Mentorship is key to helping Traveller students progress to third level, according to a member of the Travelling community who has become the first woman in her family to graduate.
Breda Hogan was among the students conferred at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) yesterday where she received her level eight degree in business administration.
The 23-year-old, from Farranree in Cork City, also holds a level seven degree and hopes to open her own event-management company.
“I always felt like I wanted to make something of myself but didn’t always want to go to college,” said Ms Hogan.
While a lot of her friends began to leave school at the age of 15 or 16, Ms Hogan decided instead to complete her exams. Staying in school to complete her Leaving Cert was “a big decision” for her, especially as a lot of her friends were at home, getting married and having kids.
She was also remembers being asked ‘why are you here’ or ‘why aren’t you at home like the other girls’. “I’d say I was asked those questions every second or third day,” she said.
While her brother had gone to CIT before her, she wasn’t sure about pursuing third level herself.
It was a visit to her school by Leanne McDonagh, a graduate of CIT Crawford College of Art and Design for art classes that inspired Ms Hogan to start thinking about college.
Ms McDonagh, who is also a member of the Travelling community, took up a role as the CIT Traveller education co-ordinator in 2018.
“Leanne made me realise that I could go to college too,” said Ms Hogan. “It is all about mentorship. If I didn’t have Leanne, if I hadn’t seen how someone from my culture had made it, I mightn’t have realised I could do it too. It goes back to school as well, to things like after-school programmes and homework clubs.”
Ms Hogan also credits support from Elaine Dennehy, a Linked School co-ordinator, whom she first met while in secondary school.
“At times I felt under serious pressure during college and I would think ‘why I am doing this?’ but my mam, dad, or my brother would sit me down. My mam and dad were my biggest supporters.”
“My mam [Josie] always pushed and encouraged us to pursue our education,” said Ms Hogan.
Travellers are more than 50 times more likely to leave school without the Leaving Certificate in comparison to non-Travellers, recent figures show.
In 2016, just 13.3% of female Travellers were educated to upper secondary level or above, compared with 69% of the general population, and 57% of male Travellers were educated to primary level at most.
“Unfortunately, not a lot of people in my culture go to college which I hope with the right support will change in the future,” she says.
More than 2,500 students will have graduated this week in numerous disciplines at CIT with conferrings set to conclude today.