Pictured (L-R) Jonathan Forbes, Student at Belfast Metropolitan College; Louise Ward Hunter, CEO at Belfast Metropolitan College; Glen McMahon, International Manager at Belfast Metropolitan College; Kelly Welsh, Student at Belfast Metropolitan College; Hannah Rooney, WIP Program Associate; Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau, U.S. Consul General in Belfast; Jack William Bresland, Student at Belfast Metropolitan College.
By Irish Echo Staff
Over a hundred young leaders from across Northern Ireland and Ireland have been selected for the Washington Ireland Program’s largest ever Class.
The prestigious Ireland-U.S. leadership development program usually involves 30 third-level education students per year, said a release.
"Making the best of current circumstances, the Program has expanded to 108 and, for the first time, also includes students with caring responsibilities who would not usually travel to the United States and those studying part-time courses."
Since 1995, the Washington Ireland Program has enabled over 750 young leaders across the island of Ireland to work in the likes of the U.S. Congress and Senate while staying with an American host family in Washington D.C. and New York City.
Previous students have interned in the offices of then Senators Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Prior to arrival at the White House, the Program was applauded by then Vice President Joe Biden in 2016 as an example of the “special” relationship between Ireland and America and praised by the House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2019.
The Program, said the release, seeks students who demonstrate leadership potential, have a strong track record of service, and are committed to build a bright future for the island of Ireland. Notable Program alums include the Tánaiste and former Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar and prominent Stormont representatives including Claire Sugden MLA, Matthew O’Toole MLA, and Chris Lyttle MLA.
A range of business leaders, including Molly Muldoon, Senior Director at the global marketing agency Wunderman Thompson, Co-Founder and CEO of Wayflyer, Aidan Corbett, and Kieran O’Connor, Vice President of Operations at Options Technology, have also taken part in the Program.
The Class of 2021 will not travel state-side, added the release, but will engage in a hybrid program of work placements with prestigious international companies, learn from WIP’s renowned leadership development curriculum, and meet with senior global leaders in Dublin and Belfast before graduating in September.
"The diversity of the 2021 Class reflects the Program’s continued commitment to support and develop students from all backgrounds across Northern Ireland and Ireland.
"This follows the success of the Program’s first ever virtual program held last year, where 30 students graduated without setting foot in the United States. Using Zoom, students were given the exclusive opportunity to engage with leading figures in American politics including Jen O’Malley Dillon, President Joe Biden’s 2020 Campaign Manager, who is now Deputy Chief of Staff in the White House. They also spoke with Democratic Congressman Brendan Boyle, whose father is from Donegal, a member of the House Committee for Foreign Affairs and Adrian Jones, a leading figure on Wall Street and chairman of the Goldman Sachs’ global equity business.
The release added: "Recent appointments to the Board of the Washington Ireland Program, which oversees its work in Northern Ireland, Ireland, and America, include the immediate Past President of the D.C. Bar, Susan Hoffman, as Chair, and leading women in American politics and former CEOs of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Amy Dacey and Jess O’Connell as Directors. Belfast-based Women’s Sector Lobbyist, Rachel Powell, has also joined the Program’s Board.
"The 2021 Class includes students from Further Education Colleges such as the Belfast Metropolitan College and Universities across the UK and Ireland. Among this year’s Class is a Nigerian-born solicitor studying in Dublin City University, a City Councillor studying in Lancaster University, and a victim’s support campaigner studying at Queen’s University Belfast."
Bryan Patten, Executive Director of the Washington Ireland Program, said: “We are thrilled to launch the WIP Class of 2021 today, the largest and most diverse in the Program’s history. The last year has posed unprecedented challenges for our young people especially, and the disruption posed to their lives has been significant. Each of the 100-strong Class of 2021 are committed, inspirational students determined to make a positive change in their communities, and I commend them on their fantastic applications.”
“The 2021 programme will see students connect with global leaders in business, diplomacy and politics both virtually and in Dublin and Belfast. Despite being unable to travel to the United States, this year’s Class can still work for leading global companies on a remote basis, gaining invaluable experience for their future careers.
"The diverse group will also work on developing policy proposals tackling pressing issues facing Northern Ireland and Ireland. We will have some of our brightest young minds thinking about how we address division and build social cohesion, how we create employment for young people after the pandemic and how we become a global leader in climate issues.”
“This year’s Class features those from all social, economic, and cultural backgrounds and reflects the next generation of leaders on the island of Ireland. I am privileged to welcome these incredible students to the WIP community, and I look forward to see them grow over the course of a busy summer.”
Class of 2021 member, Kelly Welsh, a business student at Belfast Metropolitan College, said: “I am delighted to have been chosen for the Washington Ireland Program’s Class of 2021 and feel privileged to be joining the accomplished and diverse WIP community. What drew me to apply for WIP was the opportunity to have my voice heard on major issues both here and in the United States. I look forward to meeting and learning from my fellow classmates, and together I believe we can truly invoke change throughout our communities for the better.”
Glen McMahon, International Manager at Belfast Metropolitan College, added: “We are absolutely delighted to be the first Further Education College in Northern Ireland to be a part of the Washington Ireland Program and we are very excited to see what the future holds for our students and this outstanding partnership.”
Created in 1995, the Washington Ireland Program develops young leaders from both North and South with the end-goal of assuring peace, reconciliation, and prosperity for the island of Ireland. The Class of 2021 was made possible through support from the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington D.C., the Irish government, and a range of private supporters. More at www.wiprogram.org.