Rhona O'Leary - Staying Connected to Home

Rhona serves as the Global Head of Portfolio and Product Development Strategy at Genentech/Roche. Having completed her undergraduate degree and PhD with DCU, Rhona joined Genentech in 1995 as a Post-Doctoral researcher. In 2018, the San Francisco Business Times recognised Rhona as one of 2018’s Most Influential Women in Bay Area Business. In this piece, she tells us why maintaining support for DCU is important to her.


Could you tell us a bit about your connection to DCU? 

I come from Killarney, Co. Kerry, and moved to Dublin to study Biotechnology in DCU. I had a really positive college experience during my 8 years there. I lived in a number of places close to the college including Glasnevin and Drumcondra and have fond memories of nights in The Slipper and discos in the canteen! I graduated with a BSc in Biotechnology in 1990 and decided to continue my studies in DCU, graduating in 1994 with a PhD in Biochemistry. The education that I received in DCU and the social connections I made there really set me up for later success in life.


After graduating from DCU, you moved abroad. What are you doing now? 

After graduating, I left for San Francisco where I was offered an opportunity to complete three years of post-doctoral research with Genentech, a Biotechnology company which is now a subsidiary of Roche. Having completed the post-doc, I was offered a full time position with Genentech and I have been working with them here in San Francisco ever since. I have worked in Process Development, Project Leadership, Business Operations and I am now Global Head of Portfolio and Product Development Strategy for Genentech and Roche. I always knew that I wanted to work in industry and specifically in the area of drug development.  I became reconnected with DCU through the San Francisco Alumni network. When Brian McCraith became President of DCU, I was thrilled as he had taught me physics in my very first year of college. Brian visited the San Francisco area at least once a year and hosted Alumni events, giving those of us over here a chance to reconnect.


Why did you choose to support DCU’s Access Programme? 

When I started to attend more Alumni events in San Francisco, I heard about the Access Programme. It was something I really wanted to support. While studying in DCU, I got to know the local community that surrounded the college. Particularly in Ballymun, it was clear to see the disparity between the community and the students attending DCU. At the time I saw the reason for this as a huge gap in income but have since learned that there is a lot more to this issue.

Over the years, I have grown to understand more about the generational gaps that exist because of a lack of access to quality education. When you’re a student, you don’t think as much about these things, but seeing the obvious educational divide here in the U.S.,  I could see that it was also happening in Dublin. It was not just a gaping difference in income creating this but a lack of opportunities, especially when it came to education. I was already supporting some philanthropic efforts in America when I heard about the DCU Access Programme and I felt it was incredibly important to give back in my home country to help break the systematic cycle at the root.

DCU has a fantastic structure in place to tackle this issue. Seeing where my donation goes really motivates me to continue to help. Having watched the Leadership Circle Event which took place on DCU campus a few weeks ago, I had heard a student, Illan Dunne, speak about the difference Access had made in his life. This was so moving and reminded me that there are real lives behind my donation. Seeing the impact of the Access Programme and the difference it has made, is truly encouraging and makes me proud to be a DCU supporter.


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