An Irish Traveller has been elected to NUI Galway’s Údarás na hOllscoile for the first time.
Owen Ward, a Professional Master of Education student, was elected by postgraduate students at the university, and is the first Traveller to be elected to a university’s governing body in Ireland.
At 16, Owen left school without a Junior or Leaving Certificate.
Instead, he returned to education on an Access programme at NUI Galway, where he successfully completed the course, secured his place in university and graduated with an Honour’s degree.
He is the first in his family to go to University and at present, he is in the final months of completing a Professional Master of Education.
He also mentors students from disadvantaged backgrounds at NUI Galway to be successful within higher education.
Speaking about his appointment to the Governing Body Owen said: “As an Irish Traveller who has overcome many barriers, this successful outcome demonstrates how open and respectful NUI Galway has become.
“This reflects the values of the current strategic plan at NUI Galway. I plan to bring a proactive postgraduate voice to this forum and to represent the diversity of issues that affect postgraduates on campus.”
Last summer Owen was elected on the University Societies Coordinating Group the Cultural and Social Representative.
Within the role he aims to work hard to ensure an enhanced positive student experience for all students within the cultural and social constituency including international students, students with disabilities, LGBT+ and ethnic minorities.
Additionally, he was a co-founder of the Mincéirs Whiden Society with fellow Traveller students at NUI Galway and the Galway Traveller Movement.
The first Traveller student society in higher education in Ireland. ‘Mincéir Whiden’ means ‘Travellers Talking’ in the Cant language, which is spoken by the Irish Travelling community.
He has worked alongside the Students’ Union, senior university staff and the Higher Education Authority (HEA) to ensure a stronger student voice and better outcomes for all students – and in particular those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Owen is also the coordinator of NUI Galway Schools of Sanctuary programme. The NUI Galway Schools of Sanctuary programme is an outreach component of the National University of Ireland Galway University of Sanctuary initiative and NUI Galway Access Centre.
Schools of Sanctuary promote the welcoming of refugees, asylum seekers, Irish Travellers and other migrants into educational communities in meaningful ways. While highlighting pathways into higher education.
Also, he sits on the University of Sanctuary steering committee which introduced University of Sanctuary Scholarships Programme for International Protection Applicants, refugees, vulnerable migrants and Irish Travellers.
NUI Galway is the first Third level institute in Ireland to offer scholarships to members of the travelling community.
The Hon Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, Chair of Údarás na hOllscoile, said: “I would like to welcome Owen to Údarás na hOllscoile and it is great to have him join.
“I am delighted to see NUI Galway lead the way in this area and the University has a proud tradition of welcoming members of the Travelling community as students.
“It is great to see Owen take on such a senior leadership role within the University. I look forward to having the benefits of his experience and insights on Údarás na hOllscoile.”