Karen’s return to education to help others do the same

Being an early school leaver, Carlow College graduate and Laois native, Karen Wills, understands how nerve wrecking it can be to take the first step back into education. Karen graduated with a BA (Hons) in English & History and was also awarded the prestigious James Fintan Lalor Student of the Year Award. Now working as an Adult Education with the Laois Offaly ETB based in Mountmellick, she’s supporting others to find their feet in education, just as she was supported when she took the leap of faith.

‘I wanted to help others through their own education journey.’

Juggling Family and College Life

I was an early school leaver and as my children were getting older, I decided to go back to complete my education. I took those first tentative steps back through LOETB in Portlaoise where I did a course in ICT Skills, and I took the Leaving Certificate in English. The tutors there really believed in me, encouraging me to go further with my education. I wasn’t as confident about taking the giant leap into third level as they were, but I got excellent advice and support from Adult Guidance who guided me through the process of looking at my options.

I knew about Carlow College as it is relatively close to Portlaoise. The BA (Hons) in English and History programme really appealed to me because of my love for both disciplines. The modules on offer looked so interesting, and the program was unique as it allowed students to choose their own modules after second year. But, I decided to do a bit more research to see what else I could find out about the college before making up my mind.

I met with two students, both of whom had children like me, to see how they managed to juggle the responsibilities of a family and an honours degree and to get their honest opinion on what the college was like in terms of timetables and student support. They both assured me the college was right for me. It had excellent student supports, no cap on the number of mature student applicants’, distinguished lecturers in each discipline who were not only engaging educators but were also available to students, and it was a friendly inclusive place of learning not too far from where I live.

Re-living Periods of History and Literature

I like the way the English & History program is structured chronologically and works in such a way that if you are studying a particular period in history, on the English program you will also be studying the major literary works from that period which really gives you a deeper, richer and more rounded understanding of what happened during that period and the significance those events had, and continue to have on contemporary sociocultural and political issues.

Embrace the Group Work

Being in college you tend to work alone, or you become accustomed to working alone, doing your own research, and writing your essays but at Carlow College there are so many opportunities for group work as well. We always hated the group work because by its very nature group work involves working alongside people you may not know very well but need to be able to communicate well with to get through the assignment. 

However, this helps you to develop research, communication, leadership, teamwork and organisational skills. This can often be challenging, but the experience is vital and an asset to anyone hoping to gain employment. It is through these tasks that you develop and hone those transferable skills. Embrace the group work, I promise it will benefit you more than you know.

Always ask for help

When I lost my best friend at the beginning of my final year I really struggled. As a mature student there is a tendency to tell yourself you’re fine, you don’t need help, but the truth is we all do sometimes, and thankfully the college support service was there to help me when I needed it. 

Fondest memories of College

I have many, from reading scenes from Sophocles’ Greek tragedy Antigone in front of the stage in the George Bernard Shaw, taking on chapters of Ulysses in a game of speed-dating, the many in-class debates, having a guided tour of the Shankill and Falls Road on a trip to Belfast, to doing workshops and open mic nights with contemporary Irish poets, there are just so many wonderful memories. But I have to say attending the dissertation seminar in fourth year was an amazing experience which allowed students to showcase their research for their dissertation to their lecturers and peers. It was wonderful to listen to the wide-ranging variety of topics being showcased and to hear the interesting discoveries and insights students had made. I was blown away by the talent we had at the college.

Karen Wills receives her award from Carlow College President, Fr Conn Ó Maoldhomhnaigh. Photo: Karl McDonagh

Skills to make you job-ready

Throughout my time in college, I developed excellent interpersonal and communication skills which are essential in my current role whether I am supporting a Youthreach student or collaborating with various colleagues or community groups, I am constantly drawing on the skills I developed and honed at college.  Apart from the self-directed learning and group work, we often had to write up reports on a particular topic in college, which was one of those tasks we found we didn’t always love but the experience was useful. Thanks to my time at Carlow College, I was job-ready and able to hit the ground running in my new role.

For more information on Carlow College’s BA (Hons) in English & History, tap here

Learn about our upcoming Taster Days  for Mature Students here.

Share this Post

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
WhatsApp
Email

Share this Post

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Email
WhatsApp
Skip to content