2015 Press Releases

#MeetUCC: Jessica Ní Mhaoláin

15 Jul 2015
Jessica Ní Mhaloláin pictured with Davis Walsh during her Healthy Cities work placement at the Eccowell Cork launch in August 2013 (Picture courtesy of Clare Keogh and EcCoWell)

In the second edition of #MeetUCC, MBS Government student Jessica Ní Mhaoláin discusses politics, social justice, the road to the Rose of Tralee and Citizen Cane.

#MeetUCC will provide a regular glimpse into the lives of the students, staff, graduates and partners of UCC that make our community so special. 

In conversation with: Tom McCarthy, UCC Media & PR Officer

Name: Jessica Ní Mhaoláin

Hometown: Lehenaghmore, Cork

Current location: Boole library

Course at UCC: I started in 2010 with the BSc Public Health, and after graduating last summer, I began the MBS Government last September.

First/best memory of UCC (so far)?

I would probably say around Christmas time in my first year. One of the mornings in early December, it had started to snow really heavily while the class and I were in a long windowless lecture. So of course, when we got out and saw all the snow, it seemed perfectly legitimate to have a snowball fight - even though half of the group were due to give an in-class presentation in our next lecture! We all went hell for leather with our snowball throwing - every girl for herself! In the end, we arrived into the lecture 20 minutes late and half the group had to give this important presentation with melted snow all over them.

Clubs/societies you would recommend in UCC?

I’m very biased here because I’ve been involved in a few, but I’d definitely recommend getting involved with societies in any shape or form. They really helped me come out of my shell in college. Check out the Fianna Fáil Society - I’m (still!) on the committee this year. I regret not getting involved more in the Journalism Society - if I could have my time over I would definitely join up.

Favourite spot for lunch in or around UCC?

Coffee Dock in the ORB (O'Rahilly Building), hands down! Or if you’re feeling fancy, the café in the Glucksman is really lovely.

Best piece of advice you ever received?

During graduation last year, a few of our Public Health lecturers were around to congratulate our class. While I was chatting to Dr Paul Beirne, I mentioned to him how I had accepted the MBS Government, but to be honest I was still a bit unsure about whether I was making the right decision. I was literally jumping from one discipline to another which is scary.

I remember Paul said to me, “I had a feeling you would go into politics or government after the BSc and I’m not surprised - it's a natural progression for you really”.

It really settled my mind that I wasn’t taking on an impossible task and it was definitely the final bit of encouragement I needed. I haven’t looked back since.

What advice would you give to incoming first years in September?

Relax and try to enjoy yourself in the first few weeks. You’ll find you’ll settle into a good routine by October - when to study, when is a good time to eat, where lectures are on. If you’re doing a course that allows you to choose modules, be practical and do what you love.

To say you have a slight grá (love) for politics may be a bit of an understatement– tell us about that side of your life

Well, it actually all started in UCC! I joined the Fianna Fáil society towards the end of my first year in UCC - actually it was the day after the general election in 2011. Even though I wasn’t on the committee until the end of second year, I really enjoyed helping out and learning about the organisation. I’m not from a political background, so I was just happy to learn about the structure of it.

After being elected chair at the end of third year, I also went on to secure the inaugural position of Women’s Rapporteur in 2013 - this was a position to highlight gender equality within the youth wing of the party, Ógra Fianna Fáil. In November 2014 I was elected to the Central Officer Board of Ógra as the National Membership and Recruitment Director. My role really does what it says on the tin - I’m there to assist new members find their nearest cumann (association), and also to represent members at Ard Chomhairle (National Executive) level.

I was involved with different campaigns during the local elections last year as well - during my final set of exams for the BSc Public Health! There was a great buzz meeting people at the doors, and when I wasn’t on the doors with candidates, I was helping out with their social media campaigns.

You're also an avid blogger by all accounts?

I certainly am. I think the staff running the @UCC Twitter account are probably tired of me asking for retweets! I began blogging about my experience as a person with a vision impairment in 2013. I have a rare genetic eye condition known as oculocutaneous albinism. It affects the pigment of my hair and skin - yes the blonde is natural. It also changed the way my eyes developed in the womb, which continues to affect my eyes today. I suppose I would probably describe it as being severely short sighted - though I don’t really have anything to compare it with because I’ve never had full sight.

It also makes my eyes sensitive to light, so even if it’s not an entirely sunny day, I’m usually seen around with sunglasses on and my cane - fondly known as Citizen Cane.

