Northern Ireland group enjoys local education, industry, culture

Published 04.16.2024

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A dozen students from North West Regional College, in Northern Ireland, recently wrapped up a two-week visit to Pennsylvania College of Technology, where they sat in on classes and dove into local culture.

“It’s been completely mind-changing – life-changing – and I really do want to look into coming here,” said Zach Richardson, one of six visitors pursuing engineering fields at NWRC. The other six are studying cybersecurity.

Students and faculty from North West Regional College, in Northern Ireland, gather for a photo at the end of their two-week visit to Pennsylvania College of Technology, where they attended classes, visited local industry, and took in the culture of northcentral Pennsylvania.

In addition to Richardson, the contingent comprised students Michael Donaghy, Conor Edwards, Jamie Hockley, Oisin Kelly, Niamh McAuley, David McGill, Kealan McGill, Gary McKinley, Joel Moore, Sean Sweeney and William Thompson. They were joined by Violet Toland, a lecturer and curriculum lead in computing and IT/cybersecurity, and Richard Duffy, a lecturer in engineering.

Besides attending Penn College classes in their fields, the group made industry tours – engineering students to PMF Industries, cybersecurity students to UPMC and Penn College’s Information Technology Services, and the full group to West Pharmaceuticals. They visited Penn State’s main campus, attended Penn College athletics events and sampled local restaurants. (The food here, while similar, is sweeter, they noted.) The visitors’ final weekend was spent in Philadelphia; from there, they would fly home.

“These kinds of trips are vital,” Toland said. “They’ve made a connection now with each other, with the staff, and with the college.”

“You don’t come out of your shell unless you are forced into these hard experiences,” said Edwards, who has visited several continents.

While many of the students are well-traveled, the experience reinforced the goal, for some, to build their careers outside of Northern Ireland after they complete their studies.

“What I have taken away from this opportunity is that my idea of working all over the world is more realistic now than ever before,” said Hockley, a cybersecurity student.

The group was impressed with the hands-on technology available to Penn College students, the college’s connections with companies around the world, and the depth of the curriculum, which allows for more experience in specialized areas of their chosen fields.

“For me, I like to work,” said Sweeney, who with Richardson coveted the class time Penn College students spend using industry-standard technology. Both students are taking part in engineering apprenticeships. They said that not only are the machines impressive, but the activity, as well. “You go in and students are busy working at them,” Richardson added.

Also included among the contingent’s favorite experiences were a tour of the college’s Schneebeli Earth Science Center, activities on its Fish Real Estate Leadership Challenge Course, a hike with Penn College President Michael J. Reed on Little Bear Creek Road Trail, and a visit to Reed’s home.

On a more universal level, they appreciated the welcome they received.

“Overall, what I will take back with me is just how friendly everyone is,” said McAuley, who is studying cybersecurity. “You can be yourself. It’s a great culture to experience.”

“This campus is wholly student-focused, and you get that sense as soon as you come through the door.”

Violet Toland, lecturer and curriculum lead in computing and IT/cybersecurity, North West Regional College

“This campus is wholly student-focused, and you get that sense as soon as you come through the door,” Toland said.

This is the second year Penn College has hosted students from NWRC. The college, based in Derry, has several campuses that support more than 10,000 students each year in achieving their career ambitions. Last year, a group 0f 10 health studies and social care students, joined by two chaperones, made the trip.

“We are so fortunate to meet and learn from the exceptional students and faculty from North West Regional College through this program,” said Anthony J. Pace, Penn College’s associate vice president for enrollment and academic operations. “The visit was a mutual opportunity for cultural immersion and shared learning. We look forward to future opportunities to continue this great relationship.”

For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

Watch Penn College News for more images from the visit.