College Connect is a collaborative initiative from the MEND (Midlands, East, North Dublin) higher education cluster, which comprises Dublin City University (DCU), Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT), Maynooth University (MU) and Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest (TUS).


College Connect Community Needs Analysis Report Cover


Community Needs Analysis with the Pathways Centre for Prisoners and Former Prisoners

This report was carried out from April to October 2019 by College Connect in collaboration with the Pathways Centre, an education centre based in Dublin. Participative, experiential, and creative methods were used to explore the views and insights of 34 participants on the factors that may either encourage or discourage participation or progression in higher education. The research generates key insights on the barriers experienced by this group as well as highlighting areas where action is required. The report is available on



College Connect is a HEA-funded PATH 3 (Programme for Access to Higher Education) project being funded until September 2024.  It aims to admit additional students from specific target groups (e.g. Irish Travellers, one parent families, care experienced young people, people with disabilities, prisoners/former prisoners, refugees, etc.,) who are under-represented in higher education. College Connect marks a departure from the traditional ‘singular’ approach to widening participation toward a collaborative regional approach which prioritises people in MEND experiencing multiple marginalisation.
College Connect will use community needs analysis as a basis to co-design imaginative and creative interventions with our target groups and stakeholders, which include community organisations, local authorities and industry. The interventions will support aspiration raising, bolster educational attainment and promote college awareness. They will also assist participants to develop skills critical to higher education participation and employability.

Drawing on existing national (e.g. the census, Pobal HP Deprivation Index) and institutional (student profiles) datasets, AIRO (the All-Ireland Research Observatory) will develop a detailed spatial analysis of the MEND region to support the project team to identify untapped higher education ‘cold spots’, track barriers to higher education at local levels, evaluate the impact of the project and monitor higher education progression and employment outcomes over time.

Project Vision and Mission

Our vision is a student population that reflects and respects the diversity of the community in our region.
Our mission is to change who goes to college by working together as education providers and communities. This new partnership will empower future students to make informed choices and fulfil their potential.

Project Values

We believe in the transformative power of education and embrace diversity as a resource to the MEND HEIs which drives organisational and academic excellence. This project is informed by the community development principles of participation, empowerment and sustainable development. Community partners will be located at the heart of this project and our actions will be guided by the educational needs of people in our region who typically do not progress to higher education. This project aims to make a meaningful contribution to the advancement of social justice and cohesion in our region.

College Connect Team

The College Connect Team, Project Manager, Research Manager, Project Administrator and four regional Community Connectors, all from a community and youth background, have been recruited for the duration of the project. The team have extensive experience working with and engaging with people in various community settings, building and maintaining effective relationships for sustainable intervention outcomes.


Image using College Connect Brand Colours


Ayoma Bowe
Project Manager, based in
Maynooth University
Ayoma has worked for Maynooth University for the past 4 years and has been part of the College Connect team 2 of those years. Her initial role was primarily in Communications and she has recently brought her skills to her new role as Project Manager. Ayoma has an arts background and brings a vast range of skills and diversity to the team.
Photograph Ayoma Bowe
Antoinette Patton
Regional Community Connector, based in Dublin City University
Antoinette has a B.A. in English and Philosophy from Trinity College Dublin, a Postgraduate Diploma in Education from University College Cork and a Level 8 Certificate in Adult Guidance from Maynooth University. She is proud to have been a HEAR student and the first in her family to attend Higher Education and so has a strong passion to help others take similar routes into Further and Higher Education.
Antoinette has worked for seven years as a secondary school teacher in Ireland, England, Vietnam and South Korea. Prior to joining the College Connect team she was the Education Officer with the Ballyfermot Chapelizod Partnership where she coordinated and delivered programmes aiming to improve retention and progression at all levels of education. For Antoinette, equal access to education benefits everyone; the student, the college and wider society. The College Connect mission of engendering a student population which ‘reflects and respects the diversity of the community’ inspired her to join the team.
Nora Sherry
Regional Community Connector, based in Dundalk Institute of Technology 
Nora returned to education as an adult so has experienced some of the challenges this can present.  This has provided her with a passion to support others to access opportunities in higher education.  She believes that education really is for everyone.  Prior to joining the College Connect team she worked as a Careers Advisor in Further and Higher Education for over 8 years where she provided 1:1 advice and guidance as well as classroom work and community outreach.  Nora's career has evolved through roles focused on supporting and empowering others to attain their full rights as citizens including education, training and employment and she is passionate about working with people to enable them to achieve their potential.  Nora believes that the students of our higher education institutions should reflect the diversity of our local communities and as Community Connector will be working with community organisations, within a widening participation remit, to work towards achieving this in the MEND region.


