Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin honoured for promoting maths

15 Oct 2020

Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin accepting her award. Image: Maths Week Ireland

Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin has been awarded a Maths Week Ireland Award in recognition her work to make mathematics more inclusive and accessible.

Mathematics education lecturer and advocate Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin has received the Maths Week Ireland Award for her contribution to raising public awareness of maths and promoting social inclusion and equality.

The award is presented once a year during Maths Week Ireland, which is the all-island festival of maths and numeracy. The event runs until 18 October with support from the Department of Education, Science Foundation Ireland and a host of other organisations, schools and colleges.

‘Mathematical literacy for all members of society plays a hugely important role and I hope to work to improve the mathematics experiences of learners across the country’

Ní Shúilleabháin first came to national prominence in 2005 when she was crowned as the Rose of Tralee. During the competition, she spoke about her time at scientific research centre CERN in an effort to dismantle stereotypes associated with the field of mathematics.

In the same year, she graduated from University College Dublin (UCD) with a first-class honours degree in theoretical physics and she is now a lecturer at the university.

In addition to her academic work, Ní Shúilleabháin has become a science communicator, presenting science programmes on RTÉ such as The Science Squad and 10 Things to Know About. She is also a regular contributor to national radio, print, online media, festivals and conferences promoting mathematics and science.

Inclusive maths programmes

With her colleague Dr Anthony Cronin, Ní Shúilleabháin developed the Maths Sparks programme, which is a series of problem-solving workshops for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds that is led by UCD volunteers.

She has also worked closely with the national voluntary organisation Women in Technology and Science to celebrate the work of Irish women in science. In 2018, she co-hosted the Women in Mathematics Day Ireland event honouring Prof Sheila Tinney, one of the first Irish women to receive a PhD in mathematics.

The Mayo-native has been involved in a number of STEM role model projects and is a member of the Gender in STEM group at the Department of Education and Skills.

Ní Shúilleabháin also spent time as a post-primary teacher, which gave her an insight into the practical challenges that teachers and pupils face. With this in mind, she has spent her career aiming to make the teaching and learning of mathematics a more enjoyable experience.

Upon receiving the award, Ní Shúilleabháin said: “I believe we should celebrate mathematics in our educational and cultural settings and assure our students that mathematics, like any other subject, can be practiced and improved.

“In these times where we are bombarded with information and data, mathematical literacy for all members of society plays a hugely important role and I hope to work to improve the mathematics experiences of learners across the country.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic