OUR ALUMNI NETWORK is filled with people making a difference at all levels; across business, industry, society and culture, here in Ireland and right around the world.
The UCD Alumni Awards recognise and celebrate the excellence and achievement of individuals within our network. Their accomplishments and successes are a source of great pride to UCD and an inspiration to present and future generations. With over 300,000 alumni in 189 countries around the world, the reach of the UCD alumni network is truly global. Our alumni are loyal and passionate, and their support and achievements help to shape the future of UCD, Ireland’s leading global university.
In the ninth year of the UCD Alumni Awards we are delighted to announce this year’s admirable recipients who now take their place in the hall of fame alongside our previous winners…
SOCIAL SCIENCES AWARD
NIALL BRESLIN BA (ECONOMICS AND SOCIOLOGY) 2003, MSc PSYCHOLOGY 2019
Niall is the founder of the mental health charity, A Lust for Life. A musician, broadcaster and podcaster, he is passionate about normalising conversations around youth mental health.
What are your key UCD memories? I was on a rugby scholarship and didn’t get the full college experience in that first year. But learning is something I adore, and I was getting to study something I had a passion for. Professor Aidan Moran had a huge impact on me – I remember going straight to the library from his classes to try to find out more. What are you especially proud of in your career to date? The most challenging part was to set up an organisation and a charity [A Lust for Life]. We built that organisation and have a team. It’s no longer me any more and I can, in essence, walk away from it knowing that we’ve done what we needed to do. How did you manage in the pandemic? We rushed very quickly to pathologicalise it, to immediately say, ‘There’s something broken in all of us’. But, what I learnt very quickly about the pandemic is that, if I’m feeling a bit empty, or lost, or exhausted, it’s a very good, human response. None of it was normal. That anxiety and fear we felt was the brain doing its job. What advice do you have for UCD students? Life is not a straight line. Shit things are going to happen to you. Amazing things too. An awful lot of our suffering comes from the belief we shouldn’t suffer.
CONRAD BURKE BSc PHYSICS 1989
Conrad is the co-founder and managing partner of MetaVC Partners. An entrepreneur and investor, he is a leading figure in the worlds of renewable energy, optical communications, nanomaterials and biosciences.
What are your memories of UCD? I really enjoyed the camaraderie and great friends and educators I met. Physics really set me up to be quite at ease with navigating different technologies, products, and markets. What life and professional skills did you pick up at university? I was rather shy coming from a small secondary school – St David’s, Greystones – but when thrown into the giant, sprawling campus of UCD, I learned valuable social and storytelling skills from so many interesting and smart people. How did the pandemic affect your work? We embraced Zoom and the various online communication tools, but I am a diehard believer in the power of face-to-face engagements. I lament that we lost some of the magic of human contact in doing business. What are your future goals? I just co-founded a new venture firm (MetaVC Partners), backed by Bill Gates. We have already funded three start-up companies spanning space communications, optical computing and driverless car sensors. More are coming. I want to visit the South Pole before I am too old. What advice do you have for UCD graduates? Now that you have your degree, always seek opportunities to ensure you keep growing and learning. Get outside your comfort zone. Take on the hard stuff that will make an impact and do not get hung up on the risk of failure. Failure is a way to learn.
MARY QUANEY BComm INTERNATIONAL (FRENCH) 1999, MAcc 2000
Mary is the Group Chief Executive Officer of Mainstream Renewable Power, an Irish-based renewable energy company specialising in the development of onshore and offshore wind and solar projects.
What are your memories of UCD? UCD opened up the world to me. It was a most formative and enjoyable time with lifelong friendships made and so many avenues of learning and development from both an academic and personal perspective. A year spent on Erasmus in France was a particular highlight. What skills did UCD nurture? It nurtured a natural curiosity which has taken me far, as well as the confidence to be open to a lifetime of learning. What are you most proud of, career-wise, to date? Being appointed CEO of Mainstream at a pivotal time and leading the company through the change in ownership which resulted in the Aker Group of Norway acquiring 75 per cent of the company, followed by Mitsui investing €575 million in the company for a 27.5 per cent shareholding. But what makes me most proud is the recognition of the company that Mainstream has grown to today as well as its potential for the future. And Mainstream is on a significant growth trajectory. What advice do you have for UCD’s students and graduates? Don’t impose limits on yourself. With an open mind, focus and resilience, so much can be achieved. Setbacks and failures are to be expected, but a mindset of viewing them as learning experiences and strengthening resilience can be very powerful.
