Honors Faculty Fellow Katherine O’Flaherty recognized with Irish Echo Community Champion Award

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November 16, 2020

Katherine O’Flaherty

Katherine O’Flaherty, Honors Faculty Fellow in Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University, has been given the Community Champion Award by The Irish Echo, the oldest Irish-American newspaper in the United States.


The annual award recognizes Irish-Americans who make contributions in a variety of fields, including health care, public service and education. 


O’Flaherty, who teaches in Barrett, The Honors College at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus, was chosen for the award based on a nomination letter that pointed to her ability to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic by learning new skills and technologies to better serve her students and offering multiple ways for students to take classes remotely.


When the U.S. education system moved online in mid-March as the pandemic worsened, educators had only days to redesign their courses and learn new technologies like Zoom. O’Flaherty spent many hours redesigning her courses and working with her students to make sure they would finish the spring semester.


This summer, O’Flaherty created a new course on the history of outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics, and worked with students virtually on their senior thesis projects and research.


“I know her students would agree she is their advocate and a champion of their education,” the nomination letter said.


O’Flaherty said she would like to share the award with her colleagues in acknowledgment of their teamwork.


“I don't think of myself as a champion, but it's such a nice recognition. There are so many people who are doing so much for the community and for students. I was really flattered to be nominated and I was just really taken aback to have received this,” she said.


“There's absolutely nothing I would have been able to do this year for my students without the help and support of the other faculty and especially staff,” she said. “I feel very honored to be given this award, but I feel even more honored that I'm able to accept this on behalf of the great team that we have.”


O’Flaherty said it was important to maintain some structure as the pandemic brought on uncertainty with a new way of teaching and an abrupt change in learning for students. 


Throughout the university, classes were transitioned to remote formats. Some faculty recorded lectures. O’Flaherty kept her original course schedule and taught classes via Zoom. 


“Even though it was via Zoom, the students just really looked forward to that,” O’Flaherty said. “And even though they were in different time zones and everything else, there was something about it that felt a bit normal and they told me repeatedly that it kept them accountable, that they knew on Monday, they had to get up and they had to do this because we're going to have class.”


The adjustments she made to her spring courses inspired her to keep working on new remote courses for the summer and fall for students who were unable to return for in-person classes.


“[What] really propelled me on is that I did feel like even though learning in the online environment is different, it's still really, really valuable, and it's especially valuable when everything else is unknown,” O’Flaherty said. “It's really nice to have some sort of structure that you can follow.”


O’Flaherty has been deeply connected to Ireland her whole life. She was born in Boston, Mass. When she was three months old, her parents, who are both Irish, decided to move from Boston to Ireland. O’Flaherty lived in Camp, County Kerry, Ireland, until she was 12 years old. 


“I have always felt like I live in both places because I might live here for 10 months of the year, but I spend one to two months every year there,” O’Flaherty said. “So, for me, that part of my identity is still really, really strong, and so it's incredibly nice to be recognized by a newspaper that's targeted toward Irish people in the U.S. and Irish-Americans.”


O’Flaherty said she hopes the fact that she grew up in a different country makes diverse students feel more welcome and understood in her classes.


“I’d like to think that it makes me just more aware of the challenges of cultural differences and sort of thinking about living in two places and having different identities that come together for who you are,” O’Flaherty said.


Story by Greta Forslund, a Barrett, The Honors College student studying journalism at the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.