James McDonald grew up in Ballymun and from an early age hoped to attend the university that he could see up the road. In this piece, he explains how Access scholarship support made it possible for him to graduate with a BSc in Enterprise Computing from DCU in 2018 and to undertake his MSc in Management (Business) this year.
“I have lived in Ballymun all my life and always had my heart set on going to university up the road in DCU. My mum is a single parent who has worked very hard to support my family, but her education level has often held her back. She dropped out of school after her Junior Certificate and for most of my life, she worked as a cleaner in another university. As I watched her struggle to put food on the table and provide for us all, I decided that I wanted an easier life in the future.
I always loved school and my primary teachers told my mum that I was bright and had potential. In secondary school, I was lucky to benefit from the Maureen Smithwick Bursary— a targeted support for promising students in Trinity Comprehensive in Ballymun. Through this, I got extra supports to help me progress to third level education, including grinds which were crucial for university. One example was Higher Level Irish classes, which my school didn’t offer, so I had to do this through grinds outside of school. Finances were always a big issue growing up, but the Maureen Smithwick Bursary and my Access scholarship really helped to relieve the financial pressure of starting college. When I was 16, my mum suffered an injury that prevented her from continuing to work as a cleaner. So, even with my scholarship supports, I still needed to get a job during college to support myself and contribute at home.
The Access Programme was a great support during my degree. In second year, I was struggling with my coding modules and I thought about dropping out. A big thing that prevented me was thinking of the people who had invested in me through my scholarship, I really didn’t want to let these people down. My Access Officer helped to get me back on track and to realise I wanted to do a postgraduate course with a greater business focus. I was over the moon when I was accepted onto the MSc in Management this year. I had been working 20 hours per week on top of my degree and setting as much as I could aside, but there was still a huge gap to be paid. Without my CRH scholarship, I would have had to defer my place on the course for at least another year.
“I am very glad that I have had to struggle and work hard to get to where I am today – it has given me a good head on my shoulders.”
I am also so thankful for the support of the donors to DCU’s Access Programme – supports like this are crucial to enable determined young people without the financial backing they need to succeed. I feel that I have been given such a helping hand and that I really need to give back in some way. I have returned to my old school to give talks and grinds. I hope that exposure to my story might start a conversation about college and sow a seed of aspiration in other children in my area.”