Stephanie Yao Gou (Loughborough University)
The InterAct Summer School, co-hosted by InterAct and Atlantic Technological University, at the ATU Letterkenny, Donegal Campus was a truly enriching experience. As a PhD researcher from a Creative Arts background, exploring human insights surrounding digital technology diffusion, I found the program to be incredibly valuable in expanding my knowledge and identifying potential collaborative opportunities.
Throughout the summer school, we had the privilege of visiting prominent industry players like Coca-Cola Ballina and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), delving into digitalization from both operational and strategic perspectives. We encountered examples of how digital transformation is having huge impacts on the ways these businesses operate and how they plan to develop their functionality in the future.
Attending the interactive workshops led by esteemed professors exposed me to cutting-edge concepts such as “IOT,” “Inclusive Growth,” and “Distributed leadership,” which broadened my understanding and inspired further exploration in my research.
However, the summer school offered much more than just academic knowledge. As a storytelling practitioner and pre-journalist, I make a habit of collecting feedback and stories while engaging with people. During the summer school, everyone I spoke to expressed fervent enjoyment, deeming it a “best ever” event. This was particularly resonant in this post-Covid era, where virtual gatherings have become the norm. The summer school provided an invaluable opportunity to reconnect in person, bridging the gap left by social distancing, masks, and hand gels.
Three key observations stood out as significant contributors to the strong bonding and collaborative culture we experienced throughout the five-day event:
Firstly, leadership through storytelling played a crucial role. Professor Janet Godsell and Professor Jillian MacBryde set the stage by sharing their personal journeys into engineering and manufacturing, inspiring authenticity, and trust among the participants. Professor George Onofrei with his wisdom gained from industry and academia, emphasized the soft skills: networking, resilience, and the importance of never burning bridges. These narratives not only fostered knowledge-sharing but also created an emotional connection among all of us within the organization of the summer school.
Secondly, teamwork was instrumental in our experience. For each workshop, we were randomly assigned to different teams to work on assignments and present our findings. During our industrial visits and sightseeing excursions, we demonstrated the spirit of teamwork through good timekeeping and looking after each other to ensure no one was left behind. Additionally, we formed an unofficial “social committee” to secretly collect signatures for a thank-you card for Professor George Onofrei and a birthday card for Anastasia Kulichyova
Lastly, the inspiration of creativity played a significant role. The warm hospitality of Ireland, represented by live music and Guinness, contributed to fostering a sense of togetherness. Our group ventured to local pubs, where the singer encouraged us to sing along with him. Our brave icebreaker Isaiah Nassiuma, a PhD researcher in Engineering, even took the stage to perform, creating a lasting memory. This spirited act was recorded and shared within our WhatsApp group, igniting more people to join in the celebration of Irish live-music-in-pub culture on day three, which coincided with Anastasia’s birthday. Dancing in a circle accompanied by fiddles and pop bands invoked a sense of trust and inclusivity, fostering an environment where creativity thrived. Such collaborative creativity reaffirmed the essence of our humanity, which may sometimes be buried as we grow older, but can easily be rediscovered when we come together.
As the summer school drew to a close, we found ourselves discussing ways to stay socially connected and eagerly anticipate InterAct’s next event. Even after returning to our respective cities, we continued to share personal news on WhatsApp and engage in thoughtful discussions on LinkedIn. Undoubtedly, the InterAct-ATU summer school stands as a highly successful event, with the true key to its success lying in “the success of people”.
In the digitalization era, where A.I. threatens human involvement in the workplace, I feel that I encountered a profound example of the power of human insight. Walking past a Turkish delight shop in the U.K., my mobile phone may instantly send me a pop-up advertisement, courtesy of A.I., catering to my preferences with collected data. However, it does not compare to the feeling when I receive a image of Pistachio Baklava, sent by my new friend Nader El Tibi from the airport, after our engaging conversation during the summer school gala dinner. The sweetness of human insight is something that A.I might never be able to replicate. This is the priceless reflection I took from the summer school.