by Niña Abonal, Senior Program Coordinator
Since I started working at IEA three years ago, I’ve witnessed the remarkable evolution of our program offerings and have had the opportunity to spearhead EXPLORE, a summer externship program that was piloted in 2016 for high school students. What started as an initiative to cultivate local high school talent, continued to build positive momentum and increase in the total number of gifted students served each year, both locally and internationally. After a successful pilot-year of EXPLORE, we found there was a niche for opportunities focused on mentorship and real-world, professional experience. Most high schoolers who are ready for advanced research work were competing with a pool of college and graduate level students who already possessed the educational, and sometimes professional, qualifications. It was often difficult for them to convince organizations or university-level labs to take them on as interns. Despite this, students who participated in EXPLORE continue to prove that the next generation have so much to offer and are highly capable of working along-side professionals and college-level researchers. EXPLORE, as with other IEA initiatives, developed as a result of our community’s need for access to optimally challenging learning opportunities, and IEA’s strong effort to find a way to serve these learners.
This year, I was entrusted once again to pilot a program, this time for 7th through 12th grade, called Learning Among Brilliant Scientists Series (LABS). The creation of the LABS Series was a direct result of numerous requests from students and parents who wanted a program that would engage learners in the ‘in-between’—they were too young to participate in advanced programs focused on college and career development and too old to avail of other enrichment opportunities. Additionally, for many of these students, there was a desire to not only become immersed in challenging and unique learning experiences, but to be surrounded by like-minded peers their age. In evaluating the need for such a program, IEA also evaluated our current initiatives and noticed there were students aging out of Academy that were not being served. We wanted to find a way to keep them engaged and involved with additional programming. As with other students who were ‘in-between’, these students want opportunities that foster their curiosity and passion for STEM and are content-rich, research-based and hands-on.
LABS Series emerged as a way for IEA to nurture the needs of these bright, inquisitive learners and further serve them through Academy and beyond. We hoped to give students access to new knowledge and introduce them to the skills needed to be a successful scientific researcher through workshops facilitated by passionate professionals in the STEM field. We received an overwhelmingly great response from our community when we launched the first LABS Series in March 2018. With only 15 spots available for the first workshop, there was a waiting list after two weeks of opening the program. The first workshop was facilitated by Ivanna Escala, an NSF/Ford Graduate Research Fellow at the Caltech Department of Astronomy, who discussed the Chemical Evolution of Galaxies. Ivanna shared her research about galactic chemical evolution and guided students through a hands-on activity to investigate the basic properties of the visible light spectrum using various lamps and spectroscopes.
The proceeding line-up of LABS featured more incredible scientists and innovative research topics, including:
- Ecology and Water in Desert Biological Soil Crust Ecosystems with Dr. Kirsten Fisher, Associate Professor, Graduate Advisor Biological Sciences at Cal State Los Angeles
- Plant Ecology with Dr. Alexandra Wright, Assistant Professor of Ecology at Cal State Los Angeles
- Circadian Rhythms in Genetics with Dr. Susan E. Cohen, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at Cal State Los Angeles
- The Neuromechanics of Sensory Systems with Bradley Dickerson, Ph.D., NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow and California Alliance AGEP Fellow at Caltech
In reflecting on the successful implementation of pilot programs, like LABS Series and EXPLORE, I can’t help but feel elated to see the growth of programs that were built from the ground up and organically formed as a result of a need from our community. It makes every bit of progress more meaningful and further inspires me to do the work I do with this population of learners. I am then reminded that whenever there is a need, IEA finds a way! IEA continually strives to meet gifted learners where they are in their educational journey and always has an open door to families in need of something more.
To learn more about LABS Series or to register for our September 22nd workshop on “Simple Math Problems No One Knows How To Solve. Yet.” with Professor Mike Krebs, visit the LABS Series website!