In her first year as DCU’s Executive Director of Engagement, Laura Mahoney has a selection of special moments that will stay with her, and with the students of DCU, “whose experience is at the heart of everything that happens.”
Reflecting on the high points, and challenges, of the year, she said, “I’ve been so amazed at the wealth of stories and scale of our outreach, not least with our Alumni, and I was particularly proud to be part of DCU hosting the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.”
His address to the students of Ireland last November was live streamed from The Helix to third level campuses across the county. “One of the important aspects of having such a powerful speaker is that it will be a day the students will remember, particularly for those who were in the Helix. They understood this was a genuinely historic moment for DCU. Looking to the future she said, “this is a role that universities can play more easily than any one State institution; they can reach a certain type of audience.”
She is now spearheading plans to grow the audience and reach of her department. Developments include the appointment of a new student recruitment team. “Some great new people have joined, and we are focusing on the recruitment of students from the Americas, Asia, and Middle East/North Africa regions, as well as broadening our reach and engagement in Europe. I am looking forward to linking the student recruitment teams with a new International Alumni post and Global Partnerships roles that will come on stream later this year.”
DCU has a strong body of international students, but Mahoney wants to widen the undergraduate programmes they take up and adds: “We also have a new focus on promoting our postgraduate programmes, which is very exciting.”
DCU has many partnerships in universities throughout Europe, in addition to those who are part of the BA Global Business, and it is a member of ECIU, the European Consortium of Innovative Universities. “As an English-speaking university in Europe recognising DCU as a European University speaks to our character and values, we’ve got some really significant research in European politics and law and within our Brexit institute. We are heavily committed to the European University initiative and our innovative partners in ECIU.”
DCU’s international research reputation is enhanced by collaboration with researchers in other universities and Mahoney explains that “the Global Partnerships manager will help facilitate and support all kinds of international relationships, not just pure student recruitment.” There are still challenges, she says, such as making sure “we know what engagements are taking place, how we can support them and how we can help them bring better capacity to DCU and it’s partners, will always be there too.”
“I believe there is never a shortage of interesting ways to work with DCU and we will need to support those efforts for staff and our Partners and the benefit of our students.” A lot of Laura’s first few months were spent learning more about DCU as an organisation, meeting colleagues and understanding more about how, and where, it collaborates including with key industry partners. “Universities are big organisations and they can feel quite difficult to engage with, so we want to make the point of entry into that conversation more straightforward.”
Referencing a recent Alumni event with a large industry player, she said, “we brought people from Careers, INTRA, Executive Education, the Futures Programme and relevant researchers to wrap around all the different elements of what a partnership with DCU could mean. It has to be Real in order to work for DCU and to work for the partner.” This is an area where Alumni relations, which is part of her remit, “have been really important to us.”
“I’ve gone to several Alumni events and whether you’re at a reunion in St Patrick’s Campus or you’re in Washington DC, everyone remembers DCU so fondly. They say their undergrad, and often it is a postgrad, did transform their life in some way.”
“So, when we reach out to these people, they generally say ‘yes’, which is an enormous gift to the University.” The ‘yes’ can be to provide supports to students such as through mentoring or to participants in the DCU Alumni Emerging Leaders Programme.
“I think that innovative, collegiate, entrepreneurial university ethos, that our alumni remember, is still very much the culture in DCU and the student experience is still at the heart of everything that happens and that’s what the alumni like about it.”
Elaine Keogh is a journalist, broadcaster and copywriter.