SU Elections: Megan O’Connor wants to ensure students are “getting the best education they can”

The sole candidate for Education Officer puts focus on student supports and coordination with College departments

Drawing on her experience within Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), Megan O’Connor, a final year General Nursing student and the sole candidate for TCDSU Education Officer, explains that her manifesto promises are extensive, but all relate to her three main points: “accessibility”, “improving engagement” and providing “student support”.

The Kerry native has acted as a class representative since her first year until she was elected as Off-Campus Officer as a Senior Sophister. O’Connor was part of the Academic Senate for its first two years, stating she knows the people who need to be contacted when it comes to “academic welfare”. O’Connor says she wants to meet with all 24 of Trinity’s schools, acknowledging how time-consuming this mission is – she estimates this will take her “nearly up to the entirety of the first semester” of her role to accomplish” – in order to set a number of long-ranging plans in motion.

The establishment of a student buddy system which would see students in the year ahead mentoring those in the year below is a key goal for O’Connor. She referenced Student2Student’s (S2S) model which “is up and running”, through which first-year students receive mentorship, but for more academic purposes such as “choosing modules that determine what they major in for their entire degree”. When questioned about the sustainability of this system, especially with S2S’s efforts to continually recruit new mentors, O’Connor acknowledged that in its first year “it might not be a raging success”, but she believes it “it could be something so incredible” and a good “resource”. To prevent this buddy system becoming burdensome as she thinks S2S can be, “inaccessible as students don’t have the time to sign up for even more”, O’Connor wants to ensure TCDSU work alongside Student Learning Development (SLD) and S2S “so the students don’t feel obliged to take on a heavy workload”. Framing this system as a long term goal, O’Connor said: “I don’t think it’s something I can definitely say I’m definitely going to do. It’s definitely going to be something that I am going to begin and see where it takes me through discussing with the relevant bodies, discussing with students and what they feel they’re able to do and then finding a system that best implements what everyone is capable of achieving so it is long term feasibly possible.”

A focus of her manifesto and campaign is targeting what O’Connor identifies as over assessment. If elected, O’Connor will be the first Education officer to enter into the role with the Trinity Education Program (TEP) fully implemented. Looking forward, O’Connor wants to invite students not actively involved in TCDSU to express any problems they confront with the outcome of the project. She related this to her campaign promise to establish an open forum during term time. O’Connor wants students to know “they need to have their assignment back 21 working days after they submit it, that’s their right”, and they should “never have an assessment and an exam in the same module in one week”.

From her experience as an Off-Campus Officer, O’Connor wants to introduce office hours during unsociable hours as Education Officer, suggesting that “every now and then do like a 9-10 kind of hour” and “Skype calls”, with the intention to help students that spend the majority of their time off of the Trinity campus feel that “House 6 is more accessible”. 

When asked where her priority would be if elected, she said “it would definitely be a mix”, hoping to “split it evenly” with casework, but recognised that if a student needed help she would “never turn them away and everything else can wait till the weekend”.

TCDSU’s involvement with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has been a hot topic during the election campaigns. In her manifesto, O’Connor expressed that she wants to continue the union’s affiliation with USI and aims to make students not involved with TCDSU more aware of the benefits. She recalled support from USI for students during nurses’ strikes which took place in 2019: “My phone rang one day, and it was…the Vice President for Campaigns… she provided us with megaphones and advised us on the legality of things we simply didn’t have a clue about.” O’Connor believes there are more benefits than disadvantages to being affiliated with USI. When asked if she were elected alongside a Presidential candidate advocating for TCDSU’s removal from USI, O’Connor stated she knows there will always be “disagreeing and arguments…no matter who you’re speaking to” but “is more than happy to have these discussions”. 

Outlined in her manifesto is a goal to ensure that USI’s National Annual Congress is not exclusive to those involved with TCDSU, with O’Connor wanting Trinity students, “to play somewhat of a larger role”. Revealing that in her first year she had the opportunity to attend Congress, she declared that “it’s probably why [she] is sitting here today”, deeming it “enlightening”.

Touching on another manifesto point, O’Connor aims to expand training for class representatives by coordinating TCDSU’s Disability Officer, LGBT+ Rights Officer, sabbatical officers and guest speakers in offering additional resources. When questioned about the attendance of class representatives to this training, O’Connor hopes this will “empower students but knows not everyone will be interested in it”. She noted that this would be additional work for the TCDSU part-time officers who already have an immense workload “, but it could be possible” for them to speak for “20-30 minutes before Council”.  

Helping students abroad on an erasmus exchange is another critical issue for O’Connor as she “understands” the stressful aspects of an exchange from her own experience of applying. She wants to work with the Academic Registry (AR), who she has had troubling arranging a meeting with, as she believes they can improve the system by helping “signpost [students] to the relevant people”. Observing that she was not aware of the Erasmus clinic operated by AR, she found that there are “wild and unnecessary issues for students facing Erasmus”. In the future, she wants to prevent barriers for students seeking to go on Erasmus, mentioning one student who was unable to go due to their disability, finding it “unacceptable”. She continued by saying that the imbalance in final year assessments between returning Erasmus students and those who stayed at Trinity would be “difficult to address as there are conflicting issues within the student body”.

The lack of clarity with information at Trinity is a problem O’Connor wants to resolve. Proposing a flowchart in the style of “FAQs” on the TCDSU website, O’Connor wants to work with people to create a system where a student could “input some of their details and…to point them in the right direction”. 

Drawing on her experience with TCDSU’s Academic Senate, which current TCDSU Education Officer Niamh McCay put on hold this year as she felt it was not fulfilling its purpose, O’Connor agreed it did “kind of lose its purpose halfway through and became somewhat of an open forum”. By reinstating it, she hopes to attract any type of student and those “genuinely interested in academic issues”. Trusting students to understand more about their exams than she will “in her position” she wants this information to be “brought to schools in regards to the diversification of assessments”. Continuing the work already established by McCay and the Education Committee, O’Connor believes the policies in place, “will be a great stepping stone” for her to work from. 

Discussing higher education funding, O’Connor hopes a loan system with repayment based on future financial earnings would not be implemented, but noted that “if there was a genuine proposal regarding this I would take it under consideration, if it was something the student body agreed with”. On the possibility of the government fully funding higher education, O’Connor does not hold much hope: “Unfortunately not, I don’t see it being realistic.” In an ideal world, she would like “reintroduction of the SUSI from…2012, but we still see the issue of students not being eligible even though they’re struggling”. 

In relation to academic cheating, O’Connor wants to discover the root cause “whether the student feels unsupported, they’re finding the module inaccessible or struggling to understand” and work with SLD. Although she has not spoken with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, O’Connor has discussed the controversial subject of “smart or study drugs” with the Welfare candidate and thinks with her “healthcare background” that students should be reminded “there can be serious knock-on health effects of constantly taking stimulators”.

O’Connor declared she “loves hard work and definitely thrives on having a big workload” and does not want to be a sabbatical officer that “lives in House 6 and that shows up to council every six weeks”. As a nursing student, O’Connor believes she knows what it’s like to be under intense pressure, and would use her term as Education Officer to ensure students that “are getting the best education they can”.

An earlier version of this article stated that Megan O’Connor admitted that a buddy system was not something she could definitely do. The quotation was misleading and a longer quotation with more context was added at 12:30pm, February 25. Additionally, a point confusing a proposal for class rep training and training offered to lecturers was clarified. 

Shauna Bannon Ward

Shauna Barron Ward is a staff writer at Trinity News. She is a Junior Sophister Law student.