More to learn, more to discover

July 18, 2016

Alberta O'Neil (left), who established the Alberta O'Neil Ontario Graduate Scholarship in 2014, poses with the award's 2016 recipient, Education PhD candidate Melanie-Anne Atkins.

Alberta O’Neil taught in Middlesex County schools for more than 36 years.

During that time she taught Grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, and served in the role of Principal for a time.

“It was marvelous,” said O’Neil. “During my career I taught some wonderful kids, and then went on to teach their kids and even their kids’ kids.”

Upon retiring from her long career, O’Neil was eager to ensure the future of the field of education was in good hands. Having also had a deep love of research during her time as a teacher, she established the Alberta O’Neil Ontario Graduate Scholarship in 2014 to help support the next generation of educational researchers.

Recently, she attended the Faculty of Education’s annual awards ceremony where her award was among 15 honours presented to current and recently graduated students in recognition of their academic and research success.

The ceremony saw awards presented to students working in a number of areas, including research on preventing violence against women and children, inclusive education, literacy development and educational leadership.

O’Neil’s award is presented annually to a full-time student based on academic achievement and research merit in the area of children’s mental health.

“These awards not only signify outstanding past achievements from our students but also signify a promising future for everyone here,” said Pam Bishop, Associate Dean of Graduate Education.

Bishop introduced many of the day’s award recipients, including the winner of the Alberta O’Neil award, Melanie-Anne Atkins.

Atkins, who will defend her PhD thesis later this summer, focused her research on decreasing the stigma of mental illness in schools.

Her thesis involved working with high school graduates, each of whom identified as having struggled with mental health issues, about their experiences in school. Atkins used the feedback to help develop a series of mental health literacy days for Bachelor of Education students, and then worked with those BEd students to help develop a second round of workshops.

Winning the award, said Atkins, was a tremendous privilege.

“My research has incredible personal significance to me, and winning this award fueled my passion for it even further,” she said. “When I wrote my application (for the award) I wrote it from the heart. I explained why I believe in what I’m doing and the excitement I had to see where it could go next, so I’m very, very honoured.”

It’s that type of passion that O’Neil is proud to support.

“It’s so important for teachers and educators to learn about this research and to use it every day,” she said. “But there’s always more to learn, more to discover. I had a long career, and I’m delighted to be a part of helping these bright young minds continue doing this wonderful work so that hopefully they will as well.”

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