Talking About My Generation

Jim Collins - UL Alumni

Just how different is the college experience for the new generation of scholars? We spoke to four University of Limerick alumni families to find out.

The Collinses


I was born in Limerick and with my mam being a widow, studying close to home was the only way I could afford it.

It was back in a very different time. We were under the National Council of Education and we had major actions going on over getting recognition for the degrees. In those early years, we were protesting and marching in between study, struggling for parity against the old university sector. I ended up doing a sabbatical year as President of the Students’ Union. I was the first president to be down in the infamous Stables. The best thing about my presidency? I met my wife Marguerite who was the first female president of the union in UCD.

The best thing about my presidency? I met my wife Marguerite who was the first female president of the union in UCD.

I became heavily involved with the Alumni when we came back from the UK in 1992. I sat on the board for about 15 years and I also served on the Board of the Governing Authority for four years.

I was fairly up to speed with technology but having my kids made me want to keep ahead. I studied the BSc in Manufacturing Technology and I now lecture on the part-time courses and developed and designed the Lean Thinking modules on the ULearning Lean and Six Sigma curriculum.

While I was there, my son Oisín had a part-time modelling career, donning the new Alumni kit. I remember it well. We were surprised he didn’t take it further. UL

Jim Collins, BSc Manufacturing & Production Engineering, 1981


As you walk through the Stables, there’s a plaque with the names of all the former student presidents on it. It was pretty amazing seeing your Dad’s name on it.

He’d spoken so fondly about UL, so when I was looking at universities, it was high on the list.

Growing up in New Ross, I always had a huge interest in sport so I studied sport and exercise science. Because of the way it was structured, I got to study so many aspects from business, psychology and science to the pedagogy of coaching.

Dad helped me get a part-time job with the UL Foundation raising funds, and of course, that modelling stint he mentioned. They’d revamped the Alumni kit and needed someone to throw on the new threads. I still have that kit – cringe.

What’s interesting is that you grow up to be your parents’ friends and not just their kids. It’s been incredible over the last few years having shared interests like college and rugby – we’re planning a trip to Paris for the Six Nations – Jim, myself and Marguerite.
It’s funny how that dynamic changes. UL

Oisín Collins, BSc Sports & Exercise Science, 2008

The Donovans


When I went to UL, it was a tiny college, there were only 40 of us in PE and 100 in the whole college, but we had a ball.

There was no public transport; we all had our Honda 50s and although the college was a building site for part of the time, we didn’t pay any attention.

I did PE and Social and Economic Studies – the college was known then as the NCPE (National College of Physical Education). I’m amazed at how the university has developed since then.

I remember going down the Shannon in anything other than a boat. It was a simple time but we were happy. We were in prefabs for a lot of the time but I loved the campus which was out by the river in a lovely green space. We had a feeling that we were the first, the pioneers if you like.

The curriculum was quite progressive. It demanded inclusiveness and was participation-based rather than having an over-emphasis on competitiveness. It was a different philosophy than anything that had gone before it.

My son St. John and daughter Louise, who grew up in my home town of Kilkenny, both went to UL so I’ve had a connection with the college for quite a while and I’m still great friends with all my former classmates. UL

Nuala Donovan, BA Physical Education, 1975

St. John

I studied the Bachelor of Arts in History, Politics, Sociology and Social Studies. It fitted very well with my personal values.

I began looking at society with a critical eye and analysing how it works. I was very politicised anyway and the two went hand in glove.

I was appointed President of the Students’ Union from 2006 to 2008. I was heavily involved in the environmental society, establishing initiatives for greener living and protests. We ran a green fair every year to raise awareness around environmental issues and distribute information. Campaigning against Shell when they were involved in the Mayo pipelines was very important to me and after my time at UL, I lived in the Rossport Solidarity Camp for a couple of years.

My focus as president was engaging the student contingent and fostering involvement within the union. It’s one thing to negotiate behind the scenes but as leader of the union, I wanted to give the students a sense of ownership.

There was a busy main road between the university and a lot of the student accommodation. The student council wouldn’t put a pedestrian crossing there so one night, we went out and painted one there ourselves. Overnight, suddenly, there it was – a concrete example of achieving something solid when we worked together. We campaigned around getting better public transport and negotiating better funding for the library. All these things came through different methods of dialogue.

My mum has very positive memories of UL and she was really happy I chose to go there. I got my love of sports from her; we have hill walked together for many years. Now, I work as a rock climbing and kayak instructor and I’m working towards getting my mountain guide qualification. UL

St. John O’Donnabhain, BA History, Politics, Sociology & Social Studies, 2006


Being interested in global politics and sociology, I studied the Bachelor of Arts in History, Politics, Sociology and Social Studies.

Straight away I became involved with the International Development Society. I have so many good memories from my time there but the one that stands out the most is my cooperative work placement in second year.

