Wednesday 19 June 2019

My story: 'After my Access course, I am completely ready for first year at college'

Paul Byrne | NUI Galway

Paul Byrne: ‘Everyone got through it [the Access Course], even people who doubted themselves.’ Photo: Andrew Downes
Paul Byrne: ‘Everyone got through it [the Access Course], even people who doubted themselves.’ Photo: Andrew Downes

The Leaving Cert was not a good experience for Paul Byrne but, after a year on the school-leavers' Access Course at NUI Galway, he says with confidence: "I don't have a single worry about starting first year in September."

The 19-year-old native of Galway city, has been accepted on the BA (Psychology), having overcome a series of challenges.

From the age of 14, his goal in life was to study psychology, but it seemed out of reach because of difficulties in his personal life coupled with depression and being "very shy".

The former pupil of St Mary's College also discovered he was on the autism spectrum, and, he says, "that made second-level a whole lot harder and more complicated, and I saw no chance of me having success in the Leaving Cert".

Paul admits that, "I didn't apply myself to study; I didn't know how to. I didn't have a proper role model to learn how to be a hard worker."

The turnaround came in fifth year and he credits two people - Pat Healy, his school guidance counsellor; and Dr Mary Surlis of the NUI Galway Access Centre.

He says he "wouldn't have been able to survive second-level with my sanity intact" without his guidance counsellor. "There were many times when he was my life raft." He describes Dr Surlis as "my hero".

When Paul learned about the Access programme and that he wouldn't need to rely on his Leaving Cert for third-level, it took a huge weight off his shoulders. He was interviewed, and started last September.

The course covers core modules such as study skills, academic writing and IT, while Paul took electives in English, history, sociology and economics. More than that, he says fundamental to it was "teaching participants about their capabilities."

While entering a new environment was "not without stress", he says the "course is very manageable. Everyone got through it, even people who doubted themselves.

"Dr Surlis showered us with unconditional positivity. She believed in the best in all of us and would say 'you are special, you are important'. After hearing that you can't keep denying it.

"I am completely ready for first year."

Irish Independent

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