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WIT honours horticulturalist Una McDermott

Pictured from left to right: Dr Peter McLoughlin, head of the School of Science and Computing, WIT; Patricia Billett, Aidan McDermott, Eva Creely, and Dr Orla O'Donovan, head of the Department of Science WIT. Photo: WIT.

Family of Una McDermott were presented with the inaugural “Una McDermott Award for Contribution to Science”, at the Waterford Institute of Technology Science Careers Day.

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13 March 2019 | 0

The family of the late Una McDermott, Horticulture Programme leader, were presented with an award named in her honour at the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) Science Careers Day on Friday, March 8.

Una, who passed away suddenly in March 2018, was responsible for the development and running of the WIT BSc in Horticulture in both Kildalton College, and in the College of Amenity Horticulture in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin.

WIT’s Department of Science look forward to presenting the “Una McDermott Contribution to Science Award” annually to an awardee who exhibits the dedication to science that McDermott exemplified.

Over the course of her 17-year career in WIT, McDermott drove forward horticulture education and advocated strongly for the education of mature students in the field. McDermott’s colleagues in the Department of Science remember McDermott fondly as her first anniversary approaches.

At the ceremony, Dr Orla O’Donovan gave an overview of McDermott’s educational and career path and how she was a champion of the adult learner.

“She had trained as a horticulturalist in the National Botanic Gardens and worked as OPW head gardener of the War Memorial Park at Islandbridge before graduating with a BSc in Ag Science (Land, Horticulture) in 1996 from UCD. This was followed by a MA in Museum Studies from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, where her thesis was ‘Developing an Educational programme for the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin – factors to consider’. Following this she went on to work with Dúchas, the heritage service, and for a brief time in Teagasc Kildalton College, before joining WIT.

“In 2001 we were lucky enough to get Una as an academic staff member within the Department of Science at WIT and she was tasked with developing the BSc in Horticulture. Anybody who had any involvement with Una would have commented on her attention to detail and methodical approach which would have helped the programme and any activity she was involved with meet academic rigour.”, said Dr O’Donovan.

McDermott then rolled out the WIT BSc in Horticulture in the National Botanic Gardens. “Not many people get to see their Masters proposal being an active product. It must have been very rewarding for Una to see the actual proposal that she had put forward actually coming to fruition.”, Dr O’Donovan concluded.

Dr Peter McLoughlin presented the award – designed and made by the silver and goldsmith Rory Donohoe who had trained McDermott in the craft– to McDermott’s siblings Eva Creely, Patricia Billett, and Aidan McDermott.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Eva Creely said: “Thank you all so much for such and amazing piece which Una more than anyone else would have appreciated.

“We would like to thank you on creating this in award honouring Una’s contribution to science and the region. Of course we wish we didn’t have to accept this; it would have been much nicer if Una herself had been the recipient for her endeavours on behalf of horticulture, industry, and academia, but we can’t turn back the clock. There is no undoing the events of last year so the only thing is for us to look forward and take note and comfort from the achievements and the principles that underpinned Una’s work and life.

“Una was committed to working with nature to achieve a sustainable future for us all. Diversity was a key word for her. She was very much for using science and technology; as we discovered from the many hundreds of notebooks that she left behind. She observed, recorded, analysed in order to understand more and support ideas for going forward. . . she believed a rigorous approach could produce new and useful answers, the key being of course to ask the right questions. . . ultimately the value of the science and technology to us all is to ensure we are setting ourselves the right questions. That is your task now as students going forward, we want you to come up with the right questions.”

Creely also thanked McDermott’s colleagues at WIT, Teagasc Kildalton, and the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, for helping them to understand the impact McDermott had.

The Science Careers Day

The Science Careers Day is an important annual event in the WIT calendar which brings together final year students and employers for a day of networking and learning about career opportunities.

On March 1, nearly 300 final year students of the land sciences (horticulture, agriculture, forestry and agricultural science) and the laboratory sciences (pharma science, physics, molecular biology and biopharmaceutical science, and food science) met employers in the region and as in previous years, some students were even plucky enough to secure their first job interview.

Kelly Dunford, HR generalist, Eurofins, which was one of the sponsors of the event, praised the networking session, saying: “The students were fantastic – they were professional, outgoing, and asking all the right questions.”

Dr Tony Woodcock, the WIT Agriculture Programme leader said: “We were absolutely delighted to hold our careers event in the WIT Arena again this year, and were thrilled to welcome over 70 companies. We’ve been running these career days for a number of years and they have gone from strength-to-strength every year.

The link between WIT and industry in the region has always been very strong and something we pride ourselves on, and events like our Careers Day allow us to extend those links to our final year students and allow them to make valuable connections which will hopefully lead to employment.

“Today we had representatives from a range of industries including agri-food, pharma, horticulture, forestry, biology and physics. We know that in the past this event has resulted in lots of career opportunities for WIT final year students, and it was actually lovely to welcome some of our recent graduates representing the companies they work for, to today’s event.”

Each employer who attended the event received a Careers Day Graduate Handbook containing information on final year students, including a short biography and contact details.

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