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


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 2022.  The Minister for Higher and Further Education, Research, Innovation and Science, announced recently that this funding will continue for a further three years until 2025.  It aims to admit 400 additional students from specific target groups (e.g. Irish Travellers, one parent families, care experienced young people, people with disabilities, 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, the Interim Programme Manager 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
Interim Programme Manager, based in
Maynooth University
Ayoma has worked for Maynooth University for the past 3 years and has been part of the College Connect team for the past year. Her role has primarily been in Communications to date and she is currently acting as Interim Programme Manager. Ayoma has an arts background and brings a vast range of skills and diversity to the team.
Photograph Ayoma Bowe
Carmel Hennessy
Regional Community Connector, based in Athlone Institute of Technology
Carmel holds a B.A. in Economic and Social Studies and an M.A. in Community Development completing a thesis on Community Education as an approach to counteracting the effects of educational disadvantage. In 2009, she moved to Vancouver BC and worked with diverse teams and communities, particularly refugees and aboriginal youth and their families, in wraparound support models.  Her most recent role as the Supervisor of a National Programme in Canada - Pathways to Education (2014-2018) - provided a comprehensive set of academic, financial, social and one-to-one supports for youth living in communities experiencing disadvantage, to overcome barriers to education. Throughout her career, Carmel has been privileged to be involved in programmes that prioritise peoples’ access to educational opportunities through community development principles.
Carmel Hennessy Profile Photo
Ciara Canning
Regional Community Connector, based in Dublin City University
Ciara is the College Connector for DCU. She has a wide range of experience in community engagement work developed through roles in higher education student support and the cultural heritage sector, both in the UK and Middle East.  Ciara is a passionate advocate for social innovation. In particular, using creative and innovative projects to challenge societal stereotypes and champion individuals from groups who experience disadvantage and marginalisation.
Declan Markey
Regional Community Connector, 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).
Declan Markey Photo
Sarah Meaney
Research Manager, based in Maynooth University
Sarah Meaney 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 twelve years and was an educator and coordinator for Dublin and Dunlaoghaire Education and Training Board, where she developed and delivered modules and programmes to a wide variety of groups. 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 the public sphere for social purpose and engagement. From 2017-2018 she worked with former prisoners in The Bridge Project and was the script writer on’ The Trial’, a visual arts installation grounded in historical and social research on the human rights and access to healthcare for prisoners in Ireland from the 1800’s to 2000. In her role as research manager on 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.
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 Administrator of the programme.
Photograph Karen Brady