Aoibheann Mangan is a student at Mount Saint Michael Secondary School and an advocate for getting young girls into STEM. She was named EU Digital Girl of the Year 2017-18 in the 11-14 category, and is a finalist in the 2019 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards’ “One to Watch” category – awarded to a girl aged 11-16 who is actively encouraging girls to study STEM subjects.
At the age of 12, you’ve had some life – running MegaDojo and MozFest workshops, speaking at events like InspireFest, winning European Digital Girl of the Year, you’ve met people like Prince Harry and Meghan and seemed to keep your cool discussing the issues that matter to you… Do you ever get nervous, and what’s your advice to others about facing your fears and jumping out of your comfort zone?
I am always really nervous before I do things... even more so the more of them I do, which shouldn’t make sense! I’ve been really lucky at some of the events I’ve spoken at, as I’ve met really amazing role models of mine who confess to being nervous too. That really helps. Speaking at InspireFest last year was out of this world. I had been to the event two years prior and watched Niamh Scanlon (EU Digital Girl of the Year 2015) speak. She featured a photo of me in her slides. At the time, I thought, “Oh wow! Would it be possible? Could I ever be up there on that stage telling my story?” So, it was a dream come true. The nerves were definitely brewing backstage, but I was on with a mighty bunch – aspiring astronaut Taylor Richardson, Lottie Dolls MD Ian Harkin, and the amazing co-founder of Stemettes Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon. They were all nervous, but Anne-Marie gave some super advice. She told me it would be actually cool and memorable to faint... or backflip... I think the mental image got me through it! Meeting Harry and Meghan was also amazing. I wasn’t nervous for that one. I was just dying to get a chance to show them what CoderDojo has given me the chance to do and that girls in tech are so important.
Where do you hope to see yourself in five to ten years’ time? What’s the ultimate goal for you?
Oh, I’d love to be doing something with technology and maybe education. My mum is a teacher and principal. However, I don’t think I would like her job. I love when I meet teachers and get to show them things and explain how they work and see them realise they can do it too. I’d love to be an entrepreneur. I’m working on a project at the moment that I’d love to see develop.
People are taking you very seriously now, it seems – was there a time you felt you weren’t taken seriously enough because of your age?
I think it does seem sometimes like no one is listening. For starters, where I live, we have dial-up internet. I feel like no one actually thinks that’s a problem, but last year, despite it holding me back from doing as much as I know I could do (just this weekend, I had to do my history project as a written page article, not the interactive board game I wanted, as I couldn’t get online over the whole weekend), I was delighted to take part in Child Talks organised by the Ombudsman for Children. It was televised live on RTÉ News. I think a lot of times, I’ve used my age as an excuse, but I’m not going to let it stop me from trying to promote the things that are important to me – girls getting their fair chances in the tech and STEM industries.
What has been your proudest moment to date?
Probably being asked to speak at InspireFest and meeting Harry and Meghan. These were definitely up there with becoming a big sister again last year! Also, being announced as a finalist for the 2019 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards in the “One to Watch” category, which is awarded to a girl aged 11-16 who’s encouraging girls to study STEM subjects.
Do you have any heroes – people you look up to who’ve inspired you?
I’ve got so many and I’ve been so lucky to meet some of them. Another Mayo lady who is shooting literally for the stars Dr Norah Patten, set to be Ireland’s first woman in space; Ann O’Dea and Elaine Burke from Silicon Republic; co-founder of Outbox Incubator and executive director of Blackstone LaunchPad Mary Carty; retired science teacher and coding advocate Mags Amond; MakerMeet’s Pamela O’Brien; and Cat Lamin from the UK. Another lady who is just fab is Jess Kelly from Newstalk. She’s just great. I did an event with Childline to launch their amazing new digital platform, and she gave the best tips on how to MC. She’s amazing.
In your travels, is there somewhere outside of Ireland that has inspired you with regards to how they’re exciting young people into STEM that you’d like to see happen back home?
London has been amazing. If you haven’t been to MozFest, you need to visit. Looking at all the events like Bett, it’s just amazing. Now, saying that, I think InspireFest would be hard to beat, and that’s all ours!
And in Ireland, are there workshops and events you’d encourage more young people to go to?
I’d encourage everyone to join their CoderDojo or nearest code club. If they wanted to sample what they would see at them, a visit to Coolest Projects in the RDS in May is a must, as well as MegaDojo in many venues around Ireland. If you’re a teacher or in education, the CESI conference and ICT in Education conferences are fab. InspireFest, May 16-17 (inspirefest.com) again – a total must!
I know you’ve had great difficulty with regards to broadband in your hometown … has there been any improvement (do you still drive to Tesco)?
No improvement as yet, but it’s coming. It has been this way since I was born, apparently. No, fibre is actually piped to come. The black boxes are on the poles, just waiting for them to go live. It was meant to happen in January, but we’re still waiting. And yes, I still travel to Tesco car park... but worry less about a huge bill from them. I got a Vodafone mobile dongle, and it’s doing the job!
What about STEM, coding and tech in Irish schools – do you feel we have a long way to go in order to raise future leaders in these fields, especially girls and women?
I think we need to level the playing field. Some schools do it, some don’t. It just isn’t good enough. Also, moving from primary to secondary, it needs to move up too.
What advice do you have for other young girls considering a career in STEM or tech?
Follow your dreams and let nothing hold you back. There are always obstacles, but look at the role models we have now. We can do anything we want to do.
And what advice do you have for educators and parents when it comes to encouraging more girls into STEM?
I’d love to see educational content rolled out for primary and secondary schools in all areas for all students, not just in all girls or all boys schools. When it comes to the case of girls and STEM, I’d like to say to parents and educators: “If you can’t see it, how can you be it?” There are fabulous examples out there. They may not be the first ones to come up in Google searches, but sometimes they are better than the ones that do. Support us and show us!
What do you personally hope for the future of women by the time you’re entering adulthood, and the workforce – what would you like to see improve for women?
I think things are improving, and I hope they continue to do so. One thing I loved in 2018 and 2019 was how open people were at events and were bringing their kids along. My mum loves CPD (continuing professional development) and going to events. I love how my baby brother was the star attraction at some of these events, and Mum wasn’t told to leave him at home or made to send me with my dad (sorry, Dad). I think it should be easier for women to get where they want to go without barriers of “it’s a man’s job” in their way!
Follow Aoibheann @AoibheannMangan