Local faces: Mary McMahon

By Aideen O'Flaherty 

WHEN Kerry woman Mary McMahon stepped into the halls of the Greenhills College of Further Education back in 2003, after being hired as a teacher, it was the beginning of her career in further education, and the start of well over a decade at the helm of the college.

Before working in Greenhills, Mary studied for a degree in science and education at the University of Limerick and worked in second-level education in both Ireland and Dubai.

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Mary McMahon (Photo by Aidan O’Neill)

On her return from the Middle East, she successfully applied for a job in the Greenhills College of Further Education and, as a result of her science background, she taught modules including nursing, healthcare and nutrition.

She has since risen up the ranks of the college and is now the further education coordinator of the college, which is located on a diverse campus which houses the college and the Greenhills Community College secondary school, both of which are separate entities but are overseen by principal Ann Bray.

“It was just one of those things,” Mary explained when asked how she got into further education teaching, “it wasn’t intentional, but it worked out really well.

“I applied for the job because they were setting up a horticultural course and they needed a teacher, and I got the job because I studied agricultural science as part of my degree.

“It wasn’t something that I ever thought I would’ve needed to get a job in a college in Dublin!”

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Mary McMahon (Photo by Aidan O’Neill)

Over the years, Mary has seen first-hand the changing demographics of people who participate in higher education, and the myriad reasons for their decision to either continue education straight after completing the Leaving Certificate, or to return as mature students.

“I see the different trends that appear over time,” she said. “Things like the recession had an effect, because then a lot of people returned to education to upskill.

“And the awards have changed from FETAC to QQI. It’s continually evolving all the time, and I think that’s really positive.

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Mary McMahon (Photo by Aidan O’Neill)

“We’re always looking to improve the courses and modules we offer.”

While Mary was busy teaching the students, she also quickly learned that she was on the path that she wanted her career to take, and so she studied part-time for a Master’s degree in Educational Management in DCU and graduated in 2011.

This strengthened her resolve to remain in the further education sector, and she naturally has a particular fondness for Greenhills College of Further Education. This is where her career continues to develop, and she enjoys seeing the success of the students and the way the college community gels.

“We have a very supportive environment,” Mary added. “The teachers genuinely care and they want everyone to succeed.

“We encourage everybody to be part of the college community.”

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Mary McMahon (Photo by Aidan O’Neill)

Mary is a strong proponent for the benefits of further education, as it allows people to upskill and to find out if their chosen topic of study is the right choice for them, before pursuing a degree course or embarking on a career in their area of study.

“The college also gives students the opportunity to try out different courses and see what areas they want to specialise in and focus on,” she said.

The college, which has over 300 students and approximately 30 teachers, also gives learners the opportunity to mature over the course of the year, and seeing the successes of the college’s graduates is one of the most enjoyable aspects of Mary’s work.

“It’s very rewarding to see our students progressing, and we love to hear back from them and hear about the path they’ve taken after college,” said Mary.

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Mary McMahon (Photo by Aidan O’Neill)

“At the end of the year we have a graduation and it’s always a very happy occasion, and a lot of past students come back for it as well.”

As regards her own career trajectory, Mary is content with her decision to apply for that teaching job all those years ago, and still delights in walking through the corridors of Greenhills College of Further Education and knowing the difference that the college makes to those who attend.

“As soon as I started working in Greenhills I found it so interesting and I immediately knew that I’d found my niche and I’m delighted to still be working in further education all these years later.”

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