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Inspire Wales Awards 2014

20 June 2014

Inspire Wales
Scott McKenzie and Dr Haley Gomez

Two Cardiff University staff members have each been shortlisted for an Inspire Wales Award, which aims to recognise those who work to make Wales a better place.

Scott McKenzie, Widening Access Officer, has been nominated in the Educator category for his work for the Discovery Project, a programme of events aimed at raising aspirations of young people with Asperger Syndrome and other high functioning autistic spectrum disorders (ASD).

In committing himself to encouraging these young people to go on to higher education and experience student life in a safe and supported environment, he has more than doubled the number of projects offered at Cardiff University to young people on the autistic spectrum.

"After speaking to young people with ASD and their parents, we realised that while there's a lot of support for students when they get to university, actually getting there in the first place is a really big challenge," says Scott.

He added: "New environments can generate a lot of anxiety for young people on the autism spectrum, but it needn't be a barrier to continuing with education. With the right support, students can have the confidence to overcome their worries and go on to become experts in their chosen field, with the ultimate aim of helping them gain a foothold on the career ladder."

Dr Haley Gomez of the School of Physics and Astronomy has been nominated in the Science and Technology category, which focuses on the contribution of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related activities in manufacturing and industry, academia or the public sector.

Dr Gomez began her academic career as an Astrophysics undergraduate at Cardiff University 17 years ago, where she relished the chance to study subjects she had dreamed about as a young child, such as the physics of black holes and the Big Bang.

Today, as a senior lecturer in Astrophysics herself, she wants to ensure that the impact she has on her students echoes her own student experience: "I hope that I'm the same as the academics who helped me get this far; the ones who listen to students and want to be involved with helping them learn and develop while they're here."

Her desire to help others does not stop at her day job, however. Dr Gomez has also secured funding from the European Commission and the Welsh Government National Science Academy to run two large projects, with a particular focus on astronomy. She added: "I hope to be able to inspire students of all ages and from all backgrounds to follow their dreams in studying and enjoying STEM."

The Inspire Wales Awards, which are provided by the Institute of Welsh Affairs and the Western Mail, will take place at Cardiff City Hall tonight (June 20).