Marta Johnston
Regional Community Connector, based in Technological University of the Shannon:  Athlone campus
Marta is a language professional with an M.A. in English Philology from Poland and over 10 years’ experience of teaching English as a Second Language. She has previously lived in Scotland, England, and Poland where she gained valuable experience working in various settings and roles. These include teaching English to problematic youth as part of ‘See your opportunity’ project, developing and delivering English language courses for Polish migrants in a university and a private business, working as an interpreter, as well as supporting children with developmental and educational needs in the classroom.
Marta is very proud to be a part of the College Connect team as she is passionate about helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds accessing higher education in Ireland.
While doing a Springboard course in Social Media for Digital Marketing in Munster Technological University, she decided to set up an online language coaching group for women. The aim was to reach out to the migrant women in Ireland and help them gain confidence in learning English language.
Thanks to Marta’s experience, she has learned a great deal about different types of learners and their motivation to progress further education. She is looking forward to give other people the right guidance and support them on their journey to higher education while helping them overcome the barriers they may face.
Photograph Marta Johnston College Connect TUS
Declan Markey
Outreach Officer (Community), based in Maynooth University
Since completing his studies in Social Science and Social Research, Declan has been designing and delivering educational programmes and coordinating educational services specifically aimed at widening participation amongst groups under-represented in higher education. After Declan co-coordinated the BA in Housing and Community Studies for Respond Housing Association and UCD, he became the education coordinator with the Ballyfermot Chapelizod Partnership. Developing educational supports that are experiential, participatory and inclusive are fundamental principles underlining Declan’s approach and as a member of the board of Partners: Training for Transformation these principles are inherently applied to all areas of his work. Declan is a certified mediator and recently completed the Level 8 Certificate in Restorative Practice. Declan has also been involved in other community inspired art projects such as HEED FM (part of the Arts Council Art 2016 programme).  After 3 year Declan has moved from his posistion as College Connect Community Connector and is now the Maynooth University Outreach Officer (Community).
Declan Markey Photo
Dr. Sarah Sartori
Research Manager, based in Maynooth University
Sarah Sartori did her PhD with the Adult and Community Education Department in Maynooth University. Funded by the Irish Research Council, the research was a creative exploration of the experience of educational exclusion from the perspective of prisoners and youth. She has worked as an adult educator for over 15 years developing and delivering modules and programmes to a wide variety of groups such as early school leavers, people with acquired brain injury, people recovering from addiction, and people seeking skills for work. She works with and is trained in creative research methodologies, that is the creative editing of research data, the purpose being to bring research outside of the academy and into community for the public engagement. In her role as research manager for College Connect, she will be working to ensure that College Connect’s participatory and inclusive ethos is carried through in its research strand. She believes that research should disrupt the status quo and is best carried out within and by the communities for whom it is intended.
College Connect SS Bio
Karen Brady
Executive Assistant, based in Maynooth University
Karen offers the team a wealth of experience; starting with a marketing career that spanned NYC and Dublin for over 10 years. She also has a strong entrepreneurial spirit which saw her establish and lead her own successful bar & restaurant in NYC. Karen brings her wide and varied experience to the College Connect Team as Executive Assistant and Finance Administrator of the programme.
Photograph Karen Brady