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Fulfilling Potential: Supporting Community Engagement Progression Students


This Learning Enhancement project has been funded through the HEA and the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning.

PROJECT TITLE: Fulfilling Potential: Supporting Community Engagement Progression Students 
PROGRAMME TITLE: Diploma in Community Drug and Alcohol Work
COLLABORATORS: Dr Laura O'Reilly, Mr Liam Fogarty & Dr Micheál Collins
STUDENT COHORT: Undergraduate students.


The Community Drugs Programme (School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice) is a widening participation initiative that seeks to provide students with a well-recognised professional qualification, and since 2010, the opportunity to progress onto the second year of the B.Soc.Sc (Social Policy and Sociology). As a successful and niche community engagement and widening participation programme within UCD, there are around 20 students completing the one year Diploma in Community Drug and Alcohol Work annually, and between two and seven student progressing each year onto the B.Soc.Sc. (Social Policy and Sociology).

Students engaging in this programme have typically experienced social exclusion and educational disadvantage. To date there has been significant work undertaken to link students to existing UCD resources, such as the Access Centre and the UCD Writing Centre and to provide timely information on finance and funding. However, previous and current students continue to highlight ongoing challenges for them in taking up the progression route, particularly in terms of educational deficits, confidence, study skills and ability to navigate the University systems and supports. Repeatedly students report that their peer progression students, particularly those a year ahead or studying at postgraduate level, have been key in ensuring their educational success at UCD.


This project aimed to enhance the successful outcomes for students considering and taking up the progression pathway by providing a range of more formalised supports that attend to some of the unique needs identified by these students studying on this programme.

The project aimed to work collaboratively with students to identify unique and additional educational needs as they progress onto the undergraduate degree programme with a view to further enabling students to flourish, thrive and fulfil their potential. It was planned that these needs would then be addressed through a programme of workshops and specialist inputs, led and co-ordinated by successful progression students who are, or have studied, at postgraduate level.

In addition, specific workshops to develop and enhance the digital skills of the progression students were planned and the teaching and tutoring skills of previous progression students were to be supported by provision of tutoring opportunities within this project.

The Innovative Approach

Key for this project was devising and implementing a collaborative, peer led support structure that bridged some of the gaps between the complex needs of a cohort of widening participation progression students, and the existing educational support systems within UCD. Two factors were important; the subtly of some of these gaps; and the educational aspects such as subject knowledge, confidence, study skills and mechanisms for integrating lived experiences with theoretical groundings. In enacting this, we:

  • Worked collaboratively with intending and existing progression students to identify unique and additional educational needs as they progress onto the undergraduate degree programme.
  • Sought to address these needs through the provision of a programme of workshops and specialist inputs, led and co-ordinated be successful progression students who are, or have studied, at postgraduate level.
  • Provided specific workshops to develop and enhance the digital skills of intending and current progression students, something that is routinely identified within this cohort as a block and challenge to educational development and achievement.
  • Supported the professional development of two previous progression students by encouraging and developing groupwork and tutoring skills, as well as providing tutoring opportunities within this project.


Given the relational nature of this project, the covid19 pandemic and associated restrictions were limiting factors for much of the planned work.  However, all of the proposed interventions were transferred to zoom successfully and the full range of workshops, bespoke tutorials and roundtables were delivered.  All 20 potential progression students engaged in one workshop, and then seven of the nine current progression students participated throughout the year.  Two former progression students currently studying at doctoral level delivered workshops and tutorials and participated in the project advisory group.  The students reported a range of benefits including:

  • Feeling connected and supported by each other, the tutors and others involved in delivering the project. The students highlighted the importance of having structure to aid social and academic support, which they in turn stated really aided their learning. 
  • Having the opportunity to develop specific academic skills such as study techniques (e.g. reading a journal article effectively) and handling theory in essays and assignments.
  • Having support delivered by tutors who had progressed through the same route as it was felt they could often highlight solutions and ways to respond to challenges that really reflected a shared lived experience of addressing educational gaps.
  • Helping to identify ways to prepare and deliver on assignments and exams given the covid19 induced shift to digitally based assessments.

Feedback from student participants included:

(The project) was a huge support.  You can feel very lost in the first trimester.  The BSocSc is very different from the Diploma and the supports really helped me to manage.  Sociology was very new and very difficult and so the extra sessions really helped and were very well structured.

The non-academic bit, the social interaction was really important – it supports the learning.....  when there is shared experience that is very important to help you through.

There was an overarching conclusion was that progression students have specific needs that can be ideally met at particular points in time to ensure success and flourishing.  Project participants concluded that:

  • Supports need to be immediate on commencing the progression route;
  • Supports need to be technical, educational and relationally based; and
  • There should be recognition that informal conversations and gatherings can be highly instrumental in helping students address barriers, sustain their studies and plan career paths.