School of Ag women alumni remain to the fore

Image Credit: Sinéad Mohan

The recent International Women’s Day celebrations have given students a chance to reflect on the role of women graduates in shaping our respective fields of study. The careers of some of most successful and influential female graduates of the UCD School of Agriculture are described by Ciara Ryan

With International Women’s Day Monday 8th March 2021 fresh in memory, it seems only fitting that a piece exploring the some of the many influential women who have walked their paths before us in UCD be celebrated. This year, the Ag Soc helped to celebrate the occasion by running both a photo competition highlighting the role of current students in the food and agriculture sector as well as having alumni speak of their experiences. The photo competition and alumni videos were posted across Instagram and Twitter in the lead up the International Women’s Day. The list of alumni who have made significant impact on the world is truly staggering once one takes the time to reflect.

A suitable place to start is at the beginning with the first female graduate to pass through UCD’s Bachelor of Agricultural Science in Agricultural Economics in 1980 - Mairead McGuinness. Since then, Mairead’s career has been both varied and exceptional. She began working in media where she worked on shows such as ‘Ear to the Ground’, she also joined the ‘Irish Farmer’s Journal’ team and rose to editor of the ‘Irish Independent’ farming supplement. Mairead then moved from the world of journalism to a career in politics, where she was elected as a MEP in 2004. Here she worked on the Agriculture Committee, helping to draft CAP reforms. She was then elected as First Vice-President of the European Parliament in 2014, a position she was subsequently re-elected to. The latest achievement to be added to her belt is her appointment as Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union.

Another formidable alumnus of the UCD School of Agriculture is Caroline Keeling, CEO of Keelings since 2013. Caroline has built up the Irish owned business by increasing its profits by 50% through an expansion in operations to service markets in the UK, continental Europe and Asia. Many within the agri-food processing, marketing and retail sectors would acknowledge her efforts and as one of Ireland’s greatest businesswomen, an accolade recognised with the award she received from IMAGE in 2013. As well as having 2,000 staff employed, Caroline is also active as an Ambassador for The Women’s Fund for Ireland, a Bord Bia Board Member, Chair of the Horticulture Board of Bord Bia, Chair of Dublin Action Plan for Jobs Implementation Committee, board member of the Ifrah Foundation and a member of the Export Trade Council. A formidable CV for a woman of any educational background indeed.

Those who are familiar with the Agricultural Science Association (ASA), will instantaneously think of the name Anne-Marie Butler on hearing the organisation mentioned, for the reason being that she is the current President of the association. The prestigious role is one offered to only the most successful individuals in Irish agricultural circles. Anne-Marie has completed a PhD focused on ‘Design and Evaluation of Optimal Dairy Systems’ after her undergraduate years in Belfield. She has also lectured for several years in UCD before moving onto her current role as Senior Agricultural Manager with Ulster Bank.

The final feature woman of this article is Karina Pierce. Karina studied both as an undergraduate and completed a PhD in animal nutrition in UCD. She has worked as an animal nutritionist for Brett Brothers, as well as lecturing in Dairy Production in UCD. Karina was also president of the ASA in 2011/12. Karina’s academic ability was further recognised when she received one of the prestigious Nuffield Scholarships. Her most recent appointment as Senior Development Advisor at Enterprise Ireland is no surprise for this driven woman with the wide range of skills required for the position.

Although this article only chronicles four female graduates of UCD, the list could continue much longer. There are many alumni who have had diverse and influential careers in the world of food, agriculture and other avenues such as politics, human fertility and banking. These women will continue be beacons of inspiration for both future and current UCD Food and Agriculture students, who in turn seek to make their own mark on the world.