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 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 Research

Rooted in engagement and equality College Connect are leading the way in Community Needs Analysis (CNA). This style of research is peer-led and gives ownership to the community at the centre of the research.




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 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

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.

Antoinette Patton
Regional Community Connector, based in Dundalk Institute of Technology  This position is currently vacant.  The Community Connector based in Dundalk Institute of Technolgy 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.
Zoryana Pshyk
Regional Community Connector, based in Maynooth University
Zoryana holds a BA and Masters in Ukrainian Philology from Yuriy Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University, Ukraine and a Higher Diploma in Further Education, and Masters in Adult and Community Education from Maynooth University.  Prior to joining the College Connect team she gained extensive experience as an adult and community educator, having lectured Philosophy of Adult Education with the Department of Adult and Community Education, MU, freelanced with Leargas National Agency and Partners Training for Transformation, and as a Community Education Outreach worker (KWETB). She is also involved in local community development with County Kildare Leader Partnership representing Community the Kildare Integration Network and other community groups.  She spent six years living in the Direct Provision System. This experience shaped me into the person I am today. It prompted me to go back to university as a mature student, to make meaning of my experience with the help of education. 

Zoryana truly believes that education changes people’s lives and that people have the power to make the world a better place for everyone.  She is passionate about social justice, diversity and inclusion, and writes on the topics of adult education, Freirean philosophy, and the voices and experiences of asylum seekers and refugees. 

Profile pic Zoryana Pshyk, College Connect
Eilís Ní Chorcora
Research Manager, based in
Maynooth University
An experienced researcher and educator, Eilís holds a primary school teaching qualification from Dublin City University and a postgraduate degree in psychology from Trinity College Dublin (TCD). She brings a wealth of experience to the team from working across the education sector, from early childhood, primary and secondary education, through to further and higher education. Her professional journey has included substantial contributions to the access and widening participation sector in Ireland. She continues to coordinate innovative research initiatives and assess the impact of access and widening participation programmes to inform policy, practice, and programmatic development.
Eilís is in the final stages of completing her PhD via publication in TCD. Her research focuses on the impact of school-university partnerships and widening participation in higher education. Her research methodology is characterized by a blend of quantitative and qualitative methods, grounded in the belief that research should drive positive change. Eilís’ research ethos is both pragmatic and creative, fostering inclusivity and participatory approaches in all facets of her work.
Profile pic Eilís Ní Chorcora, College Connect
David Joyce
Communications Officer, based in
Maynooth University

David is a recent addition to the College Connect team and as Communications Officer based in Maynooth University will be working to promote the College Connect Programme.

Karen Brady
Administrator, 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