Engagement

I have actively participated in engagement locally, nationally and globally since the early stages of my career. This engagement is a critical two-way relationship between the university and the community, society, business and other educational institutions which form the wider learning ecosystem. In my varied roles as lecturer, researcher, Head of School, Vice-Head of College and as Vice-President of UCC I enjoyed a wide range of engagement with communities, educational partners, schools, Government and Non-Government Organisations, and with industry. This engagement has facilitated the mutual, reciprocal and respectful exchange of information, knowledge benefitting all parties.  I have attempted to deepen the quality and intensity of UCC’s relationships with the community and across regions through my activities in research, teaching and outreach to ensure that the emergence of new ideas better informs community, societal, educational and regional development.

I am the director of the Quercus (Latin for oak tree) Talented Students Programme at UCC, which was launched in 2013. This programme offers both prospective and current UCC students the opportunity to apply for scholarships in the areas of academia, active citizenship, creative and performing arts, entrepreneurship, and sport. In its first two years 39 students have been awarded scholarships on this programme and we have welcomed a wonderful selection of young people with a wide variety of talents onto the programme. You can find out more about these students and their activities on the Quercus website where we regularly post news articles about their achievements.

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Fergus McAuliffe, UCC, President of UCC Dr Michael Murphy, Professor John O’Hallaran, Director of Quercus, Clare and UCC Hurler Shane O’Donnell and Breffni Molloy, Galway at the launch of The Quercus Talented Students Programme.

 

Each year a gala dinner is hosted by UCC where these students are awarded their Quercus Talented Students Scholarships. This is a very uplifting event at which we celebrate the extraordinary talent of our Quercus scholars along with their families and former schools. This year we were entertained on the night by the very talented musicians on the Quercus programme who performed music composed for the evening by Quercus scholars Ann-Christin Bloch and Ben O’Callaghan.

Amongst the recipients in 2015 is UCC and Kilkenny Hurler, John Power, who won his second senior All Ireland medal last September. He joins UCC and Cork Camogie player, Amy O’Connor, herself an All-Ireland winner for the second time in the autumn, in the ranks of Quercus Scholars. Also receiving a Quercus Scholarship in 2015 was Sarah Jameel, an ambassador for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution movement, who recently became a worldwide hit with her ‘Love Letter to Beirut, Paris and Beyond‘, an emotional peace appeal after the Paris and Beirut terror attacks that went viral and was picked up by The Huffington Post in the US.

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2015 Awards MovieI am honoured to have been a member of the jury for the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science UK & Ireland since 2011. With women currently making up just 13% of employees involved in STEM careers, the fellowships promote the importance of ensuring greater participation of women in science. These fellowships, worth £15,000 each, are designed to provide flexible financial help to outstanding female scientists to further their research. In addition, the For Women in Science Programme dedicates a separate annual fund of £20,000 for the UK & Ireland Fellows to support their work as STEM ambassadors, engaging the wider population – particularly young people – in science.


Since 2000 I have been a BT Young Scientist & Technology judge. The BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition is one of the world’s longest running science exhibitions for young people. The exhibition epitomises enquiry based learning and over 500 research projects are conducted by young people from age 12-18 years each year and exhibited at the RDS, Dublin. As many as 50,000 members of the public visit annually to be inspired by young students from second level schools across Ireland.  I have enjoyed judging biology projects in this wonderful exhibition over the last 14 years. For the last decade I have had the privilege of chairing the Biology individual panel. I greatly enjoy this science festival where the energy and innovation of the young scientists is inspiring.  All of those exhibiting are winners, having secured a place in the exhibition, undertaken a piece of independent research and explained to judges and members of the public at the RDS, Dublin for 4 days in Dublin. Truly inspirational.

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In November 2014 I hosted a national citizenship ceremony at UCC. On this day UCC welcomed Ireland’s newest citizens at a series of ceremonies. On this day 845 candidates from 88 different countries became Irish citizens during event at which Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD and Presiding Officer, The Honourable Mr. Justice Bryan McMahon officiated.


During my time as Head of the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences at UCC we were delighted to host a visit to the School by the Minister for Agriculture, Food & the Marine Simon Coveney TD. The Minister’s itinerary included a guided tour of the School and its facilities, presentations by staff members and concluded with a Presentation by the Minister to invited guests, staff and students. Initiatives such as this allow us to share our work with members of Government and to raise awareness for the work being done by students, staff and researchers in the School. The School of BEES has an excellent track record in the areas of Plant Science, Forestry, Aquaculture and Fisheries, and in delivering on the Government’s agenda for research translation and commercialisation. At the time of the visit the impact of plant and forest research at UCC had reached double the global average (independent analysis of institutional productivity using the citation-based research evaluation tool InCites™).


