SPARK awards in AIT fuel the social entrepreneurship agenda

Denise Macgiollari, Joan Mulville, Fr. Peter McVerry, Helen Nana Awhinawhi, Minister Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, Dr. Gail Cummins, Chris MM Gordon and Dr Louise McBride.

Denise Macgiollari, Joan Mulville, Fr. Peter McVerry, Helen Nana Awhinawhi, Minister Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, Dr. Gail Cummins, Chris MM Gordon and Dr Louise McBride.

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

Altruistic entrepreneurship was celebrated at the 2018 SPARK Social Enterprise awards which took place in Athlone Institute of Technology on Friday. Co-ordinated by the college in conjunction with Letterkenny Institute of Technology, the awards were designed to encourage students at both undergraduate and postgraduate to think about social issues that require innovative, imaginative, and creative solutions that will improve the lives of people and enhance communities.

Each year, third level students from across the technological higher education sector are invited to enter, either as individuals or as members of inter-disciplinary teams, to find innovative and inspirational solutions to a diverse range of social issues. Notable guests, including Minister Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran and homeless campaigner Fr. Peter McVerry were in attendance to meet the participating students and to present awards.

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.

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 assists with general helpful information such as free local courses and activities to account for the fact that asylum seekers are only entitled to an allowance.

Helen Nana Awhinawhi, who recently completed an honours degree in Early Childhood 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 Entreprise awards, homeless campaigner and competition judge, Fr Peter McVerry, said, “there are huge social problems in this country, which need to be addressed. Each of the projects that have been presented here and presented over the years are attempting to address some of these problems. These projects have arisen out of a passion that has been developed through a work placement or voluntary work intended to improve the lives of the most vulnerable among us.”

Also commenting on the awards, Social Care lecturer at Athlone Institute of Technology and SPARK Co-ordinator, Dr Denise Mac Giolla Ri, commented, “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 and 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.”

To date, the SPARK Social Entreprise Awards have benefitted enormously from sponsorship provided by the Irish Association of Social Care Educators and the Certified Public Accounts Ireland (CPA Ireland ).

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