Summer Sessions

Students’ UCLA journeys start in Summer Sessions precollege programs

Ryan Vuong, back row far left, and friends at the Sci | Art Lab Summer Institute

Ryan Vuong and Alysa Kataoka each spent a week at UCLA participating in UCLA Summer Sessions’ Precollege Summer Institutes in high school, but that wasn’t the end of their UCLA experiences.

Both went on to attend UCLA as undergraduates, continuing Bruin journeys that started before they even received their acceptance to UCLA.

Precollege Summer Institutes are one- to three week-long residential and commuter programs for high school students taught by UCLA instructors every summer. Precollege Institutes award UCLA academic credit and include co-curricular components, such as field trips and laboratory experiments, that make them much more than standard academic courses. With nearly two dozen subjects ranging from Game Lab to Mock Trial, Precollege Institutes offer students the opportunity to delve deeply into an area they’re passionate about.

UCLA Summer Sessions, part of the College’s Division of Undergraduate Education, attracts thousands of students from around the world each year. Summer Sessions offers open enrollment, meaning high school students and college students from outside UCLA are welcome to attend UCLA and earn UC credit from over 800 courses and Summer Institutes each summer. Nearly 75 percent of Bruins take courses in Summer Sessions during their undergraduate career.

Kataoka participated in the Nanoscience Lab Summer Institute in 2016, the summer before her senior year of high school in Redondo Beach. Already planning to apply to UCLA, she chose nanoscience to gain hands-on experience in engineering and applied science, which she was interested in majoring in.

“I thought it would be a great way to get some experience in the sciences and see if this was really what I wanted to study,” Kataoka said.

During the Nanoscience Lab Summer Institute, offered by the College’s California Nanosystems Institute (CNSI), Kataoka was exposed to different topics in nanoscience and gained a mentor in program coordinator Elaine Morita. After she was accepted to UCLA, Kataoka said she and Morita continued to meet up a few times a year to discuss research and internship opportunities.

Kataoka said spending time on campus and meeting faculty gave her a good impression of UCLA, cementing her decision to attend as an undergraduate.

“I could tell UCLA was a cutting-edge school. And when I visited again as a senior, I just fell in love with the campus,” she said. “I could tell by looking at the students that there’s a good work life balance here.”

Kataoka graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2021 and will begin a master’s in mechanical engineering at UCLA in the fall. After interning at the Naval Surface Warfare Center and Northrop Grumman as an undergraduate, her goal is to work as an engineer for a defense contractor. But she said the Nanoscience Summer Institute taught her valuable 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 exactly familiar with chemistry or engineering, and I think that’s a really important skill for engineers to have,” 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.”

Vuong, from Pomona, participated in the Sci | Art Lab Summer Institute, which bridges STEM and art to encourage creative thinking and innovation, in 2018, the summer before his senior year. The institute is also offered by CNSI. He was interested in science and found the guest lectures particularly interesting.

But what stood out most from the program was the opportunity to be away from home on a college campus for the first time, Vuong said.

“What I enjoyed the most about the program was the ability to interact and connect with other students my age, which I really didn’t have the chance to do beforehand, especially in such a close-knit setting with everyone living in the same dorm,” he said. “It helped me get a sense of living on my own, doing my own laundry, keeping track of meals, not having a parent with me at all times.”

Now entering his junior year as a computer science major and a UCLA Regents Scholar, Vuong said he still values the social experience he gained from the summer institute which helped prepare him for starting a new life in college.

“As a freshman, you have to go in not knowing anybody and get to meet a bunch of new people for the first time, introduce yourself, and become acquainted with them,” he said. “The summer institute was also the same situation. So it really helped me get more familiar with that.”

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 to attend Summer Sessions.