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.
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 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.