Before beginning his journey at UCC, Ger Rice worked as a greenkeeper for nine years. Ger, who is now a support worker and director at Kinsale Youth Support Service (KYSS), is among the graduates of the Youth and Community Work (Social Science) degree programme CK114, at University College Cork.
“My wife and I decided to start fostering and help children by providing a home and a family to care for them. While fostering and working with professionals such as social workers and social care workers, I felt that this industry would be good for me.
“Studying and getting qualified was the goal and the outcome needed was to give a voice to vulnerable children that had none,” he said.
The three-year full-time degree course is open to mature students and QQI/FET applicants over 21 and combines an academic social science programme with a professionally accredited qualification in youth and community work.
Offering two days per week on campus along with 16 hours per week placement, the degree course has been life-changing for students and has led to various different career paths in the youth and community work sector.
Ger spent six years working in residential care before moving into youth justice work for Foroige and now is happily working for KYSS, where he began his journey on a student placement.
“I am a Health Support Worker with Kinsale Your Support Services for the past five years. I love my role and I get to meet and support not only young people, but families and adults too. Not only am I employed, but I play a major role in the committee work also, which is the setting up and running of the centre.
“This job works for me, my family and my life, it took me a while to find the balance, but it was important for me to keep trying and now I found a job that I wouldn’t change for the world,” Ger said.
For Fern Higgins Atkinson, the Youth and Community Work (Social Science) programme led to a career as a UCC tutor and programme manager in the Relationships in Practice programme founded by UCC Alumni, Dr Maeve Hurley.
“I had always been interested in society and why people do the things they do. I had worked in a variety of different roles, including some voluntary work. When my sixth child was 6, I decided to participate in a local, year-long, Fetac 5 course in West Cork. This was based on youth work, disabilities and social studies. This then led to me taking the plunge and sitting my MSAP for the BYCW degree in UCC the following year,” she said.
One of the key elements of the programme is the support offered and the connections that can be made, and according to Fern, the people she formed bonds with during those three years are still in her life today.
“The people that I formed bonds with are still in my life today. Many are working in the area of youth and community work and we provide a great resource to each other. The staff team were very supportive and are genuinely interested in us, both as students and professionals. That feeling of support really made a huge impact on me and underlined the importance of building strong relationships within academic and professional networks.
“Having smaller class sizes meant that I felt really supported and valued throughout the three years. The diverse backgrounds of both my classmates and the staff team, combined to create a very rich and enjoyable learning experience. The opportunity to experience practical youth and community work settings throughout the degree, embedded academic and theoretical learning, helped me to fully understand what I was doing and why,” Fern said.
Since undertaking the Youth and Community Work (Social Science) programme at UCC (BYCW), Fern has also worked as an associate trainer with Mental Health and First Aid Ireland, and has lectured, tutored and created module content for the BYCW and DYCW (ACE) teams in UCC.
Fern says that completing the UCC programme has been the ‘bedrock’ of her career.
“It has been the bedrock of my career. It formalised existing knowledge and learning that I had and helped me move into the field of professional youth and community work.
“The skills and knowledge learned are transferrable and relatable to a wide range of career pathways. This is evidenced in the graduate pool. Graduates are making great impacts in the area of youth and community work. It’s so heartening to see the success of the programme unfold into our local and national communities,” she added.
For those interested in making a difference, with a passion for social justice, and with an interest in working with community groups and young people, find out more at www.ucc.ie/en/CK114/ and follow on Twitter @BsocscW