Journeys in Precollege Summer Institutes

By Robin Migdol

The summer before their senior year in high school, Ryan Vuong and Alysa Kataoka each spent a week on campus participating in UCLA’s Precollege Summer Institutes, but that was only the beginning of their Bruin journeys. Both went on to attend UCLA as undergraduates.

A photo of Alysa Kataoka

Photo courtesy of Alysa Kataoka.

Precollege Summer Institutes are residential and commuter programs for high school students taught by UCLA instructors. Students can earn academic credit and take part in field trips and laboratory research. With nearly two dozen subjects as diverse as Game Lab and Mock Trial, Precollege Institutes offer students the opportunity to delve deeply into an area they’re passionate about.

Engineering a path forward

Kataoka participated in the Nanoscience Lab Summer Institute, offered by UCLA College’s California Nanosystems Institute (CNSI), in 2016. Already planning to apply to UCLA, she chose nanoscience to gain hands-on experience in engineering and applied science.

During the program Kataoka explored a variety of topics in nanoscience and gained a mentor in program coordinator Elaine Morita, who advised Kataoka on internship and other opportunities after her acceptance to UCLA.

Kataoka graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2021 and will begin a master’s in mechanical engineering at UCLA in the fall. She said the Nanoscience Summer Institute taught her skills that she still uses today.

“The most important skill I learned was to be able to explain science or scientific concepts to people who aren’t familiar with chemistry or engineering,” she said. “I also learned to be comfortable with public speaking. People have this idea that engineers kind of keep to themselves and they don’t have to interact that much with other people, but I realized that that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

A photo of Ryan Vuong

Photo courtesy of Ryan Vuong (far left, back row) with friends at the Sci I Art Lab Summer Institute.

A head start on life skills

In 2018, Vuong participated in the Sci | Art Lab Summer Institute, which bridges science and art to encourage creative thinking and innovation. Apart from enjoying the coursework, he caught an early glimpse of life on campus.

“What I enjoyed most was the ability to interact and connect with other students my age, especially in such a close-knit setting with everyone living in the same dorm,” said Vuong, now a UCLA Regents Scholar entering his junior year as a com-puter science major. “It helped me get a sense of living on my own, doing my own laundry, keeping track of meals, and not having a parent with me at all times.”

Both Vuong and Kataoka were also recipients of UCLA Summer Sessions’ Summer Scholars Support, a need- and merit-based scholarship for California high school students.

Learn more

www.summer.ucla.edu

Camille Gaynus

Camille Gaynus: Marine Scientist on a Mission

A photo of Camille Gaynus

Camille Gaynus. Ph.D. ‘19 Biology, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

By Bekah Wright

This belief led Camille Gaynus to earn her Ph.D. in biology from UCLA in 2019. There was an equally important mission to tackle: diversity in the sciences. “When I think about science, it’s not just about the methodology; it’s about getting it to the populations where it’s needed.”

A lifelong swimmer, Gaynus has always been in her element in water. During a high school summer internship, the Philadelphia native learned about Marine and Environmental Science (MES) and knew she’d found her calling. Enrolling in the MES program at Virginia’s Hampton University, a Historically Black College or University (HCBU), sealed the deal.

The summer after junior year, Gaynus jumped at the chance to get SCUBA-certified in Indonesia through a UCLA-HCBU program called The Diversity Project/Pathways to Ph.D.s in Marine Science.

That experience, coupled with meeting Professors Paul Barber and Peggy Fong, led her to apply to UCLA’s Ph.D. program and work in Fong’s research lab. While at UCLA, her field research took Gaynus to the coral reefs of Moorea, French Polynesia. Closer to home, she tutored youth at Inglewood’s Social Justice Learning Institute. “I remember talking to the students about nature and the ocean. With the ocean being in their backyard, I naively thought they must visit all the time.”

To introduce the kids to the world outside their neighborhoods, Gaynus raised a grant and organized a field trip to the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. After a tour of the campus, Bruin graduate students joined the high schoolers for lunch to share their college experiences. Determined to get the word out even farther, Gaynus gave talks at K-12 schools throughout Los Angeles, scuba gear in tow.

Gaynus was awarded the UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2019 and joined the University of Pennsylvania’s post-doctoral program. This summer, she’ll be stepping into the role of lecturer at Penn State Brandywine. Her other mission is still going strong, too.

Over a conversation with Dr. Tiara Moore, Ph.D. ’19, a fellow classmate from Hampton and UCLA, the duo shared frustration over being two of only a few people of color in their field. “It started off as, ‘We want our colleagues to know we’re here, and we want a space where we can just exist as Black marine scientists.” Black in Marine Science (BIMS) was born.

Initially, BIMS was slated as a week of events featuring Black marine scientists. BIMS success saw Gaynus and Moore using the leftover funds to establish it as a nonprofit. Budgeted, too, was money to pay honoraria to minority academics asked to speak on panels. And then there was the launch of BIMS Bites, a YouTube channel where Black marine scientists share nuggets of marine science knowledge. On the horizon… “We want to create a BIMS Institute,” Gaynus says. “A marine research space for Black marine scientists, along with a large citizen-science program for people in the community.”

Gaynus and Moore also created A WOC (pronounced A Woke) Space, a place for women of color to support one another and address areas such as the workplace where they’d like to see change. “One thing that unites us is seeing a problem and trying to be a part of the solution,” Gaynus says. “We really want to help women of color, and Black marine scientists, to survive and thrive.”

Reflecting on her journey, Gaynus can’t help but notice a theme. “When I look at the things I’ve done — like Black in Marine Science and A WOC Space — I feel they’re all about one thing: uniting.” Mission accomplished.

 

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