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

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


Community Needs Analysis with Refugees and People Seeking Asylum
This report sets out the findings from 40 in-depth interviews and 104 survey responses collected between October 2020 and March 2021 with refugees and people in the protection process in Ireland focusing on their experience of accessing or trying to access higher education.

Using photovoice as a methodology and a peer-to-peer participatory approach, this study captures participants’ lived experience by putting their voice front and centre and by directly involving people with this lived experience in the research process. These combined approaches are primarily concerned with the human experience and are solution and action orientated. The report is available on


Community Needs Analysis With Further Education Students Thoughts Around
Progression From Further Education To Higher Education

 This Community Needs Analysis (CNA) is carried out by College Connect, in collaboration with Dublin City University (DCU). The research process engaged with 58 further education students in seven Further Education Colleges in the Dublin/DCU catchment area to find out how better to support their educational progression to higher education and offers recommendations to make this possible.  The report is available on





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The 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.


Seán Harvey

Regional Community Connector, based in Dublin City University

Seán will be working with community organisations, within a widening participation remit, to work towards achieving this in the MEND region.
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Eibhlin Linden

Regional Community Connector, based in Dundalk Institute of Technology

Eibhlin is a social care worker who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Honours Degree in Applied Social studies in Social Care from Dundalk Institute of Technology. Eibhlin has over 16 years’ experience of working with people with disabilities, mental health issues and challenging behaviour in the community.  The majority of her work was working alongside other professionals to help people live independently, reaching their full potential and connect them with their community. Eibhlin's work was carried out through liaising with families and advocates while promoting opportunities for work, education, training and learning. 
Eibhlin is delighted to bring her skills and knowledge to the College Connect team. Through her experience she has learned of the challenges and barriers for people getting into education and the support they need. She is excited to support and guide people on their individual journey to progress to and through education.



Marta Johnston

Regional Community Connector, based in Technological University of the Shannon:  Athlone campus

Marta is a language professional with an MA in English Philology from Poland and over ten years’ experience of teaching English as a Second Language.  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.  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.

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.  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

Deirdre FitzPatrick

Project Manager, based in Maynooth University

Deirdre joins the College Connect team with a strong educational background and over 15 years of experience in the field, she began her career as a Mathematics Teacher, instilling a passion for learning in her students. Later, she transitioned into the role of a Guidance Counsellor, recognising the importance of holistic support for students' academic and personal development.

Deirdre's commitment to expanding access to higher education began during her time as guidance counsellor in a DEIS secondary school. This led to her three-year tenure at Trinity Access Programmes, where she coordinated nationwide programmes aimed at addressing underrepresentation in higher education. Her academic qualifications include a Teacher Qualification from Liverpool Hope University and a Postgraduate Diploma in School Guidance and Counselling from Maynooth University. Deirdre's strong belief in the transformative power of education and her dedication to widening participation make her the right fit for College Connect.

Profile pic Deirdre FitzPatrick, 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 inMaynooth 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