RESEARCH, INNOVATION AND IMPACT AWARD
DR MARTIN J. TOBIN MB BCh BAO 1975
Martin is a world-renowned critical care doctor, pulmonologist and academic. He is regarded as a leading expert in acute respiratory failure, mechanical ventilation and neuromuscular control of breathing.
What did you enjoy most about your UCD years? Although most of my interactions at UCD were with medical students, I was fortunate in knowing many students in other disciplines who broadened my horizons and deepened my understanding of literature and the arts. What professional and life skills did you pick up at UCD? My mentor, Professor Muiris FitzGerald, who instilled in me that medicine is fundamentally about how a doctor interacts with the single patient in front of him or her. Everything else in medicine is a footnote. What are you most proud of in your career to date? To be able to gain new knowledge into how the human body works as a result of making physiological measurements in healthy volunteers and patients with diseases of varying severity, and to translate those research findings into practical steps that doctors can use on a daily basis as they take care of patients. What are your future goals? To continue doing what I have been doing for the last 45 years: take care of patients, teach students and trainees at the bedside, and do original research on patients with lung disease. What advice do you have for UCD’s latest graduates? Look into your soul and figure out your own dream. Persist with that dream despite repeated setbacks and failures and do not get seduced by trends and fads.
ENGINEERING AND ARCHITECTURE AWARD
CIARAN CONNELL BE (ELECTRONIC) 1982 AND MICHAEL MC LAUGHLIN BE (ELECTRONIC) 1982, MEng (ELECTRONIC) 1992
Ciaran Connell and Michael McLaughlin are veterans of the communications and semiconductor industry. They co-founded Decawave, the micro-location specialist and pioneer of IR-UWB (Impulse Radio-Ultra Wideband) technology, which was acquired by Qorvo in 2020. Both are still actively involved in the company, and were recipients of the Distinguished Graduate Award from the UCD Ciaran Connell Engineering Graduates Association (EGA) in 2021.
What are your memories of UCD? Through ‘intellectual sparring’ with my peers and professors, I got a much better appreciation of my strengths and my shortcomings and, most importantly, where my interests lay. I knew then I wanted to start a company and bring a technology to market. What professional skills did you acquire at university? The job of a CEO is to make decisions with incomplete data. And then to sell that decision. And to be willing to modify or abandon it should new information suggest doing so. The skill to do this is learnt at university through lectures and interaction with fellow students. I learnt it in spades. What are you most proud of in your career to date? Without doubt, building a company, Decawave, with my co-founder and UCD friend and fellow Alumni Award winner Michael McLaughlin. Decawave’s charter was to bring a new technology, IR-UWB to market which would have a meaningful impact on society while also providing meaningful, well-paying engineering jobs in Ireland. Mission accomplished. What advice do you have for UCD graduates? Constantly build your portfolio of skills. Don’t stay in any bad job or situation long. Stay curious. Get international experience – that does not necessarily mean moving abroad. And never give up.
What are your memories of UCD? There were about 120 students in our year – four of them women. I loved the computer room. I used to skip lectures to write APL programmes. I spent a lot of time at the Belfield Bar at the weekends. What skills did you pick up at university? An understanding of signal processing and electronics. Plus lots of maths and physics. What are your proudest achievements? I won the 2019 Parsons Medal, which is given to one engineer every year for outstanding contribution to engineering. It’s named after Charles Parsons, who invented the turbine steam engine. And one of the very proudest moments was when [DecaWave’s innovative] chip came back from the foundry and we plugged it in and it worked! What advice do you have for students and graduates? Be true to what you love. Pursue your dream. Always have confidence that it’s going to come true. I never doubted that I was going to change the world sometime – and I did. You have to believe that, or you won’t change the world. Be optimistic all the time. Myself and Ciaran Connell, fellow Alumni Award recipient, are optimists and wouldn’t have started DecaWave if we weren’t.
ARTS AND HUMANITIES AWARD
CONSOLATA BOYLE BA (HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY) 1972
Consolata is a world-leading costume designer in the film business. She has worked on several movies, including The Queen and Philomena, and has been nominated for an Academy Award on three occasions.
