’s flagship outreach programmes. Three years ago I had the chance to apply for this job at Google and I’ve been here ever since!

Recent data shows that Ireland continues to experience a skills shortage in the STEM sector. Why is it important for companies like Google to support events like the Midlands Science Festival and what do you think we can do to keep dispelling the myth that science is difficult?
We are delighted to be able to sponsor important events like the Midlands Science festival. The best way to dispel the myths about STEM is to expose students from an early age. It is also about lighting a spark and then keeping that spark alive throughout primary and second-level schooling, for those who have
the interest and aptitude. Some 98% of our engineers at Google had some level of exposure to CS before college. I am thrilled to see the introduction of Computational Thinking to the Primary School Maths curriculum, and the new Leaving Certificate Computer Science subject. Great opportunities lie ahead for our young people in years to come!

Are there are any specific challenges in attracting women into science and technology related fields and do you have any suggestions on how this could be addressed?

So many girls start out with a love of science and technology, but lose it somewhere along the way. Google believes that a diverse workforce leads to better products for diverse users and we are especially committed to reversing the negative trends around women in technology-related fields, in particular CS.

To guide our outreach and investments in this space, we conducted a study in 2014 to identify and understand the factors that influence young women’s decisions to pursue degrees in CS. It identified
encouragement and exposure as the leading factors influencing this critical choice and learned that anyone can help increase female participation in CS, regardless of their technical abilities or background. The most encouraging outcome of the study was that these factors have practical solutions, that anyone can undertake, requiring little more than time and interest. There’s enormous potential for positive change in this space!

What is your favourite science fact?
Your heartbeat mimics the beat of the music you’re listening to.