BISTUI am committed to preparing UCC graduates to live in a globally connected society, attracting overseas students and delivering programmes abroad. I have led a number of internationalisation initiatives including the launch of a Visiting Lecturers Programme and an Internal Teaching Fellow Award scheme at UCC. In 2015 I met with Vice President Feng Xichun of the Beijing Institute of Science and Technology (BISTU) to advance cooperation between our two universities. During the same visit as part of a series of week-long events to mark the 10th anniversary of the twinning of Cork and Shanghai, 2 schools in China signed up to take part in UCC’s global maths lesson celebrating George Boole’s legacy. The participation by Chinese schools in this event is a perfect example of how Cork, although small, is punching above its weight on the global stage, particularly in Asia.


SteamResearch indicates that the optimum age for engagement with STEAM subjects is between 9 and 13 years and lack of investment at during this window is a missed opportunity to allow children to develop their skills and interest in STEAM when their natural curiosity about the world is most active. STEAM education is the applied, integrated approach to science, technology, engineering, art and maths, and is an area that I am passionate about. It is a project-based method of teaching that nurtures students’ natural curiosity to develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills. I am a founding director of Steam Education Ltd., a non-profit company which was founded in 2014 to inspire our young children to become the future generation of scientists, technologists, engineers, artists and mathematicians, and address workforce development problems. To address the current opportunities in this area Steam Education Ltd. develops and delivers innovative, fun, engaging educational resources in these subject areas for successful education, primarily in primary schools, across Ireland.


In November 2015 I opened the ‘Star Power’ Information Workshop on unlocking the tourism potential of the Dark Skies of South Kerry supported by Kerry County Council, Fáilte Ireland, University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology. In 2014 the International Dark Sky Association designated the area as Ireland’s first international Dark Sky Place, and the first in the northern hemisphere. This initiative aims to build on this achievement for tourism and education.

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TransitionYearBEES.jpgTransition to university is not easy for our students. Each institution, including UCC, offers a wide range of courses and opportunities for studying but the large number of subjects and topics can be daunting for potential students to decide what course to take [and for some too their parents!]. One way to help inform, and hopefully inspire students, is to invite them to the university during their transition year. However if students are invited during their transition year it is important for them to have an authentic and real experience: engaging with faculty, students and the broader university.  In order to provide a structured and high quality experience for transition year students in the school of BEES, I as Head in 2012 introduced a structured transition year programme of a week duration for second level students.  During the week I would have introduced them to the school and then they spend each day in each of the disciplines: undertaking research, attending classes learning about animal groups, preparing presentations and learning to write a blog. You can read the full blog here. This programme has proved very popular such that in 2016 there was a waiting list for students wishing to the join the programme.


CultureNight

In August 2013 as Head of the School of BEES I was delighted to open the school facilities to the public for the first time as part of the nationwide culture night.  Sometimes in the university we take for granted the privilege of being surrounded by original Charles Darwin specimens collected on his famous beagle voyage in our natural history museums or dinosaur fossils millions of years old.  To watch members of the public view, explore and enjoy the school and hear first-hand from our graduate students and staff about their studies was inspiring.  In 2013 the footfall on the night was close to 2000 people.  The culture night continues each year in BEES.

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My engagement with industry has spanned the forestry, agriculture, water and wind industries through research, outreach, industry guidance and policy input. For over 20 years my research has generated new knowledge, and the impact of this research has been enhanced through public engagement activities. My research outputCooteetals have underpinned management and guidance for forest planning both nationally and across Europe. Nationally, the direct engagement of my Forest Research Group with the Forest Service, Dept. of Agriculture, Food & the Marine, Dept. of Arts, Heritage
& the Gaeltacht, Coillte, the Irish Timber Growers Association and extensive research translation activities have contributed to the development of a sustainable forestry sector in Ireland. Similar activities in the field of water research have underpinned national compliance with the EU Water Framework Directive. Internationally my research has fed into European governance on biodiversity. For example, in 2013, my research was featured by the Directorate-General for Environment, the European Commission department responsible for EU policy on the environment. In 2001 my research fed directly into the EU policy framework for conserving European forests. I represented Ireland on a pan-European concerted action on ‘Indicators for monitoring and evaluation of forest biodiversity in Europe’. The achievements of this project included agreement on a common scheme of key factors of biodiversity for European forests and recommendations European and national level assessment and monitoring of forest biodiversity.

More recently I led the first research project on the interactions between birds (Hen Harriers) and wind turbines in Ireland in collaboration with the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) and the Dept. of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht.  This project provided scientific support for strategic planning of the development of the wind energy sector in an environmentally sustainable manner, while ensuring the conservation interests such as that of the Hen Harrier are protected and was presented to an inter-governmental stakeholder group  (Hen Harrier Threat response Plan) in Dublin in February 2016.