How do you think the SU got on this year? Marése O’Sullivan has been interviewing our SU Officers, and here’s how Conor Stitt found the year…
How was your experience as Education Officer, Conor?
It was like nothing I’d ever experienced. It had highs and lows. I started in the role when I was 22 and I’m 23 now. I was capable of solving problems and was treated as a professional [with regard to] my work in the university. To have such an input into helping so many students was an amazing achievement. It’s something I’ll look back on with pride. With the job, there are long hours; so much work involved; and times when you’re pulling your hair out with stress, but it’s also for the good of the students. I just had so much fun doing it.
Do you think you achieved the objectives you’d set out in your manifesto?
I achieved most of it. There’s so many unforeseeable [occurrences] over the year that you cannot come in one day and expect it to be exactly how you planned it. There could be anything from the government trying to pull a fast one, to something hitting the news, to the SUSI grants, which took up a big bulk of my work, if not the majority. That stopped me from achieving the projects that I wanted to do, but I believe I’ve completed about 90%, and the rest I’ll do in the next three months.
What will your role involve when students are finishing the academic year?
Students have essays and exams coming up, so I’m working with them: whether they need extensions or essay plans, or they feel their exam didn’t go so well, or if they can’t sit their exam. Other than that, there are still a lot of people waiting on SUSI grants and I’m still pushing for that. Next, I’ll be giving Catherine Breslin her crossover training and I’ll be bringing her to a couple of meetings just to get her involved.
What challenged you the most about the role?
While I was prepared for it as I could have been going in, it was hard finding out that students were in such dire straits and I had to take their burden on. I empathised with what they were going through and tried to do the best for them with all the capabilities that I had. I suppose I mightn’t always be 100% able to give them financial security, which they deserve, or know if they’re going to be in college next year. You’re trying to get them grants as quickly as possible through a grant authority that is an absolute shambles. They’re the victims of it. SUSI is a national organisation and you’re one S.U. officer trying to [help] while all the other S.U. officers are doing the same. You can do everything you can but you can only do so much for them; you don’t know if it’s enough or not. That’s very challenging and tough. You have to look after yourself as well, because if you’re not in a fit mental state or if you let something get you down, it will [affect] your work. You have to keep on top of everything all the time to be able and capable.
Have you any regrets?
The biggest regret for me was the budget. We did more than any Students’ Union in the country: we got arrested, we brought the biggest march in the country, one of the TDs that we lobbied ended up voting against the decisions his government were making because of the grant, and so on. I did everything I could, and that’s where I had the experience, but still it wasn’t enough in the face of the government, who were set on making these kinds of rises in fees. At the end of the day, the expectations of the students are for you to do enough, and I feel I did my best, but it wasn’t enough.
What are you going to miss most about being Education Officer?
I’ll miss students knowing that I can help them. Next year, I’m going to be back in NUI Galway doing my LLB. I’ll be a regular student but, walking through the concourse, I know I’ll have the insight that there are plenty of students out there with issues who are going to be in a bad place. I know how to help them but they won’t know to come to me anymore. Not being in a position to help is going to take some getting used to and I suppose it’s up to me to get involved in different roles where I can try to help people. That’s what I’m hoping to do and I’m looking into volunteering. I’ve always been interested in the media but, on a case-by-case basis, I’ll still be involved with student organisations that have asked me to help out and I’d love to work with mental health organisations. [Being an S.U. Officer] was something I was very proud of and I would have loved to keep going, but I won’t have that, so especially after this year, with the insight [I now have], I can’t sit back and do nothing.
What do you think of the incoming S.U.?
I know Declan best, but I think all three of them are very passionate and very smart individuals. What’ll serve them well is the fact that they have an initial real care for students. If you have that, you can’t ignore it. Everything else that’s good about the job, and what’s expected of you in the role, will come after that. I’m set on giving Catherine the best crossover that I can; I didn’t get a great crossover last year myself so I want her to be able to find her feet as quickly as possible. I’ll be around college next year and I can help any, if not all three, of them, so I’ll look forward to doing that. They’re going to do a great job. It’s up to Paul, Dami and I to teach them and impart as much wisdom as possible about the work, because while they have all the energy, it’s about how they focus it and how good their time management is. You can have the best ideas in the world but your action plan has to be [right].
What song best describes your year in office?
Take That: ‘Never Forget’.
What would you like to say to the students who’ve supported you?
It’s been absolutely great to walk into college or be on a night out to have people come up to converse with you, just because they know you or you’ve helped their friend. It’s what keeps me going, to know that I’m getting that support. It’s something I’ll miss greatly, to have people saying nice words about me and to thank me for your work.
What was your year like – in five words?
Amazing, strenuous, a privilege, an experience and an achievement.