During a time of uncertain job prospects and internships due to the ongoing pandemic, a trio of UCLA clubs has created a summer program to facilitate teamwork and professional development using accessible digital resources.
A collaboration by BruinEntrepreneurs, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) at UCLA and DevX, BruinLabs offers a hands-on, eight-week-long digital course that is free and open to any college student. The idea for the program was sparked a few months before the spring quarter, said Riley Noon, a director of BruinLabs and member of Bruin Entrepreneurs. The motivation was tied to the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of students, disrupting career opportunities and putting many traditional sources of professional training on pause.
This summer kicked off the inaugural program, with enrollment by nearly 130 students from more than 25 universities across the country. The students’ majors range from engineering to anthropology and geology.
“We noticed that many students were losing internships or job offers because of COVID, and wanted to provide a resource to compensate for this experience gap,” said Cody Swain, a computer science and engineering major who is the president of Bruin Entrepreneurs and an advisor for BruinLabs.
Participants build a product in small teams and are facilitated by one of the 31 students working as project managers. The program utilizes online resources such as Slack, Zoom and Google Drive to foster teamwork. The session began in June and will end on August 15, culminating with a final day of presentations.
“BruinLabs brings together entrepreneurship, technology and design — key components to any successful business,” said Ashvin Nagarajan, a project manager and a junior materials engineering major at UCLA. “Rarely do we practice taking a product from ideation to a viable product. Even better, the program takes advantage of being remote, opening to students from all universities. I was excited about working with people of varied majors and backgrounds.”
Many of the projects focus on building connections, utilizing apps for music, hobbies and cultivating friends, and other platforms dedicated to simplifying the process of finding courses, study groups, career resources and UCLA club opportunities.
The combined efforts of the three UCLA clubs allowed the program to share diverse perspectives and resources, including informational workshops on coding, machine learning, business development and project management,
“The program’s focus on an interdisciplinary approach to a startup attracted my attention because I could learn and share knowledge from many fields with a team to create a product,” said Astha Sahoo, a neuroscience major heading into her first year at UCLA.
This experience can only help students as they move into careers after graduation. The typical office setting is increasingly being replaced by virtual interfaces, and reliance on online resources grows in popularity — a trend that has accelerated by the public health crisis.
“I think a great takeaway from the program, aside from learning how to build a product, is learning how to collaborate in a virtual environment,” said Arek Der-Sarkissian, a project manager and a second-year UCLA computer science major. “Several major companies have gone fully remote. I wouldn’t be surprised if more companies follow, and if that is the case, knowing how to work with peers who don’t share the same office space with you is important.”
If interest remains high among participants, the program is likely to continue in the future. BruinLabs is currently funded by the three student clubs but is seeking potential corporate sponsorship.
This story is contributed by Zoe Curran