Northern Ireland college explores exchange opportunities

By Bryan Richardson

A series of fortunate events led to the visit of a delegation from Northern Regional College in Northern Ireland to K-State this week. The visit is an early step in a developing collaboration that will involve the College of Human Ecology in such areas as hospitality and tourism, sport, conflict resolution, community development and engagement, and counseling.

“We’re thrilled to have our guests from Northern Ireland visit with us for the exploration of our commonalities and strengths,” said Jeannie Sneed, head of the K-State Hospitality Management and Dietetics department.

Trevor Neilands, principal and chief executive of Northern Regional College, said the visit to Kansas is the starting point for exchanging students and faculty. That visit included a tour of the Colbert Hills Golf Course.

“We came over here to continue our discussions on how we can collaborate to give our students and K-State students new avenues in terms of international opportunities,” he said.

The first fortunate event involved Terri McCants, conflict resolution program director at K-State. She had been taking the program’s students on study tours to Northern Ireland since 2005, coordinating with the University of Ulster.

McCants said her interest in the country started as a graduate student with her faculty adviser, who is from Northern Ireland and later gave her contacts to Northern University that began the tours.

“When we talked about Northern Ireland in so many conflict resolution examples, it piqued my interest,” she said, referring to “The Troubles.”

The Troubles is a period from the late 1960s to 1998 marked by the latest outbreak of the struggle between the Protestant unionist community, which wanted Northern Ireland to remain with the United Kingdom, and the Catholic nationalist community, which wanted the country to reunite with Ireland.

The second fortunate event involved the meeting of McCants and Colin Noble, owner of the local Holiday Inn, as fellow members of the K-State’s Friends of International Programs. Noble is from Northern Ireland; he came to the U.S. in 1991 to create Noble Hospitality, which operates hotels and restaurants nationwide.

Noble maintains connections in both countries. He said it is satisfying to help connect the two countries through this avenue. “Helping point people in the right direction, I was able to shorten their time for them,” he said.

During the latest study tour, McCants met Gerry Gilpin, chair of Northern Regional College’s governing body, with whom Noble has a connection.

Gilpin is also a part of the Northern Regional College delegation. Also involved was Catherine O’Mullan, director of curriculum.

The local hosts include Virginia Moxley, dean of K-State’s College of Human Ecology, Sneed, McCants and Noble.

Neilands said plans include a K-State delegation to visit Ireland in May and students from the college interning at the Holiday Inn, which Noble operates, during the summer.

This summer will also be the first time KSU’s conflict resolution program is sending a student to be hosted by NRC, fulfilling an international service learning opportunity.

Noble said this latest step in the relationship with Northern Ireland will help hospitality and tourism students as they learn about how hotels operate in a different country.

“They get an awful lot of guests from America,” he said. “If they come here, they can know what Americans expect.”

The delegation and their K-State hosts also visited Johnson County Community College and K-State Olathe.

Sneed said the community college’s hospitality management and culinary program was a particular interest.

McCants said the connection between K-State and Johnson County Community College and Northern Regional College and the University of Ulster could be fruitful. The Northern Ireland delegation is leaving Saturday.

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