By @SimonCocking

Interview with Colleen Dube @DubeColleen CEO Uversity, Making the seemingly impossible possible, bringing innovation and collaboration to arts, culture, creativity and education.

Uversity what is it? How does it work?

Uversity is a Recognised College of the National University of Ireland, a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee. Uversity recruits and admits international students for a Master of Arts in Creative Process, which is personalised, mentor-supported, learning experience.

During the twelve month program they enrol on courses in Art, Design, Drama, Dance, Music, Literature, Culture, Creative Writing, Creative Technologies and Cinema and Broadcast Arts offered by our 24 partner institutions on the island of Ireland.  In addition to the course work, students spend time making art,  interacting with Ireland’s artistic and cultural community and completing a final project.  Further information is available here.

What stage is it at now?

Uversity is still evolving.  The idea was first proposed at the Global Economic Forum in 2009.  There was a period of research and consultation that took place before Uversity was established in 2012.  The Masters program was then developed and recognition for it and Uversity was then sought and granted from the National University of Ireland.  In 2014 we welcomed our first 6 students; 4 from the US, 1 from Serbia and 1 from Brazil.  They are currently completing their final creative projects.

Later this summer 11 new Uversity students (9 Americans and 2 Brazilian) will arrive in Ireland.  From September we will be actively marketing Uversity and the MA in Ireland and internationally with trips planned to the US and Brazil and a series of events here in Ireland in November 2015 to coincide with this year’s Forum and International Education Week.

Your background, how did you end up doing what do you now?

I grew up in the US and had the privilege of fantastic teachers and an illuminating liberal arts undergraduate experience at Drew University in New Jersey.  From an early age I was passionate about learning, the arts particularly music and what we now call experiential learning / social engagement / justice.  I just knew it as learning by doing and giving back.

While doing my undergraduate degree in art history, American Studies and Museum Studies, I had unrivalled opportunities to work in museums and galleries, write about and teach art / cultural studies and use computers / email / intranet before most undergraduates did.  Drew was actually the first US university to give computers to its incoming students.  It planted a seed in my head about the potential for technology, education and art to be connected.

When I graduated from college during the 1980s recession, I came to Ireland for the third time to visit family and something struck me about the immediacy of art and culture.  I was hooked and wanted to come back.  So in 1990 I did come back – for 3 months or so I told my mum – having deferred a Phd at Columbia.  25 years later I am still here.

For the first few years I lived, worked and studied for a MPhil in Irish Studies in Galway – determined to break into the Irish arts / cultural world.  It was the real immigrant experience – working full-time at 2 or 3 jobs, studying full-time and trying to get a foot in the door to Ireland’s arts scene.

I got some breaks doing free-lance work for RTE (thanks Mike Murphy), writing for local newspapers (thanks Olaf Tyrannsen then editor of the Word) and volunteering with the Galway Arts Centre (thanks to the late Mike Diskin).  Then in 1993 the last public sector embargo was lifted and I applied for (along with 271 other candidates) a job in the National Museum of Ireland and amazingly got it. Thanks Pat Cooke for encouraging the National Museum to do the right thing not the safe thing!

During my four formative years with the National Museum I was involved in the development of Collins Barracks and the passage of the National Cultural Institutions Act.  My commitment to Ireland’s arts and culture led me to become Chair of the Irish Museums Association and Member of the Heritage Council’s Museums & Archives Committee.

From 1998 to joining Uversity in June I have held various positions in the public and private sector but have had a consistent mission to make Ireland’s arts, culture and educational opportunities accessible virtually or actually to all.  This led me to proposing an idea to the government for a digital portal for Ireland’s cultural institutions that resulted in www.inspiring-ireland.ie being launched in March 2014 and winning 3 e-government awards in 2015.

Uversity is the perfect place for me to capitalise on all my experience in education, arts and culture to make an unique contribution to Ireland’s higher education and cultural landscape.

Art, creativity, technology. How is it going bringing innovation and collaboration to the arts?

Art, creativity, technology are profoundly inter-related.  We are hearing a huge amount about the need for more creativity in our graduates and in our work places.  It’s there, it’s just not necessarily harnessed as much as it could be.  Technology is developed and enabled because of creativity and art is enabled and empowered from creativity and technology.  There is huge scope for art and creativity to be embedded and enjoined with other disciplines to create what is called STEAM.  A great example of that is what the Science Gallery has been doing internationally with artistic interpretations of science & technology subjects.

Perhaps for me the real area to be explored is how can technology enables the creation, collaboration and communication of arts and culture.  This is an area I hope we will develop in the future with Uversity not only how our students use technology in their creative / artistic practice but how we may provide educational programs in the creative technologies space or develop e-learning services and content particularly content that interactively conveys Ireland’s rich cultural heritage.

How was last 12 months, what went well?

It’s been a whirlwind of a year both professionally and personally.  The launch and recognition of Inspiring-Ireland was amazingly rewarding. I was able to collaborate with like minded colleagues and the Irish government to realise an idea that I had for more than 2 decades.  I look forward to seeing how it can be further developed and its full educational and commercial potential realised.

Being invited to join Uversity at such a critical time in its development and Ireland’s recovery presents a tremendous opportunity and to be honest sense of responsibility to Ireland’s educational institutions who are our partners, Ireland’s cultural legacy and landscape and our current and future students.

All that was going on while we moved house.

Anything you’d do differently?

Cannot say there is as I’m a firm believer in not asking What if? But why not?

Plans for the future with Uversity?

There are some immediate plans to hire a Communications Manager, finalise the MA program for next year and develop and implement our Marketing Strategy.  The more medium / long range plans are to explore other educational programs and services and to ensure Uversity’s long term viability.  I am having lots of conversations with potential collaborators and contributors so always willing to share ideas and experience.

You are active on twitter, how has it helped you?

I love researching and reaching out so Twitter is great tool to find people to collaborate and communication with, in the first instance virtually and then actually.  It also is a great way to get new ideas, facts, figures and information.  And most importantly it helped us reconnect!

Girls in tech, in Ireland CoderDojo is doing well, with a good % of girls involved. Does this help feed into your initiative / encourage you?

As an employer and educator yes as they will create a new technology savvy generation.  As a mom of 2 young girls one of whom who loves her technology they are fantastic initiatives.  I had the opportunity to meet Laura Boyle at a coding workshop one Saturday and she’s an inspiration to us all – to be creative, capable, connected and confident!

Being a user of social media, how do you manage life / work, and online / offline balance?

As a working mom there aren’t enough hours in the day to maintain / monitor all the possible channels / media.  I tend to concentrate on Twitter and LinkedIn, professionally.  Personally, we have a conscious family policy not to have devices in the car / at meal times or at bed time but it’s hard, particularly when they are your source of news and entertainment.

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