In her 2nd year at NUIG, Katie Fallon is studying Human Rights, Sociology and Politics, and Economics and while her studies may keep her busy, they don't get in the way of her commitment to community outreach, both locally and globally. Katie grew up in Galway and has gone to school here all her life, though more recently her involvement in the Tawasol Project at NUIG has also taken her to the far sides of the world. Growing up Katie was a member of the Cub and Scout organization and ever since finishing her leaving certification she has been volunteering her time as a Cub Leader, passing on the benefits she got from the program to more generations of engaged and adventurous kids. In secondary school Katie also worked closely with local homework clubs which has come in handy for her experience with Tawasol where she was again volunteering in a homework club, this time with the Galway Traveller Movement. The experience was one of the highlights of her Tawasol experience. Katie says that learning about the positive impact of education is one thing that comes up frequently in her coursework, but “it was fantastic to see this in action.” Her time with the health promotion team and the Galway Traveller Movement was an opportunity to see just that. “It was so interesting and inspiring,” she says, “to see the steps they are taking in their community to make a positive impact on health.”
With all of her involvement in the Galway community throughout her life, Katie may sound like a local girl, but her ambition is not confined to city limits. Last year she was part of a trip to the Middle East to discuss the role and importance of Service Learning in higher education. Through her involvement with the Tawasol Project she was able attend the International Service Learning and Civic Engagement Conference which was held at Hashemite University in Jordan. The conference brought together students, lecturers, and other experts from all over Europe and the Middle East to talk about Service Learning and its contribution to higher education as well as its wider potential for society today.
Katie learned a lot from the trip to Jordan and being with so many students from other cultures and parts of the world. “It has really opened my eyes to how we should be learning about each other's cultures,” she says reflecting on her experience. “I learned that it is important to base your understanding of people on what you experience for yourself, rather than letting yourself take for granted that the most commonly held attitude is the right one.” It was through this collaborative interaction with students and teachers from such varied backgrounds that Katie learned a lot about both her peers across all boarders, and about herself. She has seen the effects of her participation in the Tawasol Project in her own coursework and community involvement as well as the effect that it can have on students in other universities. She speaks adamantly now of the benefits of Service Learning and its importance not just as a 'bonus' in certain courses but as a critical part of any learning curriculum.
In working with different community partners she saw a lot of what she had learned in her courses about education and human rights come to life, and take on more meaning. It has also lead her to be more critical of existing policies and systems and an even better advocate for those she works with in her own community involvement. Its an experience that she treasures and one she grew enormously from and she hopes that other students have an opportunity to experience something like it for themselves. “Programmes like this offer students such brilliant opportunities and I hope that projects like this continue for the benefit of many more students to come.”
Having travelled half way around the world and back has only inspired Katie to do more and continue her involvement with different community partners. “I hope that I can build on what I learned and use it going forward,” she says, and we can't wait to see what she does.