Dr Niamh O’Mahony with UCC President Prof. John O’Halloran.

‘Education is in my blood’

A researcher in Cork has been recognised for her enhancing the learning experience of neurodiverse students in 3rd level STEM education.

Dr Niamh O’Mahony, a UCC chemistry graduate, has received the Dr Garret Fitzgerald Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Higher Education Studies 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 the 1 year study is to develop 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 Niamh O’Mahony 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.”

She added: “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 O’Mahony 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, UCC has said, will be the 1st 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.

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.”