My name, Aoife McGirl, has always been a central point in my identity. It is often met with questions of pronunciation and origin, something I am proud and excited to talk about. I was born and went to school in Nyack, New York, but spent much of my time growing up in Ireland with my extended family. My mother and father immigrated to New York independently at the ages of 18 and 21. They have always kept my siblings and I connected to Irish culture yet encouraged us to develop our own passions and to explore the seemingly infinite opportunities around us. The curiosity of both my history and future has been a driving force in my life and is a large reason for why I am at Duke. After one visit, I was captured by this university’s combination of strong academics, infectious school spirit, and valuable resources.
Before coming to Duke, I was unsure of what academic path I would follow, however I have now found a combination of studies that continues to challenge, inspire, and intrigue me. Along with getting the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate, I am majoring in mechanical engineering and pursuing a sociology minor. Mechanical engineering classes have given me the mathematical tasks and skills I loved in high school as well as the design challenges I have yearned for. I hope that an engineering education will be beneficial in many career directions as it has strengthened my analytical skills and technical knowledge. After taking two sociology classes that I thoroughly enjoyed, I decided to pick up the minor and add more breadth to my education. These classes led me to think about humans and how we interact with each other in a number of settings. I am especially interested in workplace interaction, particularly between males and females.
The I&E certificate has acted as a bridge between the humanities and engineering for me. I originally took EGR 121 Engineering Innovation as a major requirement but quickly appreciated its introduction into innovation as it allowed me to take a product from an idea on paper to a prototype with a sales pitch. I&E 281 Basics of Technology Commercialization provided a number of examples of devices in the innovative process and why they were or were not successful. These two classes gave me a lot of insight in to the technical design processes and have encouraged me to work towards a career in product design or management. Combining engineering, sociology, and the I&E certificate has been fulfilling for my creative, quantitative, and curious mind.
After finishing my second year at Duke I interned for an electrical equipment manufacturing company, Electrotech Service Equipment Corporation. At Electrotech I worked alongside a team of engineers using Autodesk programs to design and model switchgear panels for commercial and residential buildings in New York City. I was assigned the task of developing standardized blocks that would be used to streamline the design process and create a uniform style used by all the engineers. I was able to combine my technical knowledge with my innovative ideas to develop functional, accurate, and adaptable blocks. By developing a common block library, the manufacturing process was able to run smoother and more efficiently. The most beneficial thing I took away from my time at Electrotech was the importance of team communication and structure within a company. Developing new blocks for the design engineers made a huge difference in their work, which benefited both the sales engineers and the manufacturing shop workers, eventually making the company more profitable.
Working and innovating with a team of engineers was so enjoyable because of the strong group dynamic. I have played team sports my whole life and find being a member of a team to be one of the most rewarding experiences. The best teams I have been a part of have been Gaelic football teams. The traditional Irish sport, rather unknown in the US, earned a huge amount of my time and dedication from ages 8-18. Gaelic football allowed me to stay deeply connected to my culture and introduced me to many of my best friends. There were times when I was younger that I would tell friends at school I had soccer practice rather than Gaelic football practice because I felt awkward explaining my commitment to a sport that no one ever seemed to know. However, as I have grown older and more appreciative of my Irish culture, I make it a point to tell people that I play Gaelic Football. I appreciate the questions following my mention of the sport as they allow me to spread my love of the game and perhaps lets people understand more of who I am.
I hope that I get to spend the rest of my life working with others towards a more balanced earth, in a technical and innovative career that embraces all genders and cultures and allows me to explore much more of what exists in this world.