News and Views

UCC researcher awarded fellowship to develop STEM education for neurodiverse students

24 Jan 2023
UCC President Prof. John O'Halloran with Dr Niamh O'Mahoney
  • Today is International Day of Education
  • Dr Niamh O’Mahoney has received the Garret Fitzgerald Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Higher Education Studies for a project on enhancing the learning experience of neurodiverse students in third level STEM education.
  • The scope of this study is developing teaching and learning techniques for dyslexic students.
  • The project will be based at a state-of-the-art Science Studio at UCC and will revolutionise how neurodiverse and neurotypical individuals are taught STEM subjects.

A University College Cork (UCC) researcher has received the Dr Garret Fitzgerald Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Higher Education Studies for a project on enhancing the learning experience of neurodiverse students in third level STEM education.

Dr Niamh O’Mahoney, a UCC Chemistry graduate has received the award for her project ‘One Size Does Not Fit All’, which aims to create a more inclusive and accessible educational infrastructure to suit the neurodiverse mind.

The scope of this one-year study is developing teaching and learning techniques for dyslexic students, equipping them with tools and skills to facilitate their learning and tackling the working world post-education.

Dr O’Mahoney will carry out the research under the mentorship of Dr Eric Moore at the School of Chemistry, UCC. Dr Moore is currently developing a state-of-the-art Science Studio facility in UCC’s Kane Building, which will be the base for the project. This facility will be the first of its kind in Ireland and will facilitate all work packages for this project, yielding the opportunity to revolutionise how neurodiverse and neurotypical individuals are taught STEM subjects.

Dyslexia has been selected as the first neurodiverse condition to shape educational structures, as dyslexia is the leading form of neurodiversity. Dyslexia influences at least one in ten people and is a genetic difference in an individual's ability to learn and process information. With only 20% of the estimated dyslexic population diagnosed with the condition, 80% of dyslexics are navigating the academic system, unable to understand why they aren't excelling regardless of the time and energy invested.

The project presents the opportunity to 'offer a hand' to struggling students and will level the playing field in STEM education for neurodiverse students, harnessing their untapped potential.

Dr Niamh O’Mahoney, Fellowship Awardee, said "While I am a chemist by trade, education is in my blood. My parents are secondary school teachers, my father taught me chemistry for my leaving certificate, and my grandmother was my primary school principal. As a neurodiverse person who navigated the university landscape as an undergraduate and postgraduate student, I know first-hand where practices can adapt and develop for the better, enabling all students to fulfil their potential. Simple changes to current teaching practices will enhance personal learning, positively impacting typical and atypical learners alike. This project has been a passion of mine for several years, and I am excited to pursue such an important topic. I look forward to developing skills and techniques to support neurodiverse students in tertiary education, in turn forming a neurodiverse-friendly campus at UCC with the hope of rolling out these practices further afield."

Dr Patrick O'Leary, Registrar National University of Ireland, said "I think that cutting edge research on how complex subjects are taught in the most effective way to neurodiverse students is challenging and exciting. One of NUI’s strategic priorities is to support students and particularly students who may not have been best served by Higher education or society to date. Work like this will advance the inclusion agenda in our universities and will benefit everyone. It also gives Niamh the time and resources to develop her research and career to become an academic leader of the future. We look forward to seeing the research outcomes and impact of this award and to tracking Niamh’s onward career."

Dr Eric Moore, Fellowship Mentor, said "I am delighted for Niamh, she has worked extremely hard to raise awareness and promote a more inclusive and accessible education environment for students with dyslexia. She is passionate about enhancing the student experience for those that have learning difficulties and the Post-Doctorate Fellowship in Higher Education Studies will provide her with an opportunity to challenge current teaching and learning practices. Niamh is an exceptional researcher, and I am looking forward to working with and supporting her on this prestigious NUI award."

Prof. Anita Maguire, Head of School of Chemistry at UCC said "Niamh has made a tremendous contribution to the School through her research and, in addition, her creative approach to enhancing diversity and inclusion in everything we do. I am delighted to see her excellence and commitment recognised by this prestigious award from the NUI, which will ensure the School continues its journey in supporting all students."

Dr Florence McCarthy, Chair of EDI Committee at the School of Chemistry in UCC said "This is a fabulous achievement for Niamh and reflects the initiative and drive within the School towards building a more inclusive academic and structural environment. Niamh is an inclusivity champion and the award builds on her very successful Periodic Table of People podcast. We wish her every success and look forward to implementing the findings of her research."

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