It's not your average school holiday, but for high school students from south west Sydney it was an opportunity too good to pass up.
The University of Technology Sydney's U@Uni Summer School program has been welcoming students onto campus for the past eight years and giving them an opportunity to have a real university experience.
From creating an animation, to investigating a crime scene, to delivering a (mannequin) baby, nearly 200 students were mentored by UTS academics, students and industry professionals over the two-week program exploring business, science investigation, media production, design, engineering, information technology and health. The experience culminated in a traditional university graduation ceremony for friends and family.
"Many of these students may never have considered university study as an achievable option," says Director of UTS Equity & Diversity Unit Tracie Conroy. "In fact, around 80 per cent of the students would be the first in their family to pursue a tertiary education. It's therefore an opportunity to build aspiration and make the idea of university feel less daunting."
The students are further supported throughout their senior high school years and regularly invited back to UTS for workshops, events and info sessions to help boost their enthusiasm for HSC study and to set positive, informed goals for their higher education.
Jack Ho from Cabramatta High School says more high school students should have access to these kinds of programs. "It shapes your perspective on how uni is. You get to go outside of your environment and see all the opportunities that you can hold."
Gloria Aranda-Spinazze of Fairvale High School learnt what goes into making a film as part of the media production activity. "My impression of university before was very bland, like it'd be Year 12 all over again. But now it's changed. I think uni is more free and relaxing and less controlled. At the same time it's a lot of work – but it's very focussed work."
Data collection from last year's summer school program found that more than 93 per cent of participants agreed the experience had helped them to understand what university life is like, with 98 per cent saying it had encouraged them to pursue higher education.
Grant Odei, Head Teacher Technological and Applied Studies (TAS) at Granville Boys High School, has been an engineering and IT mentor for the UTS program for the past seven years. He says the enthusiasm shown by the students motivates him to return each year.
"It's quite simple for me; I teach and serve a community which stands to benefit significantly from programs like this. My own approach to teaching has shifted from a more traditional style of teaching to the summer school's more innovative approach, where the emphasis is on fun, challenges and engagement. I basically try to replicate this back at Granville Boys High School.
"I look forward to being part of summer school each year because of the long-term benefits it affords our students. The delight and sense of accomplishment they gain throughout the two-week period tells the whole story of the program."