BA graduates all set to lead the way in communities across Ireland
12th January 2024 was a special day for our 26 graduates who received BA degrees at South East Technological University Carlow’s lifelong learning conferring ceremony.
The graduates were joined in Carlow by proud family members and friends, as well as members of An Cosán staff, to celebrate their achievements.
Twenty graduated with a BA in Applied Addiction Studies and Community Development and six with a BA in Leadership and Community Development. Both degree programmes, which are delivered by An Cosán and accredited by South East Technological University (SETU), aim to equip graduates with the necessary knowledge, competencies and skills for them to make a professional contribution to communities, groups and organisations in a local community context.
The graduates are already involved in their local communities and, with their new qualifications under their belts, are well placed to continue to make a positive impact, and to take on further leadership roles.
With 14 of the graduates coming from Dublin and the remainder representing 12 other counties – from Cork to Donegal, and Wicklow to Galway – communities across Ireland are set to benefit from the graduates’ community leadership skills.
Suzanne Leech from Tallaght said her experience doing the Leadership and Community Development degree programme was one of the most fulfilling she had ever had. “An Cosán’s ethos of promoting inclusivity and equal access to education was paramount to my learning,” she said. “They allowed blended learning and afforded me the ability to study from home while working and raising a family.”
Suzanne, who is actively involved in a voluntary capacity in her local community, hopes to secure work in the area of community engagement, especially with those who face barriers accessing education. “As a community leader, I understand that leadership can have a huge effect on social change,” she said, “And I look forward to bringing the skills and knowledge I have attained to make a social change in my community in areas such as the economy, education and our environment.”
Pamela Cullotty from Donegal is proud to be one of the 1.4% of Travellers in Ireland to complete third-level education. Pamela, who has worked for the Donegal Travellers Project since 2021, graduated with a BA Degree in Applied Addiction Studies and Community Development.
“As a Traveller woman who left school at an early age with no expectations for myself or from the system, this has been a huge achievement,” she said. “Not only do I stand here today with higher expectations for me; I now have much higher expectations for my children. As I took this journey, I became a role model for them, and also for others in the Traveller community.
“Only 1.4% of my community make the journey through third-level and that’s why it’s so important that I, as a leader in my community, set an example, but also encourage others to take journeys like mine in whatever they want to do. I want them to know that, as much as it seems like a mountain and nearly impossible, you can get to the top and make your way down the bottom to the finish line. You just gotta do it and take a chance on yourself because everyone deserves the chance to education and to complete their hopes and dreams.”
Abosede Ogunsanya from Nigeria, who started the BA in Leadership and Community Development programme while living in direct provision in Galway and who now lives in Ballyfermot and works for Dublin Simon Community, described her experience with An Cosán as a journey of growth and gratitude.
“I am filled with anticipation to apply my skills, passion and dedication to create meaningful change in our world,” she said. “During my time with An Cosán, I’ve discovered the power of collaboration, the importance of empathy, and the significance of embracing diversity. These lessons have shaped me into a better leader, a more compassionate individual, and a firm believer in the potential of community-driven change.”
An Cosán CEO, Heydi Foster, expressed her gratitude to SETU Carlow for their ongoing support of An Cosán and their dedication towards adult learners. “This dream that has been realised for our 26 graduates today would not have been possible without our collaborative partnership with South East Technological University dating back to 2008,” she said.
“SETU’s commitment to make higher education available right across Ireland to communities who might not otherwise have access to it aligns with our own vision. Our learners, who come from some of the most marginalised communities in Ireland, include early school leavers, lone parents, adults returning to education, people experiencing poverty and social exclusion, Travellers and International Protection Applicants.”
Congratulating the graduates, Ms Foster said, “The achievements we’re celebrating today cannot be taken lightly. The challenges and obstacles you have overcome to get here are unprecedented. Not only have you had to navigate your way through your course work, assignments and assessments while juggling your home lives and involvement in your local communities, but you have also navigated your way through a global pandemic, and all that that entailed. We are incredibly proud of you and we know each of you will continue to have a tremendously positive impact on your families and your communities.”
Ms Foster said An Cosán looked forward to continuing its valuable linked partnership with SETU, which received recognition last year by the Higher Education Authority with the awarding of a Performance Fund grant. “We will continue to reach the furthest behind first through our progressive pathways to higher education,” she said, “And we look forward to expanding our successful community-based higher education programmes so that more adult learners from marginalised communities across Ireland can achieve empowerment through education.”
SETU Carlow’s Director of Lifelong Learning, Rosemary Flynn, said: “SETU Carlow is proud to validate the work of An Cosán because together we share a set of values that enables us to build a society which is, at its core, both ethical and inclusive. An Cosán continues to help many people to find their way out of the darkness of educational disadvantage and into a future bright with hope and possibility. Congratulations and well done to the 26 wonderful graduates who we know will continue to craft a society defined by inclusion and justice.”