Irish Alumni groups in USA and Canada – bridging countries, industries, and generations
By Aly Gardner-Shelby
First published on IrishCentral.com at Irish Alumni groups in USA and Canada – bridging countries, industries, and generations
Part 1 of 3
Whether you’re a summer visa-holder, planning a long-term or permanent move, or just a fan of all things Irish – don’t miss out on the alumni connection with Irish people, and friends of Ireland, all over the USA and Canada.
The Emigration Connection
People from the island of Ireland have a well-known history of leaving their home country, but that’s good news for anyone wanting to make connections with Alumni from Ireland – they can be found all over the world. A search on people living in Canada whose LinkedIn profile includes any of the largest thirty third-level institutions in Ireland, will return over 3,500 profiles, while the same search on people in the USA will come back with over 16,600 – and these only go back seventeen years, to the 2002 founding of LinkedIn: there are many other Alumni who emigrated before then and got settled before LinkedIn was a “Thing.” If you’re one of those, there are still many benefits in connecting with your Alumni office – of which more below.
These Alumni will naturally know other people from Ireland, and Alumni can be more diverse – but have great intersections with – groups that have a more specific focus, such as Gaelic Hurling or Traditional music. Alumni groups typically include people with broad set of interests, work types and age ranges. This variety is an advantage when looking for people-who-know-people, and it provides the new arrival with a well-balanced introduction to their new home. Also, it’s a fun mix for someone who is simply looking for a social circle with some shared experiences or an Irish slant.
Says Robert O’Driscoll, Consul General of Ireland for the Western United States, “Alumni organizations are an important part of the Consulate’s “Team Ireland” in Western United States: in raising the profile of the exciting research developments in Ireland, the ambitions of Ireland’s academic institutions, and strengthening the connection between our diaspora and Ireland through a regular programme of Alumni events in the region. Alumni groups are a very important means of connecting with the diaspora, which includes Irish-born, those of Irish heritage, and also those with an affinity to Ireland.” Consul O’Driscoll knows these benefits from his own Alumni experience too – he has an MA in International Security and Conflict Studies from Dublin City University, a BA in History and Political Science from Trinity College Dublin, and a Diploma in Economic Analysis from the National University of Ireland.
For group members, there’s a sense of kinship with people from the same university, school, or area. “We feel connected with people who came over from our home country,” says Andrew Pike, a graduate of Trinity College Dublin (TCD), the retired Archdeacon of Vancouver B.C., who made the city his home over 25 years ago. “This is even stronger with the additional tie of having attended the same university.”
Michaela O’Shaughnessy is Social Media Manager at Teen Vogue in New Yorkand a grad from National University of Ireland, Galway: “I think Alumni groups are a wonderful idea for networking when you first move here! I definitely stay in touch with many people I went to college with.” Emigrants may need some extra support in order to be competitive. “You’re up against applicants who possibly had an Ivy League education, and/or internships in the field all throughout College.”
In some places, there are cross-institution organizations, possibly setup by people in an area that has fewer people from a particular group. “We started out as a small number of people who were graduates of UCG – now NUIG,” says Patricia Ryan of the Irish Graduates Association in Vancouver BC. “However, after about ten years we saw a need to grow, so we now include all Third Level Universities and Colleges in Ireland. We connect with people from all over the island of Ireland both north and south. We find that we speak a common language and share many common values and goals.”
Even in major Irish ‘hubs’ such as Boston, New York or L.A., Alumni groups are keen to keep attracting more people, and they may join forces with other Alumni groups or with other Irish groups to have bigger events and attract higher-profile speakers. Serial entrepreneur Ciarán Hynes is on the Board of UCD’s Michael Smurfit School of Business, and an organizer with UCD Alumni in Boston. “We have started partnering with other Irish organizations such as Boston Irish Business Association,Irish Network Bostonand the Irish American Partnership. This broadens our scope and gets more attendees – we do that a few times a year on top of our other events.”
The Tech Effect
Tech innovation in Ireland is a catalyst for Irish education. In October 2018, TCD announced a 100-million Euro investment in four capital developments, that will include a new $1.1bn Technology and Innovation campusencompassing a large portion of the thriving former docklands area in Dublin, and capacity for 1,800 additional places for students of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) – a 50% increase in places over ten years. The Technological University Dublin is being formally established in January 2019, from the merger of Dublin Institute of Technology, IT Tallaght and IT Blanchardstown – making it the country’s biggest third level institution with 28,000 students.
Ireland’s rapid development in the Tech sectoris a factor in Irish graduates being able to find work all over the world, and especially in Tech centers such as Silicon Valley and the rapidly-developing silicon scene in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) of the USA, and the western provinces of Canada. Tech companiesand Tech j
ob-seekers are attracting one another to the Seattle area in a kind of competitive convergence that is intensifying and requiring new infrastructure – some symptoms of which are Seattle having, for a period in 2016, a larger number of construction cranesthan any other US city, and the May 2018 inauguration by Port of Seattle and Aer Lingus of direct flights between Seattle and Dublin.
Stripe, an online-payment Tech company founded by Limerick brothers John and Patrick Collison and with nine global offices, opened a Seattle office in 2017. John Collison explained in a GeekWire interviewthat Seattle is a good fit for Stripe because of the wealth of engineering talent in the area. Today, a number of Irish accents can be heard in their offices. Microsoft in the USA has hundreds of Irish employees, forming a loose social and business network of their own. Many moved over from Microsoft offices in Ireland and represent a cross-section of educational institutions on the island.
Vancouver B.C. is a three-hour drive north from Seattle and is seeing the same kind of growth – with an even larger Irish presence. A brand-new Irish Consulate in Vancouverwas opened on 30thOctober 2018, to help support the growing Irish population in Western Canada. Ireland’s Ambassador to Canada, Jim Kelly, estimates that 15,000 Irish people live in Vancouver, with a further 5,000 or so arriving each year. This provides opportunities for new arrivals to connect, but also the same challenges to students and recent grads that are seen in other high-growth areas. “Vancouver is getting very expensive,” says Ryan, “and new people in the area need a lot of help, for instance to find affordable accommodation.” The new Consulate in Vancouver is working with Alumni groups, among others, to identify and connect with Irish in the region.