‘I cried when I got the result’: Trinity’s access programme graduates celebrate

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds on course to complete degree programmes

Trinity access programme graduates  Mark Egan, Mary Geraghty, Karina Grustane, Mark Richmond and Rona Askins after receiving their certificates in Trinity College on Friday. Photograph: Aidan Crawley for The Irish Times

Trinity access programme graduates Mark Egan, Mary Geraghty, Karina Grustane, Mark Richmond and Rona Askins after receiving their certificates in Trinity College on Friday. Photograph: Aidan Crawley for The Irish Times

 

Mary Geraghty dropped out of school without any qualification when she became a teenage mother.

“I’d struggled with maths and spelling. I was put in remedial classes or on special tables for people who were ‘slow’,” says Geraghty, now aged 42. “I’d no confidence in my ability.”

On Friday evening, 25 years after leaving school, she graduated from Trinity College Dublin’s access programme’s foundation course for higher education with a distinction.

“I cried when I got the result,” she says. “It was very emotional. It felt like something had really changed in me.

“The course has changed my life, it has given me belief in myself and for the first time in my life I have a confidence in my academic ability.”

Ms Geraghty, who lives on Ballymun Road in Dublin, was one of 45 students who graduated from a foundation course which offers an alternative route into third level for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Progression

Many of the mature students were early school leavers, while the young adults are mostly from schools or communities with relatively low progression rates to third level.

All 45 students are set to progress to study degree courses in either Trinity or UCD.

The foundation course, which began more than 20 years ago, has in recent times become a model for some of the world’s top universities seeking to boost numbers from under-represented groups.

This year, Oxford University announced a major access initiative modelled on the foundation course, while Cambridge introduced a similar scheme in recent years.

My final year in secondary school left me feeling defeated and unhappy about my place within the education system

Trinity Access co-director Dr Cliona Hannon said a vital support to the success of the course has been a career development and mentoring programme supported by Grant Thornton.

It involves mentoring sessions, workshops on CV-building, interview and presentation skills, and weekly breakfast meetings with firm partners.

Aaron Rock, in his early 20s, is another of the graduates from the course.

CAO options

He says when he left school it felt like he had no opportunities, no CAO options or job prospects. “My final year in secondary school left me feeling defeated and truly unhappy about my place within the education system.”

Now, he says, he is the first person in his family to attend university.

“The course allowed me to connect with people from similar backgrounds and it not only allowed me to progress into one of the most prestigious colleges in the world, it left me with a support network.”

I faced lots of ups and downs growing up. It was a bit of a chaotic background. I’ve come through a lot

Ms Geraghty, meanwhile, says she feels like she has “had a second chance in life”.

She has spent most of her adult life working full-time and raising her son on her own. A diagnosis of breast cancer a few years ago prompted her to reassess her life goals.

“I faced lots of ups and downs growing up. It was a bit of a chaotic background. I’ve come through a lot,” she says.

“Because I’ve faced that adversity, it’s given me strength and deep understanding of others who struggle. I work with homeless people now and am involved in mental health initiatives . . . I’d like to use what I’ve learned to help others.”