STEM of hope...

Roisin Crawford, STEM Aware, with Roisin Duddy, centre, and Ciara Doherty. (DER1214PG200)

Roisin Crawford, STEM Aware, with Roisin Duddy, centre, and Ciara Doherty. (DER1214PG200)

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Days after setting up her own business, Roisin Crawford was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Roisin, whose maiden name is Kelly, is the founder, owner and manager of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Aware and for the last few years she has been busy promoting these subjects in primary and secondary schools all over the North West.

“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago my treatment was radiotherapy and the hardest thing to deal with was having to leave the kids and go to Belfast for treatment.

“A few months later, a whole lot of support from family, friends and medical staff, a whole lot of reflection on life and a whole lot of chocolate I was back on my mission with STEM Aware again,” said Roisin happily.

Roisin was born in Creggan in 1973 and she is a trained engineer.

When Roisin was young she moved with her family from Creggan to Danesfort Crescent and it was here that she had her first experience of engineering.

“Danesfort Crescent is where I had my first memories as a child; daddy building a snowman, our neighbour borrowing our car to use on the day his daughter got married; painting and baking at the kitchen table with my mammy and half the street.

“And there was that one time I remember I lost the family allowance book on the way home from the shops, all good memories!

“ I loved school but my teacher at St. Brigid’s P.S. had the patience of a saint as I did nothing but cry during my first month there,” said Roisin laughing.

“My daddy is an electrician and being one of six children, one of us always got to go with him when he would do wee jobs for people after his shift at Arntz was finished.

“I don’t believe I ever thought or decided I would be an engineer it just happened.

“My exposure to tools and cables (all safe of course) and drills was as equal as my love of dolls, Lego and my bike.

“After Thornhill College, my engineering studies began at the North West Regional College and then Jordonstown University.

“Being a home bird I didn’t want to go away to university, but I actually got to study part-time and work in an engineering office. By the time I graduated I already had a few years experience behind me and a few pound in my pocket.

“I will always be grateful for the opportunity I got from Henry Toner & Associates, starting there at 19, it was hard work but rewarding in the end.

After working for Henry Toner and Associates for 12 years, Roisin moved to Belfast to work for another engineering company but disaster struck when both she and her husband lost their jobs during the recession.

“The construction industry slowed down and redundancies were imminent but I was actually delighted as family life was becoming way too stretched with very young children in the house.

“There were no big redundancy settlements, but that didn’t matter to me.

“My husband was made redundant prior to this and was able to turn it around and create his own successful business.

“I knew we would be okay and never got stressed about it, I had for years wanted to go into teaching so I thought it was a great time to look into re-training.

“I headed home on my last day at work and having sent a thank you email to my contacts, some clients and architects decided they wanted me to still work for them, so I became a full time stay at home mum for maybe an hour or so,” she laughed.

“I did try to resist starting my own engineering consultancy but I do love what I do and it is good pay so I gave in and still continue to do Mechanical and Electrical Engineering designs. Meanwhile I also started retraining through the Open University and this is where STEM Aware began.”

It was also around this time that Roisin noticed a lump on one of her breasts whilst breast feeding her youngest child.

Roisin contacted her doctor immediately and a few days after setting up STEM Aware she received news that she had breast cancer.

“It was a Thursday and I had two painstaking days of having a mammogram and a biopsy. It was then I was told I had breast cancer and my treatment would be confirmed after surgery.

“I came home that day and there I was an article in the paper about my new business, STEM Aware.

“I obviously couldn’t celebrate it or even read it. It was time to deal with the situation that I was facing.

“It was a bad day for everyone, there was plenty of tears but I knew I would be ok, I truly trusted in God that I would not need chemotherapy as that would be just to difficult for me to handle with the kids.

“My mammy had breast cancer and thankfully she did not have to have chemotherapy. She was then and still is a very strong person with a lot of love and a lot of fight in her heart.

“My treatment was radiotherapy and the hardest thing to deal with was having to leave the kids and go to Belfast for treatment.”

Since recovering from breast cancer, Roisin has been on a mission to raise awareness and encourage young people to focus on the STEM subjects.

“STEM subjects offer young people so many opportunities and I honestly believe that STEM will play a big part in the future of our economy. It only makes sense that we encourage young people to embrace STEM and one of the best ways I have found to do that is to organise STEM awareness days in schools across the North West.

“The children adore the practical side of the work and only last week in Oakgrove PS I heard a boy and a girl in primary six say they both want to be engineers when they get older - hearing that made me so happy.”

Roisin is married to Paul Crawford and together they have four children. Despite being a very focused and ambitious business woman, Roisin, said her family life will always be her top priority.

“For me, my ambition as a mother takes priority and my main ambition in life would be to see my children grow and develop in confidence, to know who they are and that they can be whatever they want to be, that they are loved unconditionally and of course that I am the boss,” she laughed.

“For STEM Aware I believe I have a service (and products in the pipeline) that will continue to grow as I build a team of professionals around me, team work is critical as I am only one person with limits. I want to make STEM a household name after all STEM is everywhere in the world around us and there to be discovered and become aware of.

“I went on an Edtech STEM exchange trip to America, via the US Embassy in January and the follow-up conference is in Dublin next week with a number of influential speakers. I have secured with the help of a few colleagues and Ilex, for these speakers to come to Derry on Friday April 4; so my ambition for my home town is to do my bit to assist in the creation of my city as a place for innovation, economic growth, employment and place where people would want to live and love.”

For further information on STEM Aware contact Roisin via email: info@stemaware.com, Twitter: @STEMAware or Facebook: www.facebook.com/StemAware