Queen's University Belfast student Kevin Toner has been named Study USA Student of the Year.
The 22-year-old Computer Science student spent a year studying business at Hastings College, Nebraska and in the future, hopes to use the experience to set up his own software business.
Kevin, who is originally from Magherafelt, was among 50 students from Northern Ireland to successfully graduate from the programme and was honoured at a graduation ceremony at the Harbour Commissioner’s Office in Belfast recently.
Study USA is managed by British Council Northern Ireland on behalf of the Department for the Economy and since its formation in 1994, the initiative has sent over 2000 students from Northern Ireland to all four corners of the United States where they have successfully completed a year studying business or business and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) at one of 140 institutions.
Kevin was named Student of the Year after achieving top academic marks and for an essay highlighting how the experience has helped further his employability. This year’s award - which was sponsored by First Derivatives - saw fellow Queen’s University Belfast students, Kathryn White and Thomas Moore, named runners-up.
Speaking about the award, Kevin said: “During my time on Study USA I tried to say ‘Yes’ to everything - stepping outside my comfort zone and maximising every opportunity that came my way.
“Taking up business has made me a high achiever in a new subject area, and I was able to combine this with sport, leisure and charity activities. I have shown adaptability and resilience as well as building team-working, presenting and communication skills, all in a new environment.
“My year in the US has transformed me into a confident, resilient individual who views the world as a small place full of wonderful diversity and opportunities and I would encourage others to pursue Study USA.”
The graduation event also saw the programme celebrate its 25th anniversary. Initially known as the Business Education Initiative (BEI), Study USA was set up in 1994 to aid the Northern Ireland peace process - with the White House providing an endorsement for the programme in 1995 in a letter written by President Bill Clinton.
Commending the programme was Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland.
He said: “Congratulations to Kevin and all of this year's Study USA graduates. Year on year we find that those who take part in the programme not only enhance their employability skills but also develop important intercultural skills, which help them to prepare to work in a global economy.
“Throughout its 25-year history Study USA has enabled students to become great ambassadors for Northern Ireland and helped strengthen cultural, economic and educational links and connections between the two countries. I wish this year’s graduates every success as they join this growing influential network of alumni from the programme.
Students interested in applying for the Study USA 20-21 programme can now apply online at http://nireland.britishcouncil.org. Students can opt to study business and/ or STEM subjects and the deadline for applications for Higher Education Institutions is Monday, November 11 2019 and for Further Education Institutions - Monday, January 20 2020 at 12 noon.