So I went from blogging about living with albinism and nystagmus (involuntary eye movements), to expanding to topics on education, health and general lifestyle. A few articles coming along in the next few weeks will be on different lifelong conditions and their impact from the point of view of the sufferer. I’d like to get into features journalism and I thought it was a good idea to expand the blog accordingly.

I like to think my public health background has helped me write about topics like my condition and appreciate the situations of others in a similar position, and also in knowing the right questions to ask. I also feature guest pieces by other bloggers, and that’s something I’d like to grow a bit more.

Any advice for those who feel disempowered on how to make themselves heard?

I will say it's important to pick your battles, but when you have, make sure your voice is the loudest. It’s not always practical to tackle every situation that makes you feel small. It can take a lot of your time, energy and peace of mind. But you’ll know which fight is yours to take on. And when you do, fight as hard as you can.

Did we see you linked to the Rose of Tralee competition recently?

Yep, that was me alright! I took part on behalf of Suicide Aware, a mental health charity that I do a bit of voluntary work for. I honestly had one of the most amazing experiences of my life, it’s definitely something I’ll carry with me. I got to experience things I never would normally, like the Mallow Races, something I would never have gone to in the past.

It really pushed me to get out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing when you have a disability I think sometimes you can tend to stay within your own ‘safe zone’, and it was nice being out of that.

I’ve made friends for life through the experience, and we’re all booked in to watch our Cork Rose Aoife Murphy on stage in the Dome in August! If anyone in UCC is thinking about entering in the next few years, I’d absolutely encourage you to, I think everyone should do it - purely for the confidence boost and friends you’ll make. If I’m still hanging about the campus, feel free to ask what the ins and outs of it are like.

Favourite book?

I really got back into my books last summer as I hadn’t had much of a chance to read the previous summer. It’s nice and solitary. I’m right in the middle of re-reading a series of books by Cork author C.K. Farrell. He writes a series called the Celtic Vampyre Saga. I don’t want to spoil the story, but it’s like a hybrid of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire series, and a mystery thriller similar to Dan Browne’s work. I’m almost finished the first book (for the third time) which is my favourite, but I’m looking forward to the fourth instalment later this summer.

What comes to mind when we say George Boole?

Well, the library really. I’ve spent the best part of my 20’s in there! But of course, George is a big part of UCC’s academic genetics, and from my understanding of Boolean Theory, my MacBook and all the code that goes into it wouldn’t be a thing if it weren't for his work in mathematics.

What inspires/motivates you?

Social justice. I hope that doesn’t sound like a cliché? As a young kid, seeing my parents having to push and pull against parts of the education system to put me on a level playing field to other kids without a vision impairment - it really opened up a sense of what was morally right and wrong within me.

Personally, I don’t think any expense should be spared by the education system to support and empower all children to reach their full potential, whatever their background. It’s no wonder to me that teens with disabilities, or teens who don’t have English as a first language, or teens from the travelling community, are struggling to make their way from second level education to third level. When certain parts of the education system aren’t supportive of those with different needs, it's unsurprising that those kids will struggle to make it into universities.

In my experience, third-level institutions like UCC are doing as much as they can. It really is up to the lower level education system to plan and nourish the learning potential of these teens. You can do so many things with education, it can take you all over the world. I feel if we just started there, we can do an awful lot to empower people and lift them to a place of social equality. That’s something very, very close to my heart.

Favourite social network(s)?

Instagram is definitely my favourite of all the big ones. A picture really can paint a thousand words, and with all the different hashtags, it’s a great way to connect with others who have similar interests, or to get an important message out there. I’m using it a lot more than Facebook and Twitter recently - I don’t know if that’s good or bad? Obviously, I’m a fan of the filters on it too!

What's next for you in terms of studies/work/life?

I feel I’m at a bit of a crossroads when it comes to my work life at the moment, a feeling I’m pretty sure a lot of twenty-somethings will identify with. I’m really enjoying the thesis writing, there’s something very satisfying about it. So all going well, I’d really like to be accepted for a PhD sometime next year, maybe in line with my thesis topic.

After this year, I’ve really come to enjoy presentations and I think I could see lecturing and academics in my future. Maybe if I hang around long enough, UCC might decide to give me a go at it here?! Otherwise, I’d like to get into feature pieces in journalism, either in broadcast or print media. I just enjoy writing about people, it’d be great to be paid to do it!

Where can people learn more about you?

Blog: www.beyondtheblonde.org

Facebook: www.facebook.com/beyondtheblonde

Twitter: @Jess_NiMhaolain / @BTBJess

Instagram: beyond_theblonde

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