UCLA Engineering Students to Host Hundreds of High Schoolers in Tech Exploration

Mar 5, 2020

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

This Friday, more than 400 high school students from Southern California will get to code, build hardware and experiment with virtual reality at an outreach event organized by UCLA engineering students.

Now in its third year, Exploretech.la, works to engage students from underserved communities in discovering ideas and opportunities in the field of engineering. This year, the focus is shifting from computer science to a wider exploration of the relationships among the many disciplines of engineering.

“We recognize that tech is becoming more and more an integral part of our daily lives, yet not many students see that as a potential career path,” said Vivian Doan, a third-year computer science and engineering student and the co-executive director of the event. “Many of these kids might not have any resources, so this means even if we put on just one event where they can play around with the very basics, they at least know that it’s a career option.”

The half-day event (from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) will be held in UCLA’s Ackerman Grand Ballroom. The program includes nine interactive workshops, three panels and booths with representatives from UCLA student organizations, such as the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), and from major technology companies including Microsoft and Google.

“We’re going to have Oculus, which is VR, so the students can demo the headset,” Doan said. “The biggest impact is that the students will be able to see all the opportunities there are.”

The keynote speaker for the opening ceremony this year is Ruthie Johnson, a second-year UCLA doctoral student of computer science, whose research explores the intersections of machine learning and genetics. She won several honors for research while an undergraduate at UCLA, majoring in mathematics with a minor in bioinformatics..

“In primary and high school, we learn subjects like biology, math, chemistry and others, but there are fields that study very specific processes in the brain or how we can connect computer algorithms to healthcare — there are endless paths to be explored,” Johnson said.  “STEM provides a gateway to not only ask these very interesting questions about the world around us, but also how to form the solutions to address them.”

Throughout the day, students have the opportunity to take part in hands-on, interactive workshops designed to explore engineering topics in an introductory and engaging manner. The workshops are designed in-house by the 30 members who create content, connect with industry representatives and organize the logistics of Exploretech.la annually. Previous workshops have included Coding 101, using a block-based coding site called Scratch, hardware building and coding scavenger hunts, where participants learn about HTML and website creation.

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