SPARK Awards Fuel Social Entrepreneurship Agenda

There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

Altruism and entrepreneurship were celebrated at the 2018 SPARK Social Enterprise Awards which took place at Athlone Institute of Technology on Friday. Co-ordinated by the college in conjunction with Letterkenny Institute of Technology, the competition is designed to encourage undergraduate and postgraduate students to consider wider social issues with the view to improving the lives of people and their communities.

Every year, third level students from across the technological higher education sector are invited to enter, either as individuals or as members of interdisciplinary teams, to find innovative and inspirational solutions to a diverse range of social issues.

Hannah McEntee, who completed a degree in early childhood care and education at Sligo IT, was named this year’s national winner for her innovative project ‘Picture it with Music’, an online resource and innovative pedagogical tool for primary school teachers, special needs assistants and parents of children on the autistic spectrum. Hannah, who is currently studying in London to become a primary school teacher, said she was “surprised and delighted” to win the award and that it would spur her on in her quest to work with children with special needs.

Gareth Lau, Dayna Branigan and Jade Kenny, all from Dundalk IT, were awarded second place nationally for designing an app to help asylum seekers better understand the English language and Irish culture. Called Tosu-Nua, the app provides generally helpful information such as free local courses and activities.

Helen Nana Awhinawhi, who recently completed an honours degree in early years care and education at Athlone Institute of Technology, won first place at a regional college level for her work with children with development cognition disorder. Her project uses a special board to encourage children to engage in outdoor play. Moving forward, Helen, who is currently undertaking a master’s in behavioural analysis at NUIG, is hoping to implement her research in classrooms and recreational spaces, allowing children to use the board with the view of supporting their developmental milestones.

Speaking at the SPARK Social Enterprise awards, homeless campaigner and competition judge, Fr Peter McVerry, said: “These projects are not merely college exercises, they’re real entrepreneurial projects, fuelled by passion, that we hope will be taken forward and implemented for the betterment of our communities.

Also commenting on the awards, SPARK Co-ordinator at Athlone Institute of Technology Denise Mac Giolla Ri said: “SPARK is about engaging in solution orientated thinking around some of the most pressing social issues of our time. Through the process, these students gained the confidence and self-belief necessary to firstly identify social problems based on their own experience and their classroom learning, and secondly activate their imaginations to find a ‘spark’ of a solution to explore further. Once students realise they have the power to make a real difference in society, anything is possible, and this is the true heart of education.”

Dr Louise McBride, Head of Department of Nursing and Health Studies at Letterkenny IT and SPARK Social Enterprise Co-ordinator, commended each of the participating students calling them “inspiring” and “the real champions” capable of effecting real social change. This was a sentiment echoed by Minister Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, who was in attendance to meet with the national and regional college winners and to present the awards.

Other regional college winners include Shauna McGlynn and Denise Sweeney of Letterkenny IT and Brendan Morgan, Aaron McCaughey, Michael Lappin, & Kayode Adeosun of Dundalk Institute of Technology. To date, the SPARK Social Enterprise Awards has benefitted enormously from sponsorship provided by The Irish Association of Social Care Educators and the Certified Public Accounts Ireland (CPA Ireland).

Athlone Institute of Technology is a modern and dynamic HEI distinguished by outstanding learner experience, international focus and applied research and innovation. Awarded Sunday Times Institute of Technology of the Year 2018, AIT is currently ranked 8th nationally of all HEIs in the league table comprising of Irish Universities and IoT’s. Athlone Institute of Technology boasts a wide array of courses in the Faculties of Engineering and Informatics, Business and Hospitality, and Science and Health. For the full list of courses on offer at Athlone Institute of Technology click here.

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