NEW ORLEANS —Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, four New Orleans high school juniors have learned that they earned an all-expenses-paid, two-week summer scholarship to study at the University College Dublin.

To win the scholarship trip, the students were asked to write a 500-word essay on the connections between Ireland and New Orleans, said Dermot Moloney, board member of Irish Network-New Orleans, the group that sponsored the contest.

The connections are many, Moloney said, from the Irish Channel to the building of the New Basin Canal.

The students who will set off for Ireland this summer to study are Zaire Brooks of Lake Area New Tech Early College High School, Alexis Calderon of New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School, Erin Curry Reily of Isidore Newman School and Marisa Thomassie of De La Salle High School.

“They all did a fantastic job, they really did,” Moloney said. “It was interesting to see the different angles from which they approached it.”

The contest was open to juniors in high school with a 3.0 GPA. “We crossed out the names and we crossed out the schools, so it was really a blind selection, if you will,” Moloney said.

University College Dublin is a prestigious college comparable to an American Ivy League college, Moloney said. The University College program is geared to American high school students.

“This hopefully is just the beginning, and we can build this scholarship program to bigger and better things,” Moloney said.

Moloney and fellow board member Stuart Young came up with the scholarship program and essay contest.

IN-NOLA released information about the scholarship recipients this week:

Zaire Brooks is a junior at Lake Area New Tech Early College High School, where he plays football, basketball, and track.

He also participates in Urban League College Track, an afterschool and college preparatory program for high school students.

He serves as a student leader and helps to plan community service projects for his peers.

Alexis Calderon is a 16-year-old junior at New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics high school.

She participates in cheerleading, is a member of a club that does charity for the community, and has the highest GPA in her class.

Erin Curry Reily of Isidore Newman School was recently inducted to the National Cum Laude Society, and maintains over a 4.0 GPA.

She is the photo and copy editor of the school’s yearbook, the editorial assistant of Newman’s high school arts publication, and is on the board of Breakthrough New Orleans.

Erin is a member of Newman’s Cultural Awareness club, is active in her youth group, and played on both the varsity soccer and tennis teams.

She has received accolades for her photography and was awarded first place in the state on the National Spanish Exam.

De La Salle junior Marisa Thomassie takes part in her school’s theater program. She plans to major in journalism.

“We’ll be attending college-sponsored lectures and tours of Irish culture and history,” Marisa said. “I’m really excited about this opportunity.”

IN-NOLA is a chapter of IN-USA, a new organization founded by the Irish Ambassador in the U.S. in November 2011. IN-USA was formed to enhance, develop and maintain new and existing connections of the Irish community in the United States.