Behind the scenes: Imperial’s outreach summer schools


A group of Year 12 summer school students looking at a display

Imperial offers a range of outreach summer schools aimed at young people from underrepresented backgrounds.

Among the many outreach activities offered by Imperial, summer schools are designed to give young people from underrepresented backgrounds a taste of higher education and university life and are tailored for students aged 13 – 18. They form a key part of Imperial’s Access and Participation Plan [pdf]. Over 400 students took part in programmes this year, with the largest taking place over two weeks in July run in partnership with the Sutton Trust. An additional 200 students attended non-residential summer schools like STEM Potential, STEM Futures and Pathways to Medicine.  

The summer schools’ success relies on input from colleagues across Imperial. We spoke to the staff behind the scenes who make them a reality.

Cherelle Allen, Outreach Summer Schools Coordinator, explains how she liaises with many different teams and what motivates her in her role. Dariusz Duszynski, postgraduate research student in the Department of Physics, shares his full circle journey from being a participant on one of the summer schools to now leading sessions in his subject. DeeJay Kistnah, Teaching Technician in the Department of Chemistry, told us how rewarding it is to be able to offer students the opportunity to get into science. We also hear from Daniela Nicosia, Group Accommodation Executive in Commercial Operations, who works closely with the Outreach team to organise accommodation for students over the summer.  

Cherelle Allen - Outreach Summer Schools Coordinator, Outreach 

Cherelle AllenThere is something hugely fulfilling about working with so many different teams across Imperial to make the outreach summer schools happen. Everyone who is a part of the process along the way is helping to make a big difference to the young people and their families.   

We work with so many colleagues, from our student ambassadors, academics and technicians who have direct contact with the participants, to ICT who work with colleagues to set up the virtual learning environment where the students save their work and access resources, to Community Safety and Support who come and speak to the participants on the first day about safety.  

Our aim is to give the students the best experience we possibly can so that they can walk away and decide whether they want to go to university – at Imperial or elsewhere (though we always hope they will choose us!).     

The transformation you see in the participants over the course of their short time with us is what makes everything worthwhile. Our Data and Evaluation team tracks our participants' educational journeys after attending one of our programmes. Whilst there is still lots of work to do in widening access to higher education, it’s great to see the statistics moving in the right direction. It is particularly fulfilling when you get to be a part of their journey after the summer school, too. We’ve got ambassadors who previously attended an outreach programme now starting their PhDs and wanting to lead summer school sessions – you can read Dariusz’s story below! It’s so exciting to see this full circle moment and the impact attending one of our summer schools can have on an individual.   

We actively encourage former participants who enrol at Imperial to join the Student Ambassador Scheme. In doing so, we are building a community of diverse people at Imperial who are great role models and passionate about keeping the door open for the next generation and championing widening participation.   

As a former first-generation student, I have personal experience of learning to navigate the weird world of higher education. Although my health impacted my schooling a lot, I was lucky to have lots of support from my sixth form and went on to study a degree that I loved. In the final year of my degree, in a Psychology in Education module, I started considering a career in education and its transformative power beyond my personal experiences. 

Dariusz Duszynski – postgraduate research student, Department of Physics

Dariusz DuszynskiLike the kids at the summer schools, I came from a background where I wouldn’t typically go into higher education, and I took part in an Imperial outreach programme – STEM Potential. That’s how I found out about university and how I was introduced to Imperial.  

I wanted to give back to the community by becoming an Outreach Ambassador and help more people along the same path that I took. Every summer since first year I’ve been a mentor at the summer schools.  
It's really fun seeing people surprised by how interesting science can be when there are demonstrations and good explanations, because often that won't always be the case in school.  

Now I’m a PhD student, I’ve signed up to become an Outreach Leader (Academic Lead) at the summer schools. I’m looking forward to getting more experience teaching in outreach and to being able to put my own spin on activities for the students.  

I'll definitely take the chance to talk about some of my research in the areas of physics beyond the GCSE syllabus. I first took an interest in physics when I took part in STEM Potential because I had a great academic lead who showed us their research and it was so much more interesting than what we were learning in school. It was a glimpse into higher education and university level physics. 

My experience at the summer schools and what I found interesting all those years ago has very much influenced my educational and academic journey. I found space really interesting as well as the practical side of physics. I chose as many practical modules as I could during my degree and did my Master's in laboratory astrophysics.  

The science you do at GCSE and A level just doesn’t compare to university. At university you’re surrounded by people who are passionate about science and new research that is happening right now. To anyone thinking of applying to an Imperial summer school, it’s definitely worthwhile to experience science at this level. 

DeeJay Kistnah - Teaching Technician, Department of Chemistry 

DeeJay KistnahWhen I first started at Imperial, 16 years ago, I remember asking how I could get involved with outreach. I’ve been working closely with the Outreach team for a long time and enjoy working with them on the summer schools.  

In my role I help with the logistics including setting up the physical chemistry laboratories ready for classes. We prep the lab with the equipment needed for the various tasks they’ll be doing. I also teach and help out with experiments in the Reach Out Lab.  

I'm a big believer in helping out those who don't have a science background but want to get into science. Often they’re unable to because they come from inner-city schools without access to facilities like ours, the kind of schools I went to, where not everyone gets to go to university.  

I enjoy encouraging the kids to apply themselves. It’s really rewarding when I see students who later come to study Imperial and end up in my classes.  

My job as Teaching Technician in the Department of Chemistry involves facilitating education for undergraduate students in physical chemistry. I don't get bored as it's always challenging but rewarding. I like seeing people progress – it’s nice to see students return to do PhDs or outreach mentors. One PhD student of mine is now the academic in charge of the chemistry lab – I remember her as a first-year undergraduate! 

Daniela Nicosia - Group Accommodation Executive, Commercial Operations 

Daniela NicosiaI coordinate the accommodation for Imperial’s summer schools, including allocating rooms which is a big responsibility. The kids are under 18, so we need to follow our safeguarding policy and make sure rooms are allocated together as needed.  

I work closely with the Outreach team. As an internal client, they make repeat bookings each year so we do our best to accommodate their requests. We’re already working on the bookings for summer 2024. 

My background is in hospitality, and I’m used to working with corporate clients, so I find working on the summer schools really fun. You can tell the students are both excited and nervous – often it’s their first visit to London.  
Alongside Imperial’s outreach summer schools, our accommodation is used by other educational groups and residential conferences over the summer period. My first day on the job was actually the first day of the summer accommodation period in July 2022. It was quite intense! 

It’s a team effort to coordinate accommodation over the summer. I work with the operational team on the ground who manage receptions, hall supervisors, and the Conference and Events team. Sharing information is key – my hospitality experience is really valuable for operations and handling clients and guests.  


Beth Lloyd

Beth Lloyd
Communications Division


Equality, Outreach, Comms-strategy-Inclusive-community
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