Here comes the summer -- and kids are going off to college
Short holiday courses in interesting topics give school pupils a taste of university life
Miles of smiles: Trinity students can be introduced to courses they may not have traditionally considered
Summer may be coming for school students, but many of them are barely taking a breath before plunging into more study.
Hundreds of students are signing up for short courses or summer camps at universities, learning anything from how to make a mobile phone to forensic science and car design.
The days when older school students could simply pop along to their local garage or supermarket to get a summer job may be numbered.
Instead, many are occupying themselves in other ways.
The courses have become particularly popular in subject areas such as science, engineering and computing.
The colleges see them as a way of promoting their courses and attracting top students. Some of the courses are quick one-day samplers, while others last for weeks.
Director of Marketing and Communications at NUI Galway, Caroline Loughnane, said: "Summer schools are an excellent opportunity for prospective students to get a real taste of university life and to enjoy a wide range of hands-on, practical activities.
"They help students to navigate their way through the maze of third-level courses now on offer, and give them a good insight into what it's really like to study a subject at university".
NUI Galway is hosting a series of summer schools for interested students throughout June. Like most summer university courses they are aimed at fifth year, transition year and Leaving Cert students who might still be sizing up their college options.
Among the NUI Galway activities is the computing and IT summer camp in June where students learn to build their own robots, direct a mini-movie, and design web sites.
Robots are also on the menu at a summer programme organised by the Trinity College School of Engineering. The programme is targeted at a number of girls' schools.
The main aim of the engineering activities is to encourage more girls to study the subject.
"There is a gender imbalance in engineering and we are keen to address that,'' said Trinity lecturer Kevin Kelly.
"If you ask many people what engineering involves their idea is often quite narrow -- and they often think of building bridges.
"We want to show how broad the profession is.
"It can involve anything from designing mobiles to healthcare products.''
During the Trinity programme, the students are given hands-on experience in areas such as building and testing model aeroplanes, measuring force in an athlete's running shoe, and the use of high-speed cameras.
Siva Kakac of Our Lady's School, Terenure, Dublin, who was among those attending last year's engineering programme at Trinity, said: "The course seemed like a good opportunity to try and figure out what I wanted to do in the future.
"I learned a lot. Engineering is definitely something I'll consider in the future."
Iseult O'Donnell, of Santa Sabina school, Sutton, Dublin, said: "The most interesting thing was a Powerpoint presentation I had to prepare on car engines. I now have a newfound interest in the subject."
For those interested in chemistry, Trinity College offers a week-long event where secondary students take part in a joint course with school students from the Bristol area.
As well as taking in research projects in the labs at Trinity, the students fly over to England to continue their course at the University of Bristol.
Few programmes have the same range of courses available for school-age as the Centre for Talented Youth, based at Dublin City University.
It includes science, engineering, law, psychology and Japanese.
Its summer programmes, and indeed the courses that run through the year, are aimed at students of high academic ability. The centre has courses for both primary and second-level students, and some of its courses are being held at locations around the country.
"The whole point of the centre is that very able students themselves can have special needs, and need to be intellectually stimulated,'' said the director Dr Colm O'Reilly.
"If they are not challenged at school it can damage their prospects.
"If they don't get support they may decide that they don't want to stand out. They can even be disruptive.''
Dr O'Reilly said many of the courses were pitched at the level of first-year university programmes.
Unusually for a university-based course, it also has a vast range of courses for primary-school children.
The centre recently held a course on the Harry Potter books.
Mostly taught by the children's writer Claire Hennessy, it included a talk by Evanna Lynch, the actor who played the character Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films.
"The course was aimed at those with a good knowledge of the books. It gave the students the chance to analyse them in detail.''
Lynch herself studied fiction and drama on a summer programme at the centre three years ago.