Steven Colgan graduated from DCU with a degree in Economics, Politics and Law in 2013. During his time in university, Steven was supported by DCU’s Access Programme. Today, he works as a solicitor with law firm DWF, where he is actively engaged in supporting DCU Access students through the company’s partnership with the DCU Access to the Workplace Programme. In this piece, Steven describes his educational journey and how it feels to come full circle and support other DCU Access students hoping to follow in his footsteps.
“I was born in London but soon returned home with my mother and brother to settle in Ballymun in Dublin after my parents divorced. Although Ballymun is traditionally associated with high levels of unemployment, drug use and other social issues, my own personal experience of growing up was very normal thanks to my amazing mother. She decided to send me to a primary school outside of our local area as she felt it would offer me a better education and opportunities in life. However, living in the flats in Ballymun, the area’s social issues were never far below the surface and I did see several friends suffer as a result. In fifth year of secondary school, I decided that I needed to go to college to create a better future for my family.
I took a year off after school to work and during this time I did a Post Leaving Certificate course in Business and Law, which inspired me to pursue a degree in Economics, Politics and Law at DCU. Through this course, I heard about DCU’s Access Programme and the financial, educational and personal supports that it offers to help students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds to transition into third level education.
Access was an extremely valuable resource to me and I quite honestly might not have gotten through my degree without the additional supports it offered. Financially, it provided me with a scholarship, which helped with purchasing materials like a laptop. Educationally, it assisted me by arranging a former student as a tutor when I missed a semester due to a broken leg and personally, its staff supported me during difficult times in my life and helped ease feelings of anxiety and imposter syndrome.
After overcoming some early challenges on my educational journey, I was proud to finish with a very strong result in my undergraduate degree. However, I knew the long journey to qualify as a solicitor was only just beginning. Students from socio-economically disadvantaged communities can face many barriers to pursuing a career in law. These include a lack of connections to secure valuable work experience, and difficulties in paying approximately €12,000 in fees over two years to study in Blackhall Place.
I was fortunate that DCU’s Access Programme helped me to overcome these barriers by providing an introduction to one of Ireland’s leading law firms where I successfully secured an internship and further work as a paralegal. I had no personal connections and I would have struggled to find a way in to a top firm alone. Having this company on my CV then enabled me to gain a traineeship with another leading law firm who were willing to pay my fees for Blackhall Place.
In the law profession, it’s not uncommon to find that many colleagues come from similar backgrounds and share similar social networks. Initially, I found this slightly intimidating, for example, on my first internship when I realised that other interns were on first name terms with other solicitors in the firm. However, over time I have come to understand that there is no huge difference in ability, and that some people just need a support structure that enables them to demonstrate their ability and that ensures they feel valued and able to contribute.
I have also come to see that how I conduct myself can be a powerful way to open the door for others in the future. I try to work hard and do a good job, and I speak openly about my background in the hope that it will make others more comfortable to do the same.
Since joining DWF, I have been really impressed by the firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and to supporting social mobility. I have been heavily involved in establishing our firm’s partnership with the DCU Access to the Workplace Programme, and I am mentoring our intern this year.
It is really rewarding to see my journey come full circle. I remember how terrified I felt starting out, so it is nice to be able to tell our intern that they are here on merit and that they have so much to offer to the company. I have been proud to see them making an excellent contribution to our team, and it just re-affirms my belief that there is a wealth of talent out there for companies to tap into if they put the right structures in place.”
DCU Educational Trust would like to express our gratitude to Steven’s employer DWF, a leading global provider of integrated legal and business services, for their commitment to support DCU’s Access to the Workplace Programme over the next four years.