My name is Scott Byrne and this summer I was extremely fortunate to be a member of the Washington Ireland Program (WIP) Class of 2021. The Washington Ireland Program is quite a unique program, selecting students from across the island of Ireland who have displayed a dedication to service and leadership. With each class, the program takes students through an eight-week-long developmental journey. This involves guest speakers, group projects, and a work experience placement with an organisation in America.
Due to Covid 19, my class was the first to participate in a fully online version of the program. Experiencing everything via Zoom was a strange experience at the start, but as I got to know the rest of my class better and got to grips with my work placement and project group, things became much easier.
This year’s class was split into different cohorts, and I was placed into the Sustainability cohort, which was tasked with exploring areas such as climate change, carbon-neutral technologies, and sustainable business practices. Every week would feature a guest speaker with expertise in a particular area related to sustainability, such as university professors and government advisors.
My group project focused on developing a strategy for the island of Ireland to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. None of us had any background knowledge regarding carbon neutrality, so we all started from square one in that regard. Despite this, we were able to research and put together a policy paper in the space of a few weeks. For my work placement, I was one of three students placed with an American company called Sustain. Life. We were tasked with examining how sustainable the supply chains of various companies throughout Ireland and Europe were and how they could serve as an example for US companies looking to follow suit.
Overall, I massively enjoyed my time as a member of the class this summer. The program has an excellent reputation for providing amazing experiences and they maintained those standards despite the Covid situation. I got to learn from subject matter experts I would never have met in my day-to-day life and push myself out of my comfort zone in a safe and supportive environment. I was also extremely fortunate that my cohort really bonded together over the 8 weeks, to the extent that we would all consider ourselves to be friends and meet up quite regularly to catch up.
As a student with a disability, I found the program to be extremely accommodating of my needs, which really made me feel welcomed and appreciated as a class member. I could take time out for hospital appointments or illness without feeling as if I wasn’t pulling my weight and the program staff was always on hand to offer support. I also worked in the TCD Disability Service as a Graduate intern while taking part in the program, so it is possible to work part-time and still make the most of the opportunities WIP offers.
Speaking as a student with a disability, I couldn’t recommend the program highly enough. I know that sometimes undertaking new challenges such as WIP can appear daunting, but I believe that every person with a disability, be it physical or mental, has valuable, if often underappreciated perspectives on so many different issues. Gathering up a diverse group of people, from a variety of backgrounds, is the mission of WIP, so remember that the program will benefit from your insights and experiences just as much as you will benefit from the knowledge and relationships gained over the summer.
Apply for the Washington Ireland Program here: https://wiprogram.org/