'If there's anywhere in the US where an Irishman can feel at home, it's Notre Dame'


My Education Week: SHANE McQUILLANNaughton fellow, University of Notre Dame


It’s class time again. Just a few months ago, as a new college graduate, I assumed I would be starting a job. I had just completed four years as a Naughton scholar, studying software engineering at Dublin City University, and I thought my student days were over for a while.

The Naughton family changed that plan, however, and I was awarded a Naughton fellowship to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Notre Dame in the US. I’m already in my sixth week.

I’m taking what I learned about building a product at DCU and pushing it to the next level, from concept to market delivery. The Esteem programme – engineering, science and technology entrepreneurial excellence master’s – covers the fundamentals of business alongside advanced science and engineering concepts.

I visited Notre Dame, one of the top universities in the US, in November 2008 and knew I wanted to return. I’m one of five Irish students on the Esteem programme, and if there’s anywhere in the US where you can feel at home as an Irishman, it’s Notre Dame.

We take business classes as well as a technical elective each semester. Today, for example, we are finishing statistics and accounting. We are getting a grounding in business while delving deeper into our chosen field of engineering.

And all this takes place at the amazing facility of Innovation Park, an incubator where more than 30 high-tech start-ups launch themselves into the business world.

What better place to be pursuing a master’s in entrepreneurship than right here, immersed in the mindsets and networks of inspiring professionals.


I’m putting a shape on my thesis plan. I will be working on a mobile application to detect concussions. It’s a very exciting project with great business prospects.

Each week I meet with my technical advisers, Dr Christian Poellabauer and Prof Patrick Flynn.

First I must detail the technology behind the concept. To get a thorough understanding of it, I am developing a testing application. It will be developed for the iPad – and I have no experience with Apple’s development software. I appreciate the chance to get exposure to the technology, as there is great business potential in mobile applications.

Next I’m off to entrepreneurship boot camp. At this session guest lecturers who are experienced entrepreneurs challenge us to improve our entrepreneurial mindset. Right now we’re using design thinking to improve the experience of finding a local children’s health museum.

We’re able to put into practice the skills we’re being taught, so we can come up with an innovative solution to the problem. After a visit to the museum, where we performed our new skills of ethnographic research, we implemented all the knowledge of idea generation.

These are the some of the skills we’ve had drilled into us by successful designers and entrepreneurs from countless top-notch firms. This way of approaching a challenge was very different from anything I’ve done in the software-engineering field, and it was quite an experience.


More accounting today; it takes me back to secondary school. We even get homework, something I never had to do at undergraduate level at home.

Every Wednesday my fellow Irishmen and I finish the evening with a whiteboard session. In order to free our minds of whatever ideas have gripped us each week, we sit down and discuss them. This exercise ranges from possible business ideas to thoughts on the meaning of life. Anything goes at the whiteboard session. I really enjoy this time every week. It inspires me and awakens creativity in me that I never knew existed.

I came to Notre Dame thinking I would return home and work for a large software company. With a multitude of business-plan workshops and competitions, however, as well as a multitude of start-up initiatives, we are hard set on coming up with a captivating business idea.


No classes today, so it’s always used as a day to catch up. Most of us do thesis work, but it also gives us an opportunity to get chatting to friends and family at home. I’ve never been away before – it takes a bit of getting used to.

As a slight change to our usual Thursday evening, tonight we joined the Guibert family for dinner. Susan Guibert, the assistant director of public relations at the university, interviewed us for an article on real Irish students at Notre Dame; in the truly welcoming manner we’ve become accustomed to over here; she invited us over.


Last class in mobile computing: this really is an accelerated programme. This is the technical elective I’ve chosen to complement my thesis. This course explores challenges and opportunities of mobile computing. I’ve covered several of the areas during my undergraduate years, but I’m also getting great exposure to ones I haven’t.

Friday finished with the traditional pre-game tailgate – that’s an American term for what’s essentially a barbecue – in Innovation Park. All students and companies that use the park are invited along for food, drink and conversation. It always proves to be great fun, as well as a great way of networking.


Game day! Today Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish played their rivals Michigan in what proved to be a great game. Close to 100,000 people invade the campus and its surroundings for a good day’s build-up to the big event. Notre Dame have lost six of the past seven games against Michigan, but they have had a great season so far, so hopes were high.

The predictions proved correct. We came away victorious, 13-6. I bought season tickets when I arrived here, and it was definitely a great decision. The games are quite the spectacle, and the atmosphere is amazing. Imagine more than 80,000 fans screaming, chanting and singing, most of them rooting for Notre Dame. The passion for the sport here really doesn’t surprise me.


After game day, and to end the week, Sunday is a day of rest. I Skyped my family and my girlfriend and prepared for another week. It’s hard to know what each day will bring, but I think the unpredictability makes us all love it that little bit more. “Love thee, Notre Dame.”

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