Local ladies representing NI's STEM sector in this year's Miss NI contest

  • 25 finalists for the 2021 Miss Northern Ireland contest have been selected, with many of the ladies this year embedded in STEM and the local tech scene. 

    Sync NI spoke to some of this year's tech trailbazing beauty queens, to find out how they're breaking the boundaries between science, technology, business and beauty. 

    The girls will prepare themselves to shine at the Miss Northern Ireland Gala Final on 6 September 2021.

    Sapphire Duffy - Kainos & Women Who Code

    26-year-old Sapphire Duffy is a Leadership Fellow at Women Who Code Belfast and is a Technical Product Consultant at Kainos. 

    The software engineering expert is representing Ballymena in this year's Miss NI contest, and revealed she actually only decided to apply for the famous beauty competition last minute (she entered on Wednesday 30 June and found out she was a finalist two days later!)

    Women Who Code is a not-for-profit community organisation that aims to inspire women in excelling throughout the tech sector -  something which Sapphire emphasises she is highly passionate about. 

    "Becoming a finalist means that I can reach more women in NI, be a known role model for women in tech/STEM and a leader in tech," she Sapphire. 

    "There is a huge gender gap in tech, and diversity and inclusion is more important than ever for so many reasons! Only 7% of girls currently pursue STEM to the point of employment in a STEM role.

    "I am a huge advocate for women in tech and have been volunteering for the tech community in NI for five years. Having more women in leadership roles is important," Sapphire continued.

    "Leadership is all about people inspiring people to believe in the impossible, to believe in themselves, and to become the very best version of themselves.

    "I’m so grateful and excited to go through this journey with all the inspiring women in the finals! When women support each other incredible things happen."

    Last year, the Ahogill native talked to Sync NI on our Tech Craic podcast about all things tech, as well as cheerleading for Queen's University Belfast, dog bandanas and coffee!

    (Image: Sapphire Duffy/Instagram)

    Naomi McGregor - Movetru founder

    Naomi McGregor is the founder and CEO of Movetru, a start-up that aims to revolutionise the health and fitness industry through advanced wearable technology, with the intention of reducing injury and enhancing rehabilitation in athletes.

    The Ballymoney girl graduated with a Master’s degree in Product Design Engineering last July, and is another terrific tech representative in this year's Miss Northern Ireland competition. 

    “Entering Miss Northern Ireland has allowed me to promote the whole aspect of not being a traditional engineer,” she told Sync NI.

    “You can enjoy the arts, you can enjoy wearing a dress and heels, you can enjoy ballet and still be an engineer, own a business and love STEM!

    “I still feel that’s being missed and not being advocated, so I wanted to be that role model.”

    In addition, the tech trailblazer is the first female graduate from QUB to be chosen for the Royal Academy of Engineering ERA Foundation Enterprise Fellowship.

    “The Royal Academy of Engineering is a prestigious charity that supported me throughout university. The opportunity for them to now support me through my start-up journey is incredible! The Enterprise Fellowship supports and endorses 12 entrepreneurs across the UK who have demonstrated innovation in engineering,” she explained.

    “I’m the only awardee that’s a recent graduate. I received £50,000 grant for Movetru through it and I burst into tears when I found out!”

    Just last month, Movetru received a separate £10,000 Proof of Concept grant, following participation in Catalyst’s Co-Founders programme.

    The 24-year-old STEM ambassador won the Catalyst Invent Enterprise Software award last year, and has a strong background in ballet and fitness, with a combined love for both the arts and technology.

    Naomi was also a keen cheerleader at Queen’s University, even laughing that she was the one throwing Sapphire in the air and she too chatted with Sync NI in her own Tech Craic podcast last October, about her passion for being a STEM role model to Northern Ireland’s future females.

    (Image: Naomi McGregor/Instagram)

    Chloe Spence - Doctor & neuroscientist

    Neuroscientist and junior doctor Chloe Spence has two degrees, most recently graduating in Medicine from Queen's University Belfast last month.

    Aged 26, the blonde beauty is moving to London to pursue her career as a doctor, but will be setting out to represent Belfast once more in Miss Northern Ireland.

    As Miss NI 2019 runner-up, Chloe is no stranger to the pageant scene and was extremely passionate in telling Sync NI she believes that "we need to teach our girls from a young age you are enough.

    "We also need to teach them they are not too much, and don’t dampen who you are to make others feel more comfortable.

    "I honestly believe every woman has it in them to pursue a STEM career if that’s what they choose to do," she continued. 

    "The public have a strong belief surrounding pageants such as Miss Northern Ireland. If they looked deeper they would realise its foundation is promoting strong, amazing, kind, driven beautiful women. Women who all have a story.

    "My aim through Miss Northern Ireland is to teach women to break the mould. Although we have the qualifications, society can make us feel like we need to work harder. I want to use my Miss Northern Ireland platform to break this stigma.

    "My colleague gave me great advice recently. She brought to my attention a lot of women tend to use language which belittles what we say to make others feel confident. Speak your mind, you know your stuff if you are STEM orientated or not."

    The multi-talented Belfast woman is also currently raising money for Northern Ireland children's hospice by making and selling her own dog treats, and is continuing to raise awareness around mental illnesses and coping mechanisms, often fundraising for local suicide prevention charity, PIPS. 

    "I tell people what I do and most are shocked, and think I must be joking as I don’t have the ‘look’," continued Chloe. "I am from a working class background. I had an amazing support system.

    "My career path is pure passion, some assume I’m clever because of my degrees but I believe I am no more so that the average person. It was my drive, passion, motivation and work ethic which pushed me in my career. When I say anyone can follow their dreams, I say it with my heart."

    (Image: Chloe Spence/Instagram)

    Jane McArdle - Tech consultant

    Jane is from Banbridge and is a technology consultant at PwC Belfast.

    The 22-year-old also just recently graduated from Queen’s University with a 2:1 degree in Software Engineering and was crowned Miss Belfast in February 2020 before the competition was cancelled due to the pandemic.

    "My interest in IT started young where I had a passion for developing video games," said Jane. "Outside of university, I have been a STEM ambassador for Northern Ireland for four years.

    "During that time, I’ve spoken in schools and universities about my experience as a woman in technology, and why I chose a degree in Software Engineering.

    "Since graduating, I have secured a job at PwC where I continue to support and encourage women to enter the STEM industry by being part of the Women In Tech team.

    "I’m so excited to be part of the Miss Northern Ireland competition and to be able to raise awareness for the need for more diversity in STEM.

    "In my degree, only 10 out of 100 students were female and I hope that by being a Miss NI contestant, this will showcase women in STEM and encourage the younger generation of females to enter the technology industry!"

    Jane McArdle (Image: Miss Northern Ireland Contest/Instagram)

    Other contestants with STEM-related degrees and backgrounds include 24-year-old Ruth Armstrong from Crumlin in Co Antrim, who is currently an undergraduate in Pharmacy, and Derry nursing student, Mollie-Grace McCartney.

    Ruth & Mollie-Grace ((Image: Miss Northern Ireland Contest/Instagram)

    Sponsors for this year's Miss NI contest include the Sunday World, ACA Models, Schweppes Ireland, Local Women Magazine, Europa, Beauty Boulevard, Blue Sky Dentistry, Younique Aesthetics, Rosie's Closet, Luxe Gold Tan, Athena Athletics, Make Up Pro Store, Beach Please and Michele International.

    You can find the rest of the 2021 Miss NI finalists here on Instagram.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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