Limerick’s ‘Engage’ seeking new boss to drive access to education

Jess Casey

Reporter:

Jess Casey

Pat O’Connor, founder of Engage in Education

Pat O’Connor, founder of Engage in Education

AFTER 27 years at the helm of fostering access to third level education for young people from marginalised communities in Limerick city, Engage in Education is seeking a new director to guide the project through its key objectives.

Founded in 1991 by chairperson Pat O’Connor, the project - formerly the Limerick Community Based Education Initiative - has launched its four-year strategic plan ‘Inspiring and Supporting Educational Journeys’. 

The project has supported 397 young people to third-level education, according to Mr O’Connor. 

“Our group is about providing each other with group support, some personal development programmes, a listening ear, things like that,” Mr O’Connor explained. 

“With some of these young adults, we would have supported them in primary and secondary school. We would have met them through various activities that were on in their communities. When they met our criteria for entry to the third level project they were invited to join our group.

The aim, Mr O’Connor said is to create a vision and a confidence in families without a tradition of going to third level or advancing through education.

“It’s about seeding the process, supporting those with low finance through that challenge and adding that extra dimension.” 

While acknowledging that there are some very good schools, people can, he says, get lost and the mission for advancement can get lost along the way.

The service provides “that little extra bit of support, knowing that there are people they can talk to, knowing that there are people who will support them or find information for them and the sense that when they are facing that challenge, in a non-traditional community, that there are others with them and they are not alone”. 

“It seems obvious but it is the missing link. For a lot of people, going to university is a given because they have brothers, sisters, a network of neighbours and it becomes natural.” 

“In a setting where it is not a tradition, it becomes a challenge and you have to become an outlier. This is where the support comes in.” 

According to Mr O’Connor, the project’s strategic plan seeks to address these challenges. 

“Essentially the strategic plan is to enhance every aspect that we do, particularly to focus around families.”

The plan also focuses on linking students with colleges from an early age, he added.

“Things like holding an awards day for the kids who are working hard and hosting it in the colleges. Bringing in our own students who are in that college to talk for a few minutes.

“Showing them around and making it local and making it relate to their lives. Removing it from institutional to local.” 

Mr O’Connor, who has been with Engage in Education for 27 years in a voluntary capacity, is to shortly retire and the project is seeking a new director.  “We are looking for a full-time project director, somebody with good educational administrative experience, to take on a paid position,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Somebody with a passion for access and helping people to get on well.”

Further information can be found on www.engage-edu.ie. Closing date is October 31.