The National Student Engagement Programme (NStEP) is delighted to welcome two new Student Associate Interns to the team for a period of 6 months, working to develop and lead on two exciting new project areas in student engagement. Yvana Mpessa will lead on the new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Student Engagement project, while Niamh Kennedy will lead on the Postgraduate Research Student Engagement project, working to achieve greater partnership and enhancement in these areas for the benefit of students and staff across Irish higher education.
The Student Associates will be supported to ensure that NStEP remains student-driven and student-led, while working to realise the goals of our partners  – HEA, QQI, and USI – as set out in the NStEP Strategy 2019-2021. This is particularly timely as NStEP begins the process of developing a new Strategy for 2022+.
Find out more about Yvana and Niamh below!

Meet Yvana Mpessa – Student Associate for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Student Engagement

Yvana, tell us a bit about yourself!

Hi there! My name is Yvana. I was born in Belgium and raised across four different cities: Dublin, Toronto, Ghent and Douala. Talk about a mouthful! Trust me; it makes for a bit of a tongue twister when I introduce myself as a “Belgian-born-Irish-Canadian-of-Cameroonian-descent”.

If there is anything to gain from being well-travelled, it is cross-cultural experience and an appreciation for diversity and inclusion. I have worked extensively with NStEP as a student trainer and quality assurance reviewer since 2019. When I’m not working, or gruelling over assignments and exams, I enjoy reading African literature and cooking.


 So, what interests you about improving student engagement?

I believe everyone can play a part to strike change and challenge the status-quo when it comes to student engagement. I am interested in how multi-faceted this can be, that is, how different people from various backgrounds can work in partnership to improve student engagement. As a student myself, it gives me much pride and personal satisfaction to be at the forefront of this change.

What are you particularly excited about when working in your particular project area?

I am excited about liaising with various other organisations, staff members across Irish universities and students as I carry out my research. I like to take a holistic approach to solving problems by speaking to all parties involved.

Meet Niamh Kennedy – Student Associate for Postgraduate Research Student Engagement

Hi Niamh, tell us a bit about you!

My name is Niamh (she/her) and I am a third year PhD researcher in the School of Law, University of Limerick. I am a graduate of the LLM degree in Human Rights in Criminal Justice and prior to that, the LLB Law Plus (with Law and Psychology) degree, both from UL. My doctoral research is in the area of clinical legal education, the hands-on experience of law students and transferable skill development. I see huge connections between my work in this area and my work promoting student engagement and partnership, as both invite students to take an active role in their education and work collaboratively with higher education staff.

During my undergraduate degree, I served as a class representative. Since then, student engagement and advocating for the student voice have been passions of mine. Last year, I was amongst the first group of Student Associates with the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and will continue my role this academic year. Alongside this, I lead tutorials to undergraduate law students in various modules and I teach a night course in Criminology at Limerick College of Further Education therefore, I have experience and insight as both a student and an educator when it comes to student engagement.

What do you think is important when it comes to improving student engagement?

Breaking down the communication barriers between students and educators is a keen interest of my mine. I am now in my eighth consecutive year of higher education and have seen the effectiveness and positive results of good, open communication channels between students and their module leader, lecturer, tutor, etc. The transition into third level education can be extremely daunting and challenging, with huge changes being faced. Providing students with a safe space and a sense of community to voice these concerns can greatly improve the relationship and dynamic between students and educators, and promote engagement and collegiality.

The second area that I would love to see an improvement in is the lack of consistency between educators, between departments and between institutions. Whilst some educators may be actively promoting student engagement in decision making and student partnership, it is not a universal process.

What are you particularly excited about when working on postgraduate research student engagement?

I am extremely excited to get started on my project. As an NStEP student trainer and a postgraduate research student I can see the gaps and areas of the SLE (student learning experience) and student engagement that do not fit the postgraduate research model. PGRs are falling between the cracks. I can bring my knowledge and comprehension of student engagement and my experience as a postgraduate student to identify areas of improvement and work towards closing this gap.

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