Abbie McKenna, Advance HE’s Head of Membership (Ireland) has been awarded an MBE in The Queen’s Birthday honours in recognition her outstanding service to higher education.
Abbie began working in higher education in Northern Ireland in 2003, taking on a role as Programme Manager at Ulster University. Over the last 16 years, she has undertaken a variety of roles in Ulster University focused on supporting access to education, both through online study programmes and work based provision for employers. Laterally much of the work was focused on how to support and engage learners in the regional skills agenda through sustainable education initiatives, collaborative partnerships and representing higher education at local council economic and community planning forums.
In 2011, Abbie’s third child and only daughter was born, and at 10 days old the family found out she was deaf. It was at this point Abbie started to search for information and support for the family. Katie’s deafness has led Abbie to set up a local charity, ‘The Newtownabbey Hearing Hub’, along with other parents of deaf children. In 2014, she secured National Lottery funding for an outreach project in collaboration with Auditory Verbal UK. The Belfast Project https://www.avuk.org/belfast-project enabled a small number of deaf children in Northern Ireland to avail of auditory verbal therapy, a service available in England but not in Northern Ireland. The project not only supported deaf children, but also enabled professionals to attend learning sessions, thereby offering a sustainable solution for the province. The project was a National Lottery Awards finalist in 2017.
Abbie’s belief in the transformative effect of higher education, the under representation of deaf young people in HE and parental hopes led her to combine her service to higher education with her service to deaf children. In 2015 she launched a collaborative project with Action Deaf Youth and Ulster University. The ‘Getting AHEAD’ project delivered an open evening specifically for deaf young people and their parents, ensuring that BSL interpreters were available and captioned presentations were given. A video showcasing this event is available on YouTube.
Commenting on her award, Abbie said, “When I initially received the letter in the post, I thought I was being called for jury service as the front of the envelope states ‘On Her Majesty’s Service’. On opening, I read then re-read, then read it again through tears. I was and still am completely overwhelmed and humbled on receiving an MBE.
“I am a ‘first in family’ graduate from higher education, so to be recognised for service to higher education is incredible, the additional recognition for service to deaf children is just amazing. The work I have undertaken both personally and professionally has always been done to ‘make things better’, and never about recognition, but on this occasion I am delighted to be recognised in this way.”
Alison Johns, Chief Executive of Advance HE, said, “I am sure I speak for everybody at Advance HE, and indeed for all her colleagues in the sector, in offering our sincere congratulations to Abbie on her outstanding award. It’s wonderful that her tireless and dedicated work has been publically recognised. It’s a great day for her and her family; and I am sure her daughter Katie is particularly proud of her mother’s achievements.”
Abbie moved from Ulster University to Advance HE in January 2019, where as Head of Membership in Ireland, she supports higher education institutions on the island of Ireland in enhancing organisational performance and developing people.
Also honoured is the Chair of Advance HE Board and UAL’s Vice-Chancellor, Nigel Carrington, who has been awarded a knighthood . The award is made for his "pivotal role in higher education and in the rise of the creative industries since 2008."
The award citation "recognises UAL’s sustained growth under his leadership to become a leading global institution in its field and a key part of London’s creative success."
Sir Nigel is also recognised for his sector leadership as founding chair of Advance HE and as founding director of the Creative Industries Federation, for his extensive charitable activities including chairman of the Henry Moore Foundation, and for his work on official government reviews.