Nikodem Kawonczyk is a second year BCL (Law and Society) student in DCU. In this piece, he explains how Access has helped him to achieve excellence in third level education.
“I went to the same school in Monaghan Town for Junior Cert and Leaving Cert. It was a good school with a high college acceptance level. I’ve always been a high achiever and I did a lot of extracurricular activities, including student council and being made a prefect in my final year. I did nine subjects for my Leaving Cert, including Politics and Society, which I studied outside of school and got a H2 in.
My TY work experience was very formative when it came to choosing my career path. I worked in the local senator’s office, where I was interested in the administrative work, such as drafting legislation, but I also found the human aspect of the job appealing. I enjoyed that the job combined legal frameworks with actually helping people. I also worked in a solicitor’s office, which was a bit more depressing in some ways, but also helped me to see the human side of the law. Seeing how the solicitor got along with people and used the law to help them was fantastic, so that’s why I wanted to study Law and Society.
My parents were young when they had me, and my dad dropped out of college. He’s back studying now for an associate degree, but I’ll be the first in my family to graduate. I’m from Monaghan but I have a Polish background, and growing up, I spent a lot of time translating for my mother. She has had long-term health issues and there was a degree of advocating on her behalf to ger her point across. I think we need more people like me in the law, from diverse backgrounds, who reflect the diversity of Ireland today. I don’t get back to visit my parents that much because I’m so busy, but they understand and they’re proud of my ambition.
I heard about the Access programme from my school’s guidance counsellor. Moving from Monaghan town to Dublin was a big change, but the first year Access orientation was useful and helped me get a grasp on college life and eased the transition.
“There are great opportunities with Access, like designated internships for access students, and the connections I have made through the programme.”
The most important thing about the scholarship is that it really helps financially. I still work, but I’m able to fully support myself without having to rely on my parents. Finance was my biggest worry when it came to college. I knew I was able for the academic side of things, but I didn’t know how I would pay the fees or afford to live in Dublin. In first year, I was working nights in a hotel on top of my college work, which was exhausting. I got very little sleep and had to do some of my exams in work. This year, I have a better position and it’s easier for me to manage four days there a week. Without the scholarship, I would have to work more hours and wouldn’t be able to achieve as much as I do now.
I love my course. I’ve met fantastic people here and have had great opportunities. Courtroom advocacy was a highlight, when I had the opportunity to argue in front of judges. I was nervous beforehand, but I was well prepared by my coursework and my extracurricular activities as well. I’m very involved in campus life, I am a member of the Law Society, the Chairman of the FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centre) and the National Vice President of ELSA (European Law Students Association) Ireland. I’m also the campus ambassador for the legal news website Legal Cheek, and the student rep for Matheson LLP, where I hope to work when I graduate.
Getting to where I am required a lot of planning and perseverance on my part, and without the scholarship I wouldn’t have been able to achieve as much as I have so far. In the future, I’d probably like to work in Mergers and Acquisitions or Commercial Litigation, and my experience in DCU will help me get there.”