Maria Nugent

Maria Nugent, graduate of Carlow College
Maria Nugent, graduate of Carlow College

Professional Social Care


Careers Advisor & Industry Engagement Lead

Maria graduated with the BA (Hons) in Applied Social Studies in Social Care in 2005 and is now working as a Careers Advisor & Industry Engagement Lead at Munster Technological University.

My pathway to third level

I was working in a residential centre for teenage boys in Tipperary. The centre sponsored two staff members per year to attend college and gain their Level 7 degree and partnered with Carlow College to support this. My turn came up and having studied a part-time certificate course with UCC by night in Youth & Community work, I gained advanced entry into Year 2. I was excited at the opportunity but also nervous not knowing the existing group. Our study plan was 3 days a week in Carlow (travelling from Tipperary daily) and 2/3 days a week working for the organisation that sponsored us.

Overall, I wanted to gain a qualification, to get that piece of paper, to formalise the work experience I had so far and learn the theory behind it. I was fascinated by Psychology and really enjoyed the work I was doing at the time. The young people I worked with were complex and I wanted to be the best version of my professional self to support them effectively. I craved more understanding and learning and felt that the course in Carlow would be a good fit for me. I was right!

In the end, I elected to stay on and do the Level 8 add-on but had to support myself in order to complete it and take a year out from my then employment, taking on respite work elsewhere. Despite some saying the Level 8 wasn’t necessary, this was the best decision I made. John McHugh was always approachable and a great support, he gave me good advice when I went to him to discuss same.

My learning experience

I enjoyed gaining a qualification to go with my practical experience. I was quite academic anyhow but being a young Mum never got the chance to go to college straight after school or formalise this.

I had some amazing lecturers who were so passionate about their areas of expertise and gave great examples of applying theory to practice. This made understanding and learning so easy.

Carlow College is where I really started my academic journey and it underpins not only my own academic/learning journey but indeed the robust career I have since carved out for myself. I have lovely memories of my time here, met some fantastic people and it was where I began to grow, to learn it’s ok to question the status quo, be inquisitive and strive to always do better.

Where my career has led me today

I am a Careers Advisor in MTU for almost 9 yrs. and I have taken on the Careers Officer role in MTU for a total of 2 of these years (in an acting up/cover capacity).

I love working with students, helping them to figure out what it is they want to do, signposting, supporting and empowering them to achieve their goals.

I work with all current full-time students and graduates of up to one year, providing 1-1 careers advice, giving talks and running workshops, supporting placement and graduate recruitment and helping each student on their individual career path/further study journey. I take a special responsibility for the Social Care cohort of which I am the Careers team lead.

Over the past 25 years I have also worked in numerous other mentoring, coaching and supportive roles within residential, community, school, third level education and youth group settings.

Within my current role, I am also the Industry Engagement Lead. As the main point of contact for all employer related queries, I manage the employer inbox and organise numerous employer events both virtually and on campus. I take responsibility for promoting our employers’ events, jobs, fairs and all things graduate recruitment and represent the careers office at Industry networking events, meetings etc.

Additionally, I have responsibility for the Joint Mentorship Programme in partnership with the Alumni Office. The JMP is a fabulous programme where we match Mentors in Industry with students/Mentees from various disciplines and year groups in MTU.

I also have a huge interest in Equality Diversity and Inclusion, and I’m involved in several MTU groups and committees.

Recently I have taken on Vice Chair Role for the brand new MTU Staff LGBTQ+ Network, of which I was a founding member. This is an area which I am hugely passionate about and which is close to my own heart.

Broad career experience

Before, during and after my studies I spent a number of years in a residential care setting with young people. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the young people here and have very fond memories, I learned so much. I genuinely believe this and my qualification from Carlow gave me the foundations for everything else in life thereafter.

I eventually moved on from here into the community and youth sector. My favourite time being with Cuan Saor Women’s Refuge. Whilst the nature of the work was difficult, I met such an empowering, bunch of women that worked there, I feel it set me on the right trajectory going forward. The abundance of support, care and the solid people I met whilst working here was outstanding.

I also worked as a Youth Mentor with the youth service on an early school leaver project for over 4 years. It was a great project, but sadly due to it being a recession the funding stopped. Therefore, I then decided to start a Post- Grad in UL in Career Guidance & Counselling and Lifespan Development.

From here, I worked in roles within the third level education sector in pre-entry Career Guidance roles, as well as Youthreach. I worked with all sorts of people from varying backgrounds, with different life stories and needs.

I have in total over 25yrs of experience working with people in various supporting and guiding roles, my education and studies absolutely strengthened my work practice and led to my professional growth. I always had a passion for learning and Carlow fulfilled that need and set my learning pathway and good study practice in motion for years to come and now here I am working in a 3rd level University.

I think I have come full circle from that very shy, uncertain, person who began her course in Carlow  College back in 2002.

Soft Skills development for future career

During my studies, I learned about empathy, being non-judgemental and improved my communication, listening and interpersonal skills no end. I developed a maturity and fine-tuned my ability to be an open, kind, trustworthy person. I learned about professionalism, self-care and the absolute importance of same, about healthy boundaries and the need to do personal work on ourselves. I discovered the value of good Supervision. I learned about the ‘good enough’ parent, I learned about Attachment theory and many other fascinating insights of Psychology and Family Studies etc, and all of this is the core foundations of who I am in my work today and I will often reference and reflect back upon and use these core values and skills. I learned the basis of research methods and constructing academic assignments, using Harvard referencing system, it put manners on me!

I learned to channel my caring nature and desire to help others into building my own toolbox so that I in turn could be a strong, kind, role model and professional who could support and empower people.

Fondest memory of Carlow College

Day 1 as I entered at Year 2 of my degree having gained advanced entry due to previous studies – it was so daunting, but I felt on top of the world to finally be going to ‘proper’ college.

Yes, I was still juggling my work life and home life with this college life, having previously only being able to study by correspondence and night school for so many years. Having left school as a young mum it was a challenge to get here but I was determined and so I felt immense pride and privilege finally being there that day.

My first lecture on day 1 was a Psychology lecture. I remember my lecturer Carmel Smith gave a lecture on Schemas. On one hand my mind was blown, I loved it, I could eat this stuff up but on the other hand there was reference to an assignment and using the library and a looming due date and so I also felt a huge sense of overwhelm and imposter syndrome.

That little internal niggly voice started questioning, what the heck was I doing here at all, just who was I kidding? I contemplated maybe I have taken on too much, maybe I ought to just leave. However, I nervously spoke with Carmel after class, she was very kind and helpful and practical which I needed. She made it seem attainable. I sought advice from my new peers, who were also very supportive and understanding and so off I went in search of the library.

And so, my learning commenced, I achieved a 1:1 that year I was ecstatic, on top of the world. I didn’t quite maintain the 1:1 for each year thereafter (getting a 2:1) but it was no mean feat and one of my greatest accomplishments, having been totally out of my comfort zone but yet determined to prove I could do it.

I met many great people during my time in Carlow College and look upon my time there fondly.


My elderly Dad and then young son came to my Graduation, my Dad has since passed but he was super proud of me, it was a lovely time and memory to have, and the photo remains up on the wall. I also think I was a good role model to my kids, showing it is never too late to study and for them to see the value in getting an Education, studying hard, putting in the time (for many a late night I was at the kitchen table doing assignments). I am glad to now be able to support my 3 sons on their own learning journeys too.