International Space Station

Summer schools give a glimpse into exciting STEM opportunities

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Here is a taste of the summer schools set to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists…

There are many activities in which one can partake when school is finally out for summer. Increasingly popular are STEM summer schools, which provide young people with a wealth of hands-on learning experiences, the chance to discover their potential future career path, and give insight into what university life actually entails – while making new friends and actually having fun. 

Mission Discovery – Space and STEM Summer School

Held in July

The Mission Discovery project provides a brilliant opportunity for secondary school students aged 14 to 18 to carry out scientific research with actual Nasa astronauts and rocket scientists.

Working in teams alongside Nasa personnel, students get to propose their own science experiments – with the winning idea eventually carried out by astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS).

“Mission Discovery gives young people the opportunity to work with astronauts, Nasa leaders and world renowned scientists,” explains Chris Barber, director, International Space School Educational Trust (ISSET).

“During the week they work in teams to undertake a programme that includes Nasa team building and leadership, the environment of space, how to create scientifically and technologically, planning, budgeting and presentation skills,” Barber continues.

“On the last day the students compete to have their ideas implemented on the ISS. The motivation and inspiration created is quite incredible.”

Among the lunar luminaries students can work alongside are ISS commander Steve Swanson, astronaut and space shuttle commander Ken Ham and Dr Michael Foale, CBE. An astrophysicist, space walker and veteran of six space shuttle missions, Foale brought the Hubble Space Telescope back to life and played a lead role in preventing the Russian Mir Space Station from rolling out of control when it was smashed by a resupply vessel.

“Mission Discovery is the most inspirational STEM and educational program that I have ever been involved with,” states Dr Foale, who has been a key player in running ISSET since retiring from Nasa in 2013.  

“By the end of a week of activities and presentations, teams of young people produce amazingly sophisticated ideas for experiments to be undertaken in space. Then a group of us have a very difficult task in selecting the experiment which, incredibly, will be carried out by real astronauts on the ISS as they orbit around the Earth.”

Mission Discovery works on a first-come first-served basis (giving everyone equal opportunity to get involved), and is held annually at Guy’s Campus, Kings College, London, and at universities in Ayrshire and Renfrewshire, Scotland, and in the Rhondda Valley, Wales.

Oxford Scholastica Academy

Held in July/August

This is a great opportunity for students aged 13 to 14 and 15 to 18 from across the world to live and study on the prestigious University of Oxford campus. Students can choose from a range of specialised courses such as engineering, computer science, law and leadership and international relations, taught by alumni and tutors from leading universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.

The Engineering Academy is especially impressive as it gives 15 to 18-year-olds the opportunity to discover and explore aerodynamics, electronics, pneumatic systems, thermodynamic cycles in engines, understand the mathematical skills which underpin engineering, and, ultimately design and build their own engine.

All courses run for two weeks and focus on one core subject. There are also four-week placements for students who want to study two disciplines. On completion of the course, attendees are awarded an Oxford Scholastica Academy Graduation Certificate.

Engineering Intelligence Summer School

Held in August

Held at The Petersfield School, Hampshire, this three-day course (which only costs £30 and is also funded for eligible students) introduces 13 to 15-year-olds to the engineering design cycle. In addition to radio and programmable control, the students are taught engineering principles that enable them to successfully design and construct a robot using specialist kits.

The course is designed to be as fun-packed as possible, so while working in teams becoming fully immersed in building and competing their robots, young people will hopefully be inspired to follow the many fantastic career opportunities that engineering and technology subjects offer. Plus they each get to go home with their very own robotics kit.

Cambridge SciSearch

Held in August/September

This two-week residential experience at the world-renowned Jesus College, University of Cambridge, allows 16 to 19 year-old students to gain an insight into life as an undergraduate science student at the university. The combination of lectures, small group seminars and hands-on practical experiences are based on current undergraduate degrees at Cambridge. In addition, the course also offers practice interviews and personal statement advice.

It’s also a pretty luxurious affair: all academic and university support material required for the duration of the programme is provided, and after studies, lectures and seminars in subjects such as engineering, biology, chemistry, maths and computer science, and IT (taught by leading Cambridge and Oxford academics) – students also get to hang-out in private ensuite accommodation in a Cambridge University college. There’s also fun stuff like weekend excursions to Oxford and London, lavish formal dinners and punting on the River Cam. Oh, and not forgetting the all-important graduation ceremony, certificate and celebration dinner.

University of Glasgow International Summer School

Held in June/July

This specialist course is specifically for students currently enrolled at an international higher education institution. Among the many subjects on offer are maths, physics, bioscience for global health, functional anatomy and essential genetics.

Aside from tuition, the fees include airport pick-ups and accommodation – which comprises a private bedroom in a fully furnished self-contained flat in Glasgow’s West End. Students share with four or five others providing a great opportunity to make new friends – and given it’s self-catering, they may even learn how to cook!

Another bonus is that each course bags credits for future degree courses undertaken at the university.

Design Triathlon Residential Summer School

Held in July

Hosted by the University of Southampton, the Design Triathlon is a free residential course for UK Year 12 students interested in studying engineering at university – specifically by introducing them to aeronautics and astronautics, ship science and mechanical engineering.

Aside from talks, workshops and seminars from staff in the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment that provide invaluable insight into the careers and opportunities that an engineering degree can provide, students also get hands-on experience; working in teams designing and building a glider, a Greenpower car and a fast craft for water.

Participants live in university halls of residence and are mentored by current undergraduate and postgraduate students, which gives them a unique opportunity to discover the ins and outs of university life.

Summer School, Imperial College, London

Held in July/August

London’s Imperial College hosts summer schools for different categories of students; under 18s, undergraduates and postgraduates. The under-18 summer schools, centred specifically around all things STEM, range from two-week residential courses for international students to residential courses for UK Years 9 to 12.

For example, Year 9 girls can sign up for a four-day course to explore the breadth of engineering disciplines available at Imperial. Working in groups and supported by undergraduate mentors, participants tackle a range of engineering challenges, using maths, physics, chemistry and biology. 

Year 12s can get a taster of engineering at university, trying subjects they may never have previously considered. Working in project groups over a week, students embark on a practical investigation, with plenty of support and mentorship from Imperial College undergraduates.

Double bonus: all summer school courses are fully funded by Imperial’s Faculty of Engineering (travel not included). 

The college also offers Year 12 students one-week work placements across six of its research departments: electrical and electronic engineering, life sciences, materials, mechanical engineering, National Heart and Lung Institute, and physics. Given Imperial College is ranked among the ‘top 10 best universities in the world’, this work placement programme is definitely not to be passed up!


Sadly it’s too late to apply for this year’s summer schools, but for those interested in taking part in summer 2018, the majority of applications open in the new year.

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