What did you enjoy most about UCD? The strongest memories are the teaching and lectures and the way people like [professors] Seamus Deane, Denis Donoghue and George Eogan opened up your mind. They informed a lot of what I did afterwards. I’ve a great memory of excavating in the Boyne Valley as part of the archaeology module of my degree. What professional skills do you attribute to your time at university? It instilled in me a love of research, a kind of rigour. It also developed my imagination – to imagine unknown worlds through archaeology and literature. It helped me get used to ideas – and how to express those ideas. What aspects of your career have given you pleasure? There’s joy in being able to pick and choose, more or less. I work as a freelancer, so I’m sort of in a position where I can choose what I want to do. I work with wonderful people and have collaborated with great creative minds who I’ve had the honour of working with. Do you have a future goal? Getting to read and enjoy and be inspired by great scripts – and then work with great directors. That’s always been my goal. What advice do you have for UCD students? Don’t narrow down. Keep your mind as open as possible, to politics, art, life, your friends and what’s happening in the world.
EIMEAR LAMBE BComm INTERNATIONAL (GERMAN) 2019
Eimear is one of Ireland’s leading rowers. She won bronze at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo in the women’s coxless four event. She was named July 2021 Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman.
What are your UCD highlights? Having the opportunity to study Commerce through German at UCD’s Partner University, the University of Regensburg. There I met people from all over the world, from a multitude of different cultures, who I am still in contact with today. What life and professional skills did you pick up at UCD? Time management. It has proved to be invaluable in all aspects of my professional and personal life so far. Learning how to balance being a full-time student alongside training at a high-performance level meant learning how to prioritise tasks and plan my weeks accordingly to ensure success. What are you most proud of in your career to date? While a bronze medal at the Olympic Games has been my career highlight to date, I am proudest of successfully managing my academics alongside training on my road to Tokyo. This ultimately allowed me to transition after the Olympic Games into a position as management consultant at one of the world leading financial services firms [EY]. What advice do you have for UCD’s students and graduates? Don’t compare where you are in your journey to others. Everyone has their own path to follow and although it may not always be as straightforward and clear as you would like, it doesn’t mean you won’t make it to your destination.
HEALTH AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES AWARD
MICHAEL BURKE MVB 1970
Michael is the founder of Chanelle Pharma, a leading provider of human and animal health generic pharmaceuticals worldwide. A horseracing devotee, he is the owner of several racing thoroughbreds.
What did you like best about UCD? The social aspect was great. There were a lot of [horse] racing people in my year. A couple of amateur jockeys too. We used to go racing twice a week, on the Wednesdays and Saturdays when we had half-days. And we’d come home from the races and play poker. We were among the first students to study out in Belfield. What skills did you pick up at university? It was a fantastic degree [in Veterinary Medicine] and a great start in life because after I qualified, I had my own practice after nine months. I had an entrepreneurial streak. My mother was an amazing businesswoman. What are the highlights of your career? My company has brought me to so many countries around the world and that is an education in itself. Chanelle Pharma exports to 94 countries. One of the highlights was spending an hour with Muhammad Ali and, this year, I had a horse running in the Kentucky Derby. What are your future goals? We’ve a huge development plan. We’re expanding the facility here and bringing in lots of new products. Do you have advice for UCD students? Have a clear goal and work hard. Get the balance right between the academic side and your social life.
BILL SHIPSEY S.C. BCL 1979
Bill is a human rights activist and retired Senior Counsel barrister. He also initiated the Ambassador of Conscience Award, Amnesty International’s most prestigious human rights award, and has been involved with many philanthropic organisations and boards.
What are your UCD highlights? After six years of single-sex boarding school, the freedom and luxury – academic and personal – of being in a university environment was the highlight of my time there. Much of what I enjoyed and appreciated occurred beyond the lectures! What are you most proud of in your career to date? I have been fortunate to have had two careers. One in-law – from which I have retired – and the other engaging with artists for the benefit of Amnesty International and human rights. But it is the Art for Amnesty work that I am most proud of. In what way did the pandemic impact on your work? It cramped my travel style for sure. It also made me realise that we should be more conscious of our travel and not travel for the sake of travelling or just for meetings that can be done more efficiently with the dreaded Zoom. I still managed to complete a film project with filming in Mexico City, Paris, Cape Town, New Delhi and Sydney from the comfort of my office chair in Paris. What advice do you have for UCD’s latest graduates? It sounds cliched, but if there was any advice that I would dispense it would be the advice J.K. Rowling gave to Harvard undergraduates on the twin benefits of failure and imagination: don’t fear failure and use your imagination.