EXPLORE 2016 Recap

July 26, 2016

by Niña Abonal, Program Coordinator

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Benjamin Franklin’s quote embodies the sort of impact a mentor can have in a young person’s life. Mentors are truly extraordinary individuals who are willing to share and dedicate their time, expertise, knowledge and skills to positively influence the lives of young people. They get them involved in relevant work and activities that extend beyond the confines of their classroom and nurtures their interests and passions.

This summer, IEA introduced its reimagined mentorship program for high school students, EXPLORE, which is short for Externships Providing Leadership Opportunities for Research and Education. In its inaugural year, 22 highly motivated and exceptional high school students were selected to extern at 12 mentor sites throughout the Greater Los Angeles area, including Art Center College of Design, Caltech, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, CoachArt, Kadenze, and various departments within UCLA and USC. While most students were Los Angeles natives, others traveled from out-of-state, including Rhode Island, Illinois, and Washington, to spend a summer immersed in research work. They represented a diverse population of learners from different cultural, social, and economic backgrounds. They also brought with them unique talents and an impressive list of academic and personal accolades.


To kick off the program, all externs participated in a day-long Professional Development Orientation hosted at the Art Center College of Design, one of IEA’s long-standing mentor sites. During orientation, students met their fellow externs, participated in team building activities, listened to a talk from Caltech Mentor Dr. Lynne Hillenbrand, and learned about professional skills to prepare them for their externship.


For most high school students, there are few opportunities in a traditional classroom to delve into an area of study for an extended period of time. Their daily schedule and academic grind often forces them to spread their focus on a laundry list of classes, assignments, exams and extra-curricular activities. EXPLORE externs, however, had the unique opportunity to apply their learning beyond the classroom and pursue their passions and interests in a specific field of study. Each extern engaged in two to six weeks of summer research work and projects with mentors who were preeminent professionals in their field. Externs worked in a variety of professional settings, from research laboratories and university classrooms to business offices and creative tech spaces. Externs based in academic lab settings were exposed to the often arduous, but intellectually stimulating, task of reading research papers on their topic, running lab tests, learning new computer programming language, compiling and analyzing data, and contributing their findings in a final research paper. Conversely, externs based at creative sites participated in hands-on workshops to strengthen their artistic skills, collaborated on projects with college-level students and professionals, gained exposure to new technologies for producing artistic works, and learned about the important roles and operations within a successful organization. Externs not only conducted real-world, college-level research, and were exposed to a variety of professional environments, but they also learned valuable life skills like taking public transportation to work and navigating their way around large college campuses.

EXPLORE ProgramEXPLORE program

Upon completion of the program, externs presented their final research or project during EXPLORE’s Culmination Celebrations, held at the Barder House on July 8th and July 22nd. During these events, we celebrated the accomplishments of our externs and learned about the impressive work they completed at their respective sites. Students presented on such research topics as: statistical trends in the use of the word “evolve” and its variants, liposome synthesis, drawbridge message authentication, analytical technologies to measure human performance, and necrotizing enterocolitis. The hard work and level of sophistication of each research project was evident as each extern spoke eloquently and proudly about their work. There is no doubt that these talented young people will be paving the way for innovative research in the future.

In addition to having a brilliant cohort of EXPLORE externs, the program would not be possible without the support of our Mentors who cultivated their skills, talents, and interests. IEA would like to extend our gratitude to EXPLORE 2016 Mentors:

Dr. Mel Baron, USC School of Pharmacy

Professor Gail Borden, USC School of Architecture

Mr. Jesus Campagna, UCLA Mary S. Easton Center

Ms. Emily Coldiron, CoachArt

Ms. Amanda Eno, Kadenze

Dr. Henri Ford , Children’s Hospital LA

Dr. Jamie Golden, Children’s Hospital LA

Dr. Anthony Grishin, Children’s Hospital LA

Dr. Lynne Hillenbrand, Caltech Astronomy

Dr. Mubina Isani, Children’s Hospital LAMs. Harmony Jiroudek, Kadenze

Dr. Varghese John, UCLA Mary S. Easton Center

Professor Stan Kong, Art Center College of Design

Dr. Luciano Nocera, USC IMSC

Dr. Peter Reiher, UCLA Dept. of Computer Science

Mr. Erick Rodriguez, CoachArt

Dr. Van Savage, UCLA Dept. of Biomathematics

Dr. Pamela Yeh, UCLA Dept. of Evolutionary Bio

If you are a high school student who would like to gain real-world experience and study a specific field of interest, consider applying to EXPLORE next summer! Check out the EXPLORE webpage for updates about deadlines and future mentor sites.

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Niña Abonal graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a B.A. in Business Administration and a minor in Elementary Education. She later returned to LMU to earn her Master of Arts in Educational Studies. With a decade of experience working in educational non-profits, she has taken on various roles including tutoring K-8 students in all subject areas, providing SAT prep, serving as a college advisor for a virtual college access program, and coordinating internships for high school students. During her free time, she enjoys volunteering, hiking, exploring new places to eat, and spending time with her family. She is eager to continue her passion working with youth at IEA and hopes to continually seek innovative ways to improve the quality of and access to educational resources for all students.

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