Adult learning proves to be of huge benefit

The decision to return to college as mature students has given many a new direction. Graduates of UCC’s Youth and Community Work social science degree tell Eoin Kelleher how it benefitted them.
Adult learning proves to be of huge benefit

A special UCC degree is giving mature students a new direction, say graduates whose lives have been changed by the decision to return to college.

A SPECIAL UCC degree is giving mature students a new direction, say graduates whose lives have been changed by the decision to return to college.

Graduates of the Youth and Community Work social science degree include Independent Cork City Councillor Thomas Moloney, Don O’ Leary of the Cork Life Centre, and Ger Rice who runs the Kinsale Youth Support Service (KYSS).

“Our prospective students are not the usual younger person leaving school,” said executive assistant Marian Caulfield. “They need to be over 21, up to any age, and maybe already working as volunteers in community and youth groups and who might be interested in gaining a professional qualification to improve their prospects and earning capability in Youth and Community work.”

Candidates do not need points for this course but are assessed on the work they already perform in the community, and where they might have a related QQI level 5/6 qualification.

Typical applicants are often people seeking a change of direction in life, like recent graduate Ger Rice from Kinsale, a landscape gardener who was made redundant but had an interest in working with youth.

“I was working as a greenkeeper for nine years, married with three children,” said Mr Rice.

Typical applicants are often people seeking a change of direction in life, like recent graduate Ger Rice from Kinsale, a landscape gardener who was made redundant but had an interest in working with youth.
Typical applicants are often people seeking a change of direction in life, like recent graduate Ger Rice from Kinsale, a landscape gardener who was made redundant but had an interest in working with youth.

Mr Rice has been a Health Support Worker with KYSS for the past five years. “I love my role and I get to meet and support not only young people, but families and adults too. Not only am I employed, but I play a major role in the committee work, which is the setting up and running of the centre. I have found a job and a system that allows flexibility for clients and myself.

“While 80% of my work is one to one, I also set up community talks, attend schools and give talks on wellbeing, bullying, the power of kindness and much more.

“This job works for me, my family and my life, it took me a while to find the balance, but it was important for me to keep trying and now I have found a job that I wouldn’t change for the world,” he said.

Don O’Leary runs the Cork Life Centre for alternative learning in Sunday’s Well, and said the course has been life-changing.

Before, there were no paid positions in youth work, he said. “The course was instrumental in getting me a position here. It’s a very unique course in that it looks at all aspects of community work and it gets people to understand the historical aspects of youth work, and the different ways the work can be carried out.”

Don O’Leary runs the Cork Life Centre for alternative learning in Sunday’s Well, and said the course has been life-changing.
Don O’Leary runs the Cork Life Centre for alternative learning in Sunday’s Well, and said the course has been life-changing.

Mr O’Leary said its multi-faceted nature includes law, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was “hugely fulfilling”.

The friendships made on the UCC course last a lifetime, and each adult brings their own experiences. “When I was on the course, there was a nun, there were people from the Brothers of Charity. Some of them are still around the city, in the HSE, working in their local communities, and in mental health. That’s the wide range.”

Mr O’Leary said the skills he picked up on the course, inform his approach to the Cork Life Centre. “That’s where I got the love of this, and to move on into what I’m doing now.”

Mr O’Leary had wanted to return to college. Recovering from illness, he joined the course when Belfast man Paul Burgess was in charge. “Without that course, I would certainly not have this position. I’m not sure something academic would have led me to where I am now,” said Mr O’Leary, who has remained friends with the colleagues he made.

“Everybody in this Centre is both a learner and a teacher, and for me, that’s the biggest thing I take away from the course. If you have an interest in working in the community, or with young people in a sports club, this degree is really well worth pursuing. It will build on the strengths that you already have and make you more comfortable at delivering.”

One of the graduates of the course has secured a role in UCC working as the Neighbourhood Support Officer liaising with students and the local community, said Ms Caulfield.

“Several of our graduates have even secured academic teaching roles as lecturers and tutors here at UCC on the Youth and Community Degree and Diploma courses and teach on the Social Science and Social Work degrees also. Another graduate is working with the migrant and refugee communities in Galway,” she said.

“There are many avenues that open up for people after they complete this degree course and there are many other such wonderful graduate success stories like these.

“Our course is geared around mature students and we encourage people from all walks of life who maybe had never before thought of going to college, or who maybe want to gain a professional accreditation and get paid for the work that they already do as volunteers in the community.

“Our degree course also does not require people to be on campus all week, so they have a chance to be able to fit it around work and family and their local placements,” added Ms Caulfield.

Independent Councillor Thomas Moloney said the work experience, meeting new friends, and building professional relationships through the course, helped put him on the path to where he is today.

“I was an early school leaver with no Leaving Cert,” he said. “I worked in a number of different jobs across the city. I was a participant on the STEP programme in the YMCA where I learned a lot and stayed on as a volunteer the following year. I was encouraged to do the certificate in Youth and Community Work one night a week, and then I did the second year diploma.

Independent Councillor Thomas Moloney said the work experience, meeting new friends, and building professional relationships through the course, helped put him on the path to where he is today.
Independent Councillor Thomas Moloney said the work experience, meeting new friends, and building professional relationships through the course, helped put him on the path to where he is today.

“Through this I did a work placement with Ógra Chorcaí. I then stayed on as a volunteer and afterwards was encouraged and supported to apply for and do the Degree Course.”

The most rewarding aspect of the course was the practical learning and building new networks, said Mr Moloney. “I wasn’t very academic and didn’t have a Leaving Certificate. I overcame these but spending extra time in the library researching the books on the subjects of the assignments, receiving extra support with my spelling, and the proof reading of my work, was hard work.

“While on the course I was lucky enough to pick up a professionally paid, part time job in Youth Work and this was due to the learning on the course as well as the placements through the course. There is no way I would be in the position I am in today without the learning and support I received throughout the degree course,” said Mr Moloney.

UCC tutor Fern Higgins Atkinson said the course “has been the bedrock of my career. It formalised existing knowledge and learning that I had and helped me move into the field of professional youth and community work. 

"Among other roles, I progressed to a coordinator role in a mental health programme for young people and most recently, I am delighted to be programme manager for a national initiative supporting frontline practitioners through training, advocacy, collaboration and research.

“I have been an associate trainer with Mental Health First Aid Ireland for the last year and a half and train frontline professionals, family members and parents. I have also come full circle and have been privileged to work with teams in UCC for the last two years, lecturing, tutoring and creating module content,” added Ms Atkinson.

For more information on how to apply, call 021 4903453 or email marian.caulfield@ucc.ie

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