Dervilla Mitchell4 March 2021
Where did you grow up?
My earliest years were spent at Seapoint within a short walk of the sea, where early memories were of seagulls and the smell of the sea; being surprised by heavy fog when we would lose sight of Howth and being delighted on hot summer days getting ice creams in Martello Tower.
The family moved into Mount Street Crescent in the early sixties and that was the family home for over 40 years. I still always try to walk past every time I visit Dublin.
We were therefore within walking distance of Conleth’s and Pembroke School (Miss Meredith’s at 1 Pembroke Road) which I attended before joining Conleth’s.
How did you come to be at St. Conleth’s?
Mr Manning taught sciences on a Saturday morning at Miss Merediths and our headmistress Miss McKendrick arranged for Naomi Coyle, Mary Raftery and myself to go to St. Conleth’s for physics once we reached 5th year. I later joined Conleth’s full time to gain more maths and physics teaching in preparation for the Leaving Cert.
Favourite and/or least favourite subject in school.
My favourite subject was physics. I liked all the sciences but the practical application of physics really appealed. In fact it was learning about projectiles that really brought this home. There was a formulae and one could calculate what would happen!
Fondest memory of St. Conleth’s.
I have great memories of my time at the school, but a more enduring memory is not from that time but more recently when the girls, now ladies, came together for a dinner to celebrate 40 years of girls in the school. It was wonderful to see so many had now left school, and we were engaged in very diverse careers and bringing up families. To top the evening off Mr Kelleher was there at almost 1am folding table cloths and seeing us off the premises.
At what age did you know you wanted to work in your chosen field?
I was completely unsure about my future until the day Mr Kelleher stood in front of us and asked about our intended university application. I was a little daunted by the clarity and confidence of my classmates but when it came to my turn I said Engineering with certainty.
I now reflect on this and realise that I had seen my father work as an architect and knew I would enjoy working as part of a team and using my maths and physics to design buildings- a very tangible outcome from a day’s work! One of my grandfathers and two of my uncles were engineers so again it did not seem strange to choose engineering and follow in their paths.
Who/what influenced you to pursue your chosen field?
My father… but neither of us could possibly have seen the journey I have taken. So I encourage all to surprise themselves and their families.
Tell us about your education/ career path.
I studied Civil Engineering at UCD and enjoyed the breadth of the course. As a student I worked each summer with Arup and was delighted to join them as a graduate. It is through my early work as a structural engineer that led me into building design then design management and project leadership.
Following 4 years working in Dublin I moved to Boston where my husband was studying and I worked with Weidlinger Associates who gave me lots of opportunity to learn and develop in my profession. It was also a great opportunity to experience life in America and following that we moved to London and I returned to work with Arup.
Proudest achievement to date.
There are two things I would like to mention. Leading the design team at Terminal 5 Heathrow is one I had to work hard for and the unexpected achievement was receiving an Honorary Doctorate from UCD in 2016. That was a real surprise!
Aspirations for the future.
Again there are two things which I hope for going forward. Firstly a more diverse and inclusive engineer and construction sector but also I hope that I and other engineers can make a significant contribution to decarbonise our planet.
Advice for people wanting to work in your sector/ general advice.
Our world is evolving rapidly and perhaps Covid has enabled us to not take things for granted. So the advice is to be flexible and adaptable and seize the opportunities that arise.