University College Cork (Ireland) UCC honours trailblazing alumni achievers

Four inspirational alumni will be honoured with an Alumni Achievement Award from their alma mater University College Cork (UCC) this evening.

These awards are one of the highest accolades given by the university. Those being recognised for their achievements include: Ross Frenett, Founder and CEO of Moonshot, a company dedicated to countering terrorism and extremism online; infectious disease epidemiologist and public health specialist, Professor Noel Gill; Radiation oncology leader, Dr Maria Kelly; and former Irish women’s rugby sevens and field hockey international, Audrey O’Flynn. 

President of UCC, Professor John O’Halloran commended those receiving awards this evening; “I am delighted to celebrate the outstanding accomplishments of our alumni. Each one embodies UCC’s tradition of independent thinking and is a source of great pride to the university.” 

Steering millions away from terrorist material and extremism

Ross Frenett is the Founder and CEO of Moonshot, a company which identifies and counters terrorism, organised crime, and disinformation online. Ross grew up with a keen interest in what leads people to terrorism and the edges of human experience. This has seen him shadowing Hezbollah in a Lebanese war zone, interviewing Real IRA prisoners in Portlaoise Prison and befriending former neo-Nazis. 

Speaking about the impact his time at UCC has had on his career, Frenett adds; “UCC is where my interest in terrorism matured from a childish passion to a serious professional pursuit. Not only did time at the UCC allow me to understand the phenomenon from an academic perspective, but involvement with student societies helped me to gain practical experience leading organizations and building teams.” 

Since its foundation, Moonshot has steered millions of people around the world away from terrorist material, changed the algorithms of the world’s largest technology platforms and rescued children at risk of exploitation. Moonshot partners with the US Defence Department, Google, the UK Home Office, Twitter and Meta. Fast Company named them as one of the most innovative security companies in the world earlier this year. Ross graduated from UCC with a BA Joint Arts in 2009 and was once named the “World’s proudest Corkman” by JOE.ie. 

Protecting and promoting the health and wellbeing of the population 

Infectious disease epidemiologist and public health specialist, Professor Noel Gill graduated from UCC with a degree in medicine in 1974. After clinical practice in Dublin and Sierra Leone, he spent his career at the national infectious diseases centre in London. 

An expert in his field, Professor Gill led the team that undertook surveillance of HIV and sexually transmitted infections, coordinated the nationwide chlamydia screening programme, and monitored the success of the human papilloma virus immunisation programme in England. He was closely involved with developing EU-wide surveillance, understanding the prevalence in the UK of abnormal prions that cause variant-CJD, and with establishing the value of taking Pre-Exposure-Prophylaxis (PrEP) by individuals at high-risk to prevent themselves from acquiring HIV. After leading Public Health England’s co-sponsorship of the ‘PROUD’ Trial measuring real-life efficacy of PrEP in gay men, he jointly led the ‘Impact’ trial of 22,000 participants across 150 English clinics that showed the great need and the enormous value of PrEP in gay men.   

Reflecting on his career, Professor Gill says; ‘Sharing individual data as quickly as possible in large-scale information systems that the public trust, and anonymous analysis of thousands of human tissue samples, is essential for preventing infectious diseases.  My work has illustrated this principle and has shown the value of doing so on an EU-wide basis. 

Improving cancer care for US veterans 

Radiation Oncology leader, Dr Maria Kelly has been caring for cancer patients since she finished her degree at UCC. She spent over 20 years caring for the citizens of Virginia at the University of Virginia (UVA) Health Sciences Center. She has held numerous leadership positions professionally and in volunteer roles.  

Dr Kelly became the first woman Chair of a clinical department at UVA before departing for the Veterans Healthcare Administration (VHA), the largest single healthcare entity in the US. She embraced the VA mission “To care for him who shall have borne the battle” and spent 13 years delivering the best in cancer care to veterans.  

Her accomplishments led to her appointment as the Executive Director of the VHA National Radiation Oncology Program where she is a passionate advocate for veterans with cancer. Dr Kelly graduated from UCC in 1983 with a degree in Medicine. 

A stalwart in Irish sport 

Former sportsperson Audrey O’Flynn has had the rare honour of representing her country at the highest international level in two different sports. Audrey is as a former Ireland women’s field hockey international and former Irish women’s rugby sevens international.   

Speaking about the award, Audrey adds; “I am delighted to accept this award and I am very grateful for the opportunities I was given in UCC in both an academic and sporting context” 

O’Flynn went on to make 120 appearances and score 30 goals for the Ireland women’s national field hockey team. In 2014, she signed a professional contract with the IRFU to play for the Ireland women’s national rugby sevens team. She made her debut at the 2015 Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Grand Prix Series and went on to play in 25 tournaments and 74 World Series matches. Audrey has captained the Ireland sevens and Irish hockey team and has represented Ireland at the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens. She graduated from UCC with a degree in Commerce in 2008 and masters in Corporate Finance in 2010. 

The Alumni Achievement awards dinner is an annual celebration by UCC of its alumni, previous winners include RTÉ broadcaster Marty Morrissey, psychologist Maureen Gaffney and Michelin starred chef Ross Lewis.