Hands-on STEM Experiences in Orange County

01/28/22 | 3 MIN READ

Learn about hands-on laboratory experiences offered to students in Southern California.

Labs in a Post Pandemic World

The pandemic changed so many aspects of our liveshow we work, socialize, and learn. Spare bedrooms turned into offices, Zoom became the new meetup, and students faced the challenges of remote learning with mixed results. As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations fell, state and local relaxed lockdown restrictions and life slowly began to return to normal. Offices, businesses, and schools reopened, and we were able to reconnect with friends and family. We quickly made up for lost work productivity and lost time with friends but are still struggling to make up for lost learning. Although learning mostly returned to in-person, valuable laboratory curriculum has not returned.

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Laboratory courses at the high school and college level are critical for strengthening fundamental concepts in science, technology, engineering, and math. Hands-on laboratory experiments provide students the opportunity to apply concepts learned in the classroom and gain practical skills needed for advanced education or employment. Yale professor Narasimhan Ganapathi recognizes the hindering effect COVID-19 imposes on laboratory learning. “[We are] trying to offer [an in-person lab] to as many students as we can because the courses are very robust and give a solid foundation.” Many instructors like Professor Cooper are utilizing online resources like simulations or filmed experiments, but notes that online labs “obviously cannot replicate the same experience as being in the lab.” For those who can take in-person courses, the lab courses are dramatically different from previous years. To ensure social distancing, fewer and shortened experiments are used to limit the student’s time in the lab. As a result, students are graduating from high schools and universities with little to no hands-on experience. Students are now tasked with finding hands-on STEM programs and experiences once provided by schools.

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OC STEM Experiences

The following is an unranked list of hands-on STEM classes offered in Orange County listed alphabetically and organized by subject. The information presented is gathered from websites and other publicly available materials that are subject to change frequently. The listing is to provide general information; it does not constitute a complete listing of all STEM courses, nor does it represent a comprehensive description of classes offered.

ASPIRE, Access Summer Program to Inspire Recruit and Enrich, is a project design experience for high school students who have limited exposure to computer science or engineering. Students from diverse backgrounds learn a broad spectrum of engineering and computer science skills from UC Irvine faculty, staff, and graduate mentors. Each 2-week session focuses on specific topics such coding, computer-aided design, rapid prototyping, fabrication, augmented reality, mobile apps, and data science. Prospective students must complete an application and submit a letter of recommendation, high school transcripts, and a resume.

COSMOS, California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science,  is a 4-week STEM program for California high students who are passionate about health and life sciences, mathematics, computer science, or engineering. COSMOS is a residential program with the aim of fostering a community of students who share a balance of academic and social activities. Students reside in the dorms and attend academic activities during the week and social activities on the weekend. Prospective students may apply for one of 10 “clusters” with each cluster focusing on one advanced STEM topic such as tumor biology, aviation systems, tissue engineering, machine learning, aviation systems, and molecular biology. Admittance to the program is based upon submitted application, academic achievement, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. 

UCI Summer Surgery Program provides real-life exposure to the world of surgery. Through firsthand engagement with medical students, residents, and UC Irvine faculty, students gain insight into the daily life, aspirations, challenges, and motivations of health professionals. Along with hands-on exposure and training on advanced surgical technology, students observe a live surgery, learn surgical skills, and create and present a medical innovation project. The 2-week course is open to high school students.

UCI School of Medicine High School Outreach Program invites 20 highly motivated students from each of the 67 high schools in Orange County to become a medical student for the day. Students interacting with urologists participate in hands-on instruction using advanced medical equipment in UC Irvine’s training facility. During the ½ day program, students learn suturing, perform surgical techniques using laparoscopic tools and a virtual reality simulator, and gain hands-on experience with the DaVinci robot, a state-of-the-art minimally invasive robotic surgical system.

University Lab Partners provides 1-day and 2-week laboratory experiences in a state-of-the-art industry laboratory. Taught by industry scientists and researchers, students explore the emerging field of biotechnology and medical innovation by performing hands-on laboratory and research techniques. 1-day courses topics include stem cells and regenerative medicine, protein quantification and analysis, virology, cellular biology, and biotech design and fabrication. 2-week courses provide students the opportunity to achieve industry standard knowledge and skills as well as a digital certificate from UC Irvine in molecular biology, cell culturing and aseptic techniques, flow cytometry, and pharmaceuticals and biological analytics. Courses are open enrollment for high school and college students and professionals.

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Despite the pandemic, there are a multitude of opportunities available to students looking to get into the lab. These courses range from half a day to 4-weeks long. One of the first steps in learning how to work in a lab/medical setting is to expose yourself to experiences like these. This list is not exhaustive, but it serves as a starting point to explore these courses to find which is best for you.


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