Te Herenga Waka student joins Emerging Innovator programme

Master's student Holly Gooch is now part of the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator programme to progress a project to help twice-exceptional secondary students.

Holly Gooch, a Master of Educational Psychology student at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, will join the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator programme to progress a project to help twice-exceptional secondary students.

Twice-exceptional students are those identified as gifted, with strong ability in some cognitive, creative, and/or cultural area, while also having a diagnosed disability. Holly is the first person in the University’s Faculty of Education—Te Whānau o ako pai to recieve this award from KiwiNet. 

“Often these students don’t get diagnosed accurately because either their gift hides the fact they have a disability or visa-versa, so they don’t get the support or challenging opportunities they need,” explains Holly.

“The tool I’m developing is designed to help teachers, parents, and teens identify those who need a full assessment by professionals to determine whether they are twice-exceptional.”

Holly is the parent of a twice-exceptional teen, and has worked extensively in high schools with gifted and talented and twice-exceptional teens. “I could see the challenges these teens and their whānau face. Many of these challenges and barriers are unnecessary, so I wanted to do something about that.”

The pilot is completed for this screening tool, and Holly has also created a tester YouTube channel to explain twice-exceptionality to educators and parents.

“If schools in New Zealand can screen for twice-exceptionality, these students can be identified for extra support, ensuring they have the opportunity to realise their superpowers instead of underachieving or becoming mental health statistics. By definition, these students are out-of-the-box thinkers, with a lot to offer our creative economy, and they’re well placed to tackle challenges like climate change and pandemics,” says Holly.

Holly will begin a PhD in Education next year to develop an online group programme for these teens, which will “empower and equip them with the skills to be able to take the lead in creating better learning and work environments for themselves, wherever they are”.

The Emerging Innovator Programme provides $10,000 in funding to help Holly develop her idea into a business. Over the next 12 months, Holly will gain commercial mentoring, build industry connections and better understand how her idea will fit into the market and have real-life impact. Her application was championed by Lisa McLennan, a senior commercialisation manager at Wellington UniVentures—Te Paewai.

“This is a sought-after programme that helps emerging researchers to reach their fullest potential in terms of future impact. I saw Holly’s work being promoted by ADHD New Zealand and its relevance and creativity inspired me—I contacted her the same day to talk with her about it,” says Lisa.

“I was delighted to hear that Holly blew the 20-strong panel away with her skill, vision, and knowledge. Wellington Univentures has nominated several reseachers across different disciplines to join the programme and I have seen the incredible transformation as they gain confidence and self-belief in their own capacity, and I know Holly will make the most of this experience too.”

Previous winners of the award from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington include Dr Nick Monahan from the Ultrafast Laser Spectroscopy Group, Dr Shalini Divya from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences who has since founded TasmanIon, and Ged Finch, a former doctoral student in the Wellington School of Architecture who has gone on to make his idea X-Frame an internationally successful commercial enterprise.