SSP Community Innovation Award

SSP Community Innovation Award

The Society for Science and the Public Award for Community Innovation

SciFest was selected for the second year running to be among 30 Regeneron International Science and Engineering affiliated fairs to receive a 2020 Society for Science & the Public (SSP) Community Innovation Award to present at a SciFest fair. This $500 (USD) award is intended for a deserving project participating in a local science fair that has made an impact in the community.

The SciFest@College 2020 Online winners of the SSP Award for Community Innovation were Sean Moloney and Michael Ware from St. Brogan's College, Kilbrogan, Bandon, Co. Cork. Their project was titled 'To research the challenges of transitioning from primary to secondary school for students with autism and develop an information book to help ease their transition'. In order to claim the award Sean was asked to complete a number of essay questions, see below. Well done to Sean, Michael and to their teacher Norma Sheahan.

1. Tell us about your project. Why did you focus on this project? What community challenge were you seeking to resolve with your research?

'The aim of our research was to identify the challenges the students with autism experience when transitioning from primary to secondary school and develop an information booklet that can be used as a resource for sixth class students.

We started by establishing a focus group of current 6th class students from the local primary schools that have a diagnosis of Autism. We then used two methods to survey the students. Firstly we asked students to answer a questionnaire. Followed by students creating 'impromptu drawings' of how they are feeling about the transition. We analysed the drawings to identify common features. We used the combined data to create a booklet to address the concerns identified.

We both know first-hand how difficult the leap to post-primary school can be, having to cope with new and unfamiliar settings. As we are both on the autism spectrum, and part of the ASD base class in our school, we know and understand the value of a positive, well-co-ordinated transition plan. We felt that we could draw from our own personal experience, by providing students with information, in an easy to use autism friendly format, that will help to reduce their risk of experiencing a negative transition to secondary school.'

2.  You received the Society's Community Innovation Award- what does this recognition mean to you?

'This recognition means so much to me and my teammate Michael, as well as our teacher Miss Sheahan. We worked so hard on it and it was a labour of love. With us both being on the spectrum, it was important to us from the beginning that our project would help other students like us. We drew a lot from our own personal experience of moving into secondary school and the support we where given from our school, so we wanted to give something back. The thought that the resource we created will help not only students on the spectrum, as was initially intended, but all students moving into secondary school, for years to come, makes us very proud. Receiving this award reinforces this and it really is an honour.'

3.  How did you first become interested in STEM? 

'I was interested from learning about science in school and reading books as a child. I grew a fascination to the ideas like of animals, space and how we evolved through time in our understanding. I also grew interested at how normal items work, liking to know the details that cause things to move or carry out their job. Science became one of my favourite subjects in school, and I grew to love experiments, and I took Metalwork for my Junior Certificate to learn more about engineering. I am currently doing biology and chemistry for my Leaving Certificate also as they highly interest me.'

4.  Why are science fairs/competitions important?

'From our experience a science fair project is one of the best learning experiences a student can undertake. The projects are always so varied and diverse, and may include diverse scientific topics in areas such as physics, engineering, astronomy and biology. They also give students the opportunity to meet like minded people and learn so much more about the world around us and how it works.

From a personal perspective without science competitions like SciFest, we would not have been motivated to research our topic with such depth and in turn produce a resource that will help so many students going forward. It allowed us to learn so much more than we would ever have done from just textbooks. It gave us an opportunity to learn about different research methods, how to effectively carry out research and how to analyse data. We also learned so much about time management, editing and presentation. What we learnt from undertaking this project will help us in our future study and work, not only academically but socially also. This science competition definitely increased our interest in science.'

5. What area of science are you interested in pursuing in the future?

'I wish to pursue the science of zoology, or the study of animals. I have had an interest in animals since childhood, having read about them in books and watched documentaries, especially those by Sir David Attenborough. How animals live and interact interest me, and how they solve problems as well. I hope to be able to watch them in the wild and help to achieve a further understanding of animals for the world to see, ensuring that humans are more caring towards them. I think that zoology is a highly important field for that reason, as we aren’t the only species on the planet and therefore we should ensure that we share it with other creatures.'

6. What educational goals do you have for yourself?

'My personal goal is to get through secondary school and do well in my Leaving Certificate, earning enough points to get my course. I think hopefully around the high 400 to low 500 should allow me to have a good range of choice for what courses I can pick. I hope to study zoology, but I am also interested in doing history or politics. I hope to go to the University College Cork or UCC in Cork, as that is nearest.'

7. Name a person in STEM fields or otherwise who you identify with or look up to and why?

'A person who I look up to is Sir David Attenborough, a zoologist who creates documentaries for BBC. He is 94 years old and continues to spread the word on global warming and habitat loss , ensuring that we can protect them for years to come. He has travelled to all corners of the world and seen lots in terms of how the world has changed, giving him a unique view of the world and a different insight into how problems should be solved. He has made a large number of documentaries on several topics.'

8. What would you invent if you had all the money in the world? (200 words max)

'I would invent an improved machine for soaking up carbon from the atmosphere. Current ones that exist aren’t powerful enough, and I feel that producing highly powerful machines that can be easily replicated and spreading these around the world will help along with other climate measures. I feel that this would then ensure that we go from having to simply stop things from worsening to trying and return to what the climate used to be. It would be difficult to engineer and perfect, trying to figure out the science behind it especially will be difficult, but should it be possible I feel it would help the world greatly.'

9. Can you share a story or anecdote in your life that has been pivotal in your work or personally?

'The story that has been pivotal to my life is when I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of six, a kind of autism. I went up to Dublin to get diagnosed after years of me having difficulty socially and having a difficult first year in school. This was pivotal for me personally as it allowed my parents and those who work with me to understand what I am like and why. It allowed me to get the help needed as well and therefore I was able to improve certain skills like social skills. This also helped me with my work as the project is based on autism, giving me insight into how autistic children think, and I was lucky to also be working with Michael, who also has autism, so both of us had insight.'

10.  Is there anything else you would like to add?

'Autism is a complex issue that has seen people try and figure out for years. Millions have it and many are trying to find how to help those with autism and many others are trying to find how to cure autism. We want to be able to contribute to the understanding of how autistic people think and feel, as well as why it is highly important for autistic people’s voices are heard and that solutions are found to help those who need it, such as when transitioning from primary to secondary and even more so now when there is huge change thanks to COVID-19, which may cause stress.

We both feel really grateful to have been given the opportunity to undertake our project and feel we have learned so much from it, not only academically but socially also. We had to do things way outside our comfort zone, like speak to large groups of people, interview students and teachers, answer unrehearsed questions, etc. These skills will be invaluable to us going forward and we will never forget this whole experience. We have achieved far more than we ever thought we could.'

31 2024
SciFest@School in Loreto College, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath
07 2024
SciFest@School in St Andrews College, Booterstown Ave, Blackrock, Co Dublin
08 2024
SciFest@School in Sandymount Park Educate Together Secondary School, Beech Road, Sandymount, Dublin 4
13 2024
SciFest@School in St Raphaela's Secondary School, Upper Kilmacud Road, Stillorgan, Co. Dublin
Michael D. Higgins, Patron of SciFest
SciFest is a registered charity.

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Michael D. Higgins
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