A STRABANE student is hoping her dreams of becoming a human rights barrister are a step closer to reality after she became the first young person from Ireland to be awarded a special scholarship from the Lord Mayor of the City of London.
Megan Edwards impressed the judges of the Mansion House Scholarship Scheme with her passion for human and civil rights. Over 180 scholarships have been awarded over the past 21 years, with scholars selected in 66 countries from across the world. But Megan is the first recipient from these shores to receive the esteemed award.
Like many young people the Strabane student isn’t where she expected to be this year. Coronavirus has meant a diversion in her plans to study for the Post Graduate Bar Practice Course at Northumbria University in Newcastle. Instead Megan is back at home with her parents Kate and Mickey and her younger siblings, where she continues her studies, something that while unexpected, has given her the opportunity to spend some quality time with her family.
Despite the deviation from her plans, Megan’s sights remain firmly on success and an ambition born from her experiences growing up in Northern Ireland.
Megan explained, “After I left Strabane Academy, I headed to Queen’s University in Belfast where I initially opted to study medicine. After a year I realised it wasn’t the career path I really wanted to follow, and because of my strong interest in civil and human rights I realised I was drawn to law. So I changed to a degree in law, and went on to complete my Masters in 2020. I was also lucky enough to be awarded the James MacQuitty Scholarship, which allowed me to extend my studies beyond undergraduate level.
“When I was at Queen’s I was involved in the Widening Participation Unit (WPU) as a student assistant, which gave me the opportunity to work with a team dedicated to helping younger students gain access to education and realise their ambitions. The unit enables those who are ‘most able but least likely’ aspire to higher education and fulfil their potential, regardless of background, and it was such a rewarding experience. My supervisor from the unit actually initially contacted me about the Mansion House Scholarship so I submitted an application and was called for interview in July.”
Megan impressed the judges not only with her academic achievements, but with her active role in student life and her belief in initiating change through the law. She secured a scholarship of £10,000 which is now covering the cost of her post-graduate Bar Practice Course (BPC) with the Northumbria University.
Under normal circumstances Megan would be studying at the university, and the scholarship would also cover the costs associated with completing ten qualifying sessions with an Inn of Court in London. Instead Megan is making the most of her time at home, and looking ahead to the future.
“My plans have definitely had to change and it is a pity I’m missing out on some of the opportunities the scholarship would normally present,” she admits. “But it’s still a fantastic scheme and one that I’m really making the most of.
“Normally I would be travelling to London and meeting up with the other scholars, some of whom are from Mexico and one each from Nigeria and from India, which obviously isn’t possible at the moment. We’ve had meetings over Zoom and I had an online meeting with the Irish Society Trustees, which was really interesting. I’m hoping I’ll have other networking opportunities before the scholarship year ends.
“In the meantime I’m enjoying the time at home. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and study abroad and obviously I’ve been living away from home for a number of years now. So this is the first time I’ve been able to enjoy living at home as an adult and really spend time with my family,” Megan explained.
“Since I was a child growing up in Strabane I’ve always been socially aware and fascinated by the civil rights history of our country.
“That has been ingrained in me and I suppose most people who grow up here. I really want to channel that interest and passion into making a difference by pursuing a career in human rights and I’ve been so lucky so far.
“I realise that this wouldn’t have been possible without the support I’ve received through these scholarships, and it makes me even more determined to do well in recognition of the belief people have shown in me.”
The Mansion House Scholarship is supported by Livery Company donations and other donors in the City of London who also offer mentoring opportunities to recipients.
It’s hoped in the coming months Megan will be able to avail of some of these opportunities and the Mayor Brian Tierney, is also planning to host a reception for the talented student when the restrictions allow.
Mayor Tierney said Megan was a fantastic ambassador for the district and a great example to other young people with similar ambitions.
“It’s always so encouraging to see young people fulfilling their potential. Megan is a great example of someone who is making the most of the opportunities that are out there to realise her ambitions.
“I know she will be a strong advocate for human rights and I hope when she has completed her studies Megan chooses to pursue a career in human rights law closer to home where there is still much to be done to tackle social injustice and promote positive change. I look forward to welcoming Megan and her family to the Guildhall to extend my personal congratulations at the earliest opportunity,” he added.