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Meet Emma

Dr Emma Mckenna 


I have always had a strong interest in social justice and a commitment to working to develop social change. In the early part of my career I worked in the voluntary sector for a number of years, in War on Want as a Promotions Officer for Fair Trade, in the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action as a Research Assistant and in the Women’s Support Network as a policy officer. Alongside this I completed a part-time PhD in Sociology in Queen’s University Belfast. I was frustrated by the lack of integration between academic and community based research and felt strongly about working towards a engaged research as a way of tackling societal issues. This interest led me to take up my post in The Science Shop in 2001.

Over the last 10 years I have developed a strong interest in how to re-imagine curricula to support community engaged research and learning and have sought opportunities to learn with other European universities through the Living Knowledge Network. Between 2015-2018,  I jointly led the Horizon 2020 funded project Enhancing Responsible Research and Innovation through Curricula in Higher Education which focused on building and sharing models of good practice in curriculum innovation. This led to an interest in how educators themselves develop their knowledge around community engaged research and learning, and  I co-ordinated a successful application for the CIRCLET project, an Erasmus+  Strategic Partnership which is running 2019-2022.

Responsibilities within the University

I work with community based organisations across Northern Ireland to develop research proposals suitable for students to undertake as part of their degree. I then work with students and academics across the University to build these projects into curriculum based research projects, including facilitating and setting up the projects and supporting students, staff and communities in the research process. I also advise on how best to implement community engaged research and learning within academic curricula. The majority of my work is focused in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences and in Queen’s Management School, however I also contribute to engaged research projects right across the University.

I co-ordinate the Erasmus+ funded Curriculum Innovation through Research with Communities: Learning circles of Educators and Technology (CIRCLET) project.

External Recognition

Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Associate Editor of Research For All

Co-ordinator of the CIRCLET project

Leading member of the Living Knowledge Network

Research Associate Centre for Leadership, Ethics and Organisation

Member of the Russell Group Community Engagement Network

Advisory Board Member Students Learning with Communities, Technological University Dublin


Tassone Valentina C.,O’Mahony Catherine,McKenna Emma,Eppink Hansje J.,Wals Arjen E. J.  (2017) (Re-)designing higher education curricula in times of systemic dysfunction: a responsible research and innovation perspective. Higher Education (Springer)

Martin, E., McKenna, E., Steinhaus, N., and Mulder H., (2014) ‘Embedding Community-University Partnerships: Science Shops and Policy Development’ in Hall, B, et al  Knowledge, Democracy and Action. Manchester University Press.

Professional and Personal Interests

Building infrastructure to support engagement between communities and universities, including supporting educators, students and communities in this process and building policy and strategy to support engagement.

Supporting and mentoring new Science Shops nationally and internationally.