News and Views
Finding alternative pathways to UCC
There are so many highways and byways leading to this one spot - the centre of UCC’s famous old Quad.
It’s the meeting point of four pathways, fed by so many different roads and laneways…College Road, Donovan's Road, Western Road…and more.
And the beauty, of course, is that no matter which route you take you’ll end up here if you stay on that path. There are shortcuts and scenic routes, but they all lead here.
For Michael Hyde, the winding road which eventually brought him to this point took him to Israel, England and the US, and at times it seemed an endless lane to nowhere. By his own admission, his was, previously, living a “nomadic lifestyle.”
“In many ways, I was wild when I was younger. I never did my Leaving Certificate and always just wanted to go and experience new things. So, at the age of 18, I headed for Israel, of all places, to enjoy myself and see the world.”
Now 57, Michael spent a year in Israel before returning to an economically-depressed Ireland during the 80's for a few years. He followed the tide of young men to England where he took work wherever he could find it before crossing the Atlantic in 1987.
“I never really knew what I wanted to do and took on any job I could get. I had friends in the San Francisco Bay area of California and decided to try my luck over there, and I fell on my feet. For almost 15 years, I worked happily, initially in construction, but then in the banking sector and communications.”
Michael returned to Ireland in 2001 and worked in computing while also undertaking FÁS courses to improve his knowledge of IT.
“I realised though that even though I’d enjoyed a great and varied life, I wanted to enter academia, to test myself. In many ways it was unfinished business,” he tells me.
So, in 2014 he took his Mature Student Admissions Pathway (MSAP) exams. Three-years-later he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics, Sociology and History. And he’s now hoping to begin an MA programme in philosophy at UCC this September.
“Finding a way to study at UCC was one of the best moves I’ve ever taken in my life. The inclusiveness that I’m surrounded by every day is truly inspirational. The fact that I'm older doesn’t matter; my fellow students and the staff accept me for who I am.”
Another path and another story of hard work, determination and resolve.
When Josie McGrath collected the results of her Leaving Certificate in 2014, she was disappointed with how she'd fared.
Not sure what she wanted to do after school Josie admits that lack of focus had an impact.
But once the disappointment passed, she was determined to find another way.
“I didn't want to let my results define how successful I would be in life - because I don't think they reflected how hardworking I am now….or how much potential I had back then.”
Josie regrouped, refocused and vowed to succeed.
She identified Social Care as an area in which she might like to work and after working for a couple of years undertook youth work with the College of Commerce in Cork.
“I absolutely loved it, and it instilled in me the confidence and skills I would need for the coming years,” she explained.
Taking control of her destiny Josie reapplied for Social Care at Cork Institute of Technology but encouraged by the amazing progress she’d made since leaving secondary school in Mallow, she “took a long shot” and applied for Law and Business in UCC as well.
As she explained, “both subjects have always interested me, but I thought it was beyond what I could achieve.”
Incredibly Josie was offered both courses. The ‘will’ clasped hands with the ‘way’ and danced through the gates of UCC.
“I was delighted my hard work was paying off. I chose Law and Business to keep my options open as I was still unsure what I wanted to do after University.”
With one year of her course completed, Josie continues on her journey of discovery and is enjoying every minute.
“I absolutely love UCC and the support it gives to its students. I’m so happy with how the course is going and how it's taught as it’s so diverse. I don't know where it’ll lead to, but I'm very confident that once I graduate the qualification will open up a lot of doors for me in the future.”
And Josie believes that there are many who, despite not having reached the required points levels for entry to courses here, can find a path of their own if armed with positivity and determination.
“If you don't think you can get in here then you won't. It was only when I told myself I could, and allowed myself to believe in myself, that I did. And if at first, you don't succeed, don't give up. There are so many alternative pathways people take to study in UCC and everyone is just as valid and deserving of a place.”
And that success can transform the outlook for families across Ireland.
The hard work and determination of one can lay the path for others to follow.
Like you have to feel for Ornela Mazono’s four younger sisters. The head of the family has forced open doors through pure will, meaning they have a hard act to follow – but what an example she is setting.
The BA student in Psychology and Sociology from Tallaght didn’t get the points needed to qualify for a course in Psychology at UCC and so had to roll up the sleeves and find another route.
She took a course in the Dublin's Liberties College in Social Studies and by her own admission “worked her ass off” to get the requisite number of distinctions required…and a few more to be on the safe side.
Bubbly, outgoing and positive, nothing was going to stop this young go-getter.
Using her Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) qualification, she reapplied through the CAO system and in 2016 found out that she was bound for the Southern Capital.
“To say I was over the moon would have been a massive understatement, there were tears of joy. It was a massive moment for me and, of course, for my family.”
And the entire process, though very dispiriting initially, taught her a valuable lesson that she’s eager others are aware of.
“Leaving Certificate points do not determine your future – you do. There’s more than one way to achieve your dream, to study at UCC, and to make the future you want. It's so important that people understand that.”