Development & Alumni Relations Office 

ZOOM DINNER TO BENEFIT QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY PATHWAY OPPORTUNITY PROGRAMME  Group of six students outside the School of Music at Queen's considering the best pathway to take

13 November 2020

A Queen's widening participation initiative which benefits those local students who are most able but least likely to attend university is to get a boost from a virtual fundraiser championed by Belfast's tech community under the umbrella of the Belfast Tech Alliance. 

Proceeds from the city's first virtual fundraiser Zoom Wine Dinner on 11 December will go towards the Pathway Opportunity Programme, which is offered to 16-19 year-old students by the University’s Widening Participation Unit (WPU). Queen’s has increased the number of young people receiving support from the scheme from 12 to 105 in a short couple of years.

Established in 2013, the WPU comprises the Junior Academy, the Senior Academy and, more recently, the Pathway Opportunity Programme. WP students may include young people who are in secondary education and colleges, students who have disabilities, care leavers or adult learners.

The Senior Academy and Pathway Opportunity programmes target young people who have the ability to attend university, but who are least likely to progress to higher education, and provides support to enable them to fulfil their potential.

Serving up the sumptuous fare will be celebrity chef Niall McKenna of James St while the wines will be travelling half-way around the world from Hunter's Winery in New Zealand which was established back in 1979 by Ernie and Jane Hunter from Belfast. The couple's nephew James McDonald will be 'Zooming' into the dinner from the New Zealand vineyard to chat with dinner guests. 

Sponsors of the fundraiser include Belfast tech pioneers UnosquareAflacHanweck Technology, Anaeko and Options

Mexico-based Giancarlo Di Vece, CEO of Unosquare said:

“We think it's crucial to give more young people the opportunity to pursue a career in tech and through the Pathway Programme, Queen's supports the student while still at school, gives them academic assistance when they go to Uni and provides a bursary through every year of their study.

“That's the sort of transformative help which can make it possible for someone from a household under economic pressure to get a degree in tech."

That view was echoed by Mark McCormack, Head of Technology with Aflac NI who said:

“Aflac Northern Ireland is delighted to be involved in this initiative driven by the Belfast Tech Alliance to raise funds for the Queen’s Pathway Opportunity Programme.

“This is a great way to support education for all, during these challenging times.  We look forward to this exciting event.”

The Community Foundation NI has agreed to match funds raised from the dinner if it reaches its £10k target, providing a £20k fillip to this vital fund.

Danny Moore, CEO of Options and one of the tech leaders raising a glass to the initiative added:

"There is no shortage of tech vacancies in Belfast for talented, motivated young people so making it possible for greater numbers to access a tech degree makes sense for the tech sector, is great for Queen's and is a boon to Belfast.

“That's why we're delighted to back this unique fundraiser."

Already a phenomenon in the US where Belfast Ambassador and restaurateur Francis Schott has pioneered the concept, the Zoom Dinner brings guests together from their homes to enjoy their meal in the company of the chef and winemaker. Meals and wine are delivered to each guest on the day of the event. 

Full details are available online; a limited number of VIP tickets will include a bottle of Hennessy Cognac, courtesy of Northern Irish expat in the Big Apple Jim Clerkin. Tickets are also available from Eventbrite.

For further information on supporting the Pathway Opportunity Programme at Queen’s please contact Sorcha Mac Laimhin, Development Manager (Major Gifts) on telephone: +44 (0) 746 957 1872.

For general enquiries about this story, or to submit a graduate news item, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen’s University Belfast.

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