I was lucky enough to travel to Ghana in West Africa to work with an NGO. This experience really changed my path in life and inspired me to continue working in developing countries and in the humanitarian and development sector.

After university, I went on to work with the UN in development and progressing towards humanitarian work with refugees. I’m currently working in Niger in West Africa. I love my job, and attribute the choices I made to the basis I had in my studies and time in UL.

In secondary school it’s very hard to know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life, but my mum’s positive experience definitely had a part to play in my decision.

Louise Donovan, BA History Politics, Sociology and Social Studies, 2010

The Kingstons


I opted for Limerick because the quality of the curriculum and the work experience were exceptional.

When I left college in 1979, I had a number of job offers in a time when the economy in Ireland was in a very difficult state. That was a true testament to the course.

I played Gaelic football and soccer and squash. At that stage in Ireland, the sports facilities were leading edge. Even though the PE college was very small at the time, there was a lot of interaction between the PE and NIHE college.

When I left college in 1979, I had a number of job offers in a time when the economy in Ireland was in a very difficult state. That was a true testament to the course.

I studied finance and when I left college in 1979, I had a number of job offers in a time when the economy in Ireland was in a very difficult state. That was a true testament to the course and I’m currently Director of NM Group which operates ATMs, Travel Money Branches and mortgage services primarily in the UK.

I never believed in telling my kids where to go but my daughter Gill and I enjoy exchanging stories about our time at UL. Living on the campus, she was more ingrained in college life than I was. UL

Mike Kingston, Bachelor of Business Studies, 1979


One of the reasons I chose UL was because my Dad went there. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

I remember one year when I was about 16, Dad took us around the campus and that was a stand-out moment for me. I knew then I wanted to go there.

I remember one year when I was about 16, Dad took us around the campus and that was a stand-out moment for me. I knew then I wanted to go there.

I studied the BA (Hons) in History, Politics and Social Studies. I liked the idea that my course had a six-month internship and a term abroad. I did my work experience in the Department of Health, working in the Tobacco Control Unit just after the smoking ban came in.

It quickly became apparent to me that I wanted to pursue a career in sociology. I remember one of my lecturers remarking that we were a generation that would probably go through a recession and sure enough, he was right and ahead of his time.

My learning never ended. I’m more fascinated by society now than I was then; understanding social differences, inequality, social dynamics, migration and all those different elements to how societies work. UL really nurtured that sense of curiosity in me. UL

Gill Kingston, BA History, Politics, Sociology & Social Studies, 2007

The Harrows


I reached a point in my employment with De Beers Industrial Diamonds (now Element Six) whereby if I wanted to obtain promotion,
I felt I needed a third-level qualification.

In 1980, UL launched their first evening degree in business studies. At the time I was married and my son, Ivan was five. Nevertheless, I got stuck right into the course with fantastic support from my wife Mary.

I had never experienced continuous assessment before but I found it was a great way to keep on top of the course material. Over the four years we did 36 subjects. We were integrated with the day students, so we weren’t regarded as second-class citizens.

It wasn’t just the course content though that I loved; I forged strong, lasting relationships with friends and lecturers. I remember walking up the riverbank – two or three of us – talking through the subject matter of the course, asking each other questions and learning from each other.

When I went back to work in De Beers in 1988 I was appointed purchasing manager – I had achieved my goal. They sponsored me to do the course, something for which I was very grateful.

Ivan was an excellent student – far better than I was. I always wanted him to follow his own path but I was very proud he graduated from UL.

Dale Harrow, Bachelor of Business Studies, 1984


I always thought it was very impressive that Dad went back to college in later life. I still do.

His work ethic really inspired me – writing everything out by hand, driving out to Shannon every morning to go to work and only having time to have a cup of tea before heading back out to college. Hearing about the campaigning that went on during his time there, it was great to see university status being granted.

I remember when Dad was submitting his thesis: He had it written out on A4 sheets and Mam help to type and revise it.
I was very proud of what he achieved in getting that degree.

I really wanted to study Applied Physics and the degree programme at UL offered such varied course content and practical experience on the CoOp placement.

I used my first computer in sixth year at school in Limerick. From there on, I was always trying to push the boundaries with technology. I went back to do the MSc in Technology Management after six years out of university. I was in Intel at the time and I wanted to make the shift into a managerial role.

Moving to San Francisco wasn’t a culture shock; it felt like a natural progression. Already a thriving hub of innovation, I was involved in setting up a new team in Intel focused on analytics and big data.

In my first role as a manager, I had two or three people reporting to me, and in my last role I had more than 80. The skills I cultivated from the Masters enabled me to develop a strong leadership style that helped me motivate my team,
as well solve problems in a very practical way.

Ivan Harrow, BSc Applied Physics, 1997; MSc Technology Management, 2005