STEM Takes Root at UHS

Elaine Zhou, Staff Writer 

We have all experienced the academic rigor at UHS. It is what the school is known for, and it is part of our culture. One of the defining aspects of this culture is our STEM program, ranked #2 in all California public schools. The world is always trying to find the “next best thing,” from self-driving cars to drones to vaccinations, and we, as UHS students, are in the middle of this worldwide hunt for innovation.
The competitiveness of UHS could be misconceived as a constant cycle of trying to be better than your classmates, but it really is a competition against yourself in which you strive to be the best you can be. In fact, our school STEM program can be a supportive and welcoming community for students across all grades.
“When I arrived at Uni, the IUSD STEM realm, if you will, was relatively new to me,” freshman Gram Nylen said. “My introduction into the STEM world has helped me find my little niche that I am passionate about. Every day, I strive to pursue greater STEM-related challenges at an increasingly higher level of academic rigor.”
One of the major steps UHS is taking in innovation is the Uni Technology and Engineering (UNITE) program. Mr. Tinh Tran, the UNITE program director, built this initiative because of UHS’ selection as a 2014-2015 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam, a nationally recognized invention education program where high school teams from around the country receive grant money to create an invention.
“As a teacher advisor on that project, I got to see so many great STEM programs from around the country and thought why couldn’t Uni have one too,” Tran said. “Since then, we’ve branched out into many other projects and initiatives.”
Five years later, UNITE continues to push students to learn by doing, making, and creating. It blends technical and workplace skills with academic learning to prepare students for future success. Students have access to industry certification, internships, and scholarships because of the relationships built between local STEM companies and UNITE. CubeSat, one of the well-known UNITE projects at UHS, has already successfully placed two satellites into space and is currently working on the third. This group effort not only has brought UHS students together but also students from all around Irvine, as it is a city-wide project.
“I joined CubeSat because I felt like I could contribute to something bigger than myself and learn some invaluable skill sets that I could use in a future career,” junior CubeSat member Amberley Martinez said. “Presenting a Design Review to judges from NASA with the five other schools in the program was a great opportunity to showcase our knowledge and work with schools across the district.”
“Beyond the many memorable district-wide CubeSat meetings where topics such as ‘point end up, flamy end down, go for launch’ were discussed I think my entire starting experience in the STEM world will be something I will hopefully look back on with a sense of pride and admiration for where it has taken me,” Nylen said. “Before I knew it, I was coding a gamma-ray spectrometer in C++ and working towards hopefully and finally beating Troy High School at the California state Science Olympiad competition.”
UHS excellence in STEM is constantly upheld by the students who compete in several competitions. Our Science Olympiad team has gained recognition in past years, placing 3rd at regionals and 3rd at state last year, as well as 3rd at regionals and 8th at state the previous year. This year, they’ve exceeded past accomplishments and have placed 2nd at regionals. Continuing their legacy, the Science Bowl Team has won 1st at regionals this year and gone to nationals for the past three years.
“Our successes in all science related competitions can be attributed to the incredibly hard work of the students and their desire to learn but also the hard work of the teachers in the science department,” science teacher and Science Club advisor Mr. David Knight said.
Students figure out who they will be as high school progresses, and for many, their high school experience is dedicated to the people they meet and the relationships they make through STEM.
“I knew very few people at the start of my freshman year, but through activities like Spaceset and Science Olympiad, I’ve met amazingly kind and hardworking people who inspire me every day,” sophomore Grace Jin said. “There’s something so inspiring and heart-warming about a group of high school kids working together to pursue a common goal or interest.”
Our science courses are constantly evolving to create an opportunity for students to challenge themselves through application as well. During the year, UHS Marine Science learns about methods of observing the ocean, including remotely operated vehicles (ROV). Between winter break and semester break, students built underwater ROVs that allowed students to learn how to use power tools, solder wires and circuits, problem-solve, and create a neutrally buoyant ROV prior to deploying it in the pool.
“This is the second year we have done it,” Knight said. “Eventually, we are going to add an obstacle course that students will navigate.”
All of our science classes are outlined to challenge, engage, and reward students. Science teachers want students to have a variety of science course selections, such as Anatomy, Marine Science, Environmental Science, and other AP classes to appeal to a variety of interests.
“The science teachers are unified in our desire to offer the best science experience for all of the students at Uni, and I think the number of students we have taking 3, 4 or even 5 years of science is a testament to the positive experience students get in their science classes,” Knight said. “Many students find an education in STEM related courses very valuable and related to their future goals. Many students want to pursue careers in medicine, research, engineering and computer sciences, and I believe their science classes give them an opportunity to learn great content and important laboratory skills, but also how to problem solve and be critical thinkers.”