Naughton Fellow: Sean Keenan's Irish adventure

Author: Colleen Wilcox

Picture1Sean at the Slieve League cliffs in Donegal, along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

Notre Dame graduate Sean Kennan has spent the last year in Ireland’s capital pursuing a master’s degree. We caught up with him to hear about his experience in Ireland and about his plans for the future.

I never thought that working as a lifeguard at a country club in north Chicago would be my first introduction to Irish culture. But then it happened; as a junior in high school, I met two lads from County Offaly who had come over to work at the pool for their J1 summer work program. Having never been to Europe, I found their accents and vocabulary (what is craic?) strange but intriguing. Looking back on it now, that initial encounter piqued my interest in coming to Ireland.

A year later, I entered Notre Dame as a freshman in chemical engineering. That spring, I received an email about Inside Track, a week-long cultural immersion in Ireland, plunging students headfirst into a barrage of activities, tours, and trips from Dublin to Galway to Belfast. I crafted my application, focusing on my experience with my new Irish friends and my fascination with my grandmother’s research into my family’s Irish origins.

I was elated when I found out that I was accepted into the program, and that the Naughton family would be subsidizing my trip. That one week in Ireland made my summer – I encountered new friends that I would continue to meet up with throughout college and my appetite for further cultural exposure grew by leaps and bounds.

By fall of my senior year, I had already accepted a job with a pharmaceutical company in Indianapolis for after graduation. Then I received another email in January and the Naughton Fellowship Program seemed just too enticing not to consider. Notre Dame was offering a fully-funded, one-year, STEM master’s degree at any of the large Ireland universities with a generous living stipend. As I scrolled through the offered degree programs, University College Dublin’s Master’s in Biopharmaceutical Engineering program immediately caught my eye, given my established love of Ireland and my interest in a career in pharmaceutical R&D. I researched UCD’s faculty, discovering that a professor in the program had recently created an R&D startup company called APC. My application focused on innovation in companies like APC and UCD’s vibrant connections to industry as my motivation.

A phone call woke me up one lazy morning and to my amazement, I was being offered the fellowship. Fast-forward a year and a half and many goodbyes and hellos later, I completed by degree. But I won’t be leaving Ireland – I started work in September as a research engineer for APC, the same company that I first wrote about in my fellowship application.

My year in Dublin has been absolutely amazing and there are so many people who have made this journey possible for me. Through class, trips, walking around Dublin, and the great people that I have met along the way, I have learned more than I ever thought possible about this amazing country and continent. The most important advice that I can give is to always read your emails!

Slán go fóill!

Learn more about opportunities in Ireland. 

Originally published by Colleen Wilcox at on October 24, 2018.