High school students take summer learning to new heights

A group of students deftly maneuvered drones through an obstacle course inside University of the Pacific’s Main Gymnasium. Another group collected water samples to analyze from the nearby Calaveras River. Other students tried their hand at song mixing inside the university’s recording studios.

Immersive, hands-on learning opportunities abounded on the Stockton Campus in June as high school students from California and abroad attended the Pacific Summer High School Institute, a two-week pre-college program.

“The experience has been really fun,” said Enoch Mak, a student from Hong Kong who attended the Biology of Cities program. “We’re always doing experiments and different types of data analysis and I’ve been learning a lot. The experiments are usually outside of the classroom, so it’s really engaging.”

More than 1,600 students attended over two sessions. The summer institute dramatically expanded in its second year, going from 13 program options in 2022 to more than 50.

"It just opened my eyes that the world is so much bigger than I thought it was." - student Ayleen Bustos

The university’s library and all nine of its schools and colleges offered courses, including the McGeorge School of Law and Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. Nine athletic programs were also available for students to hone their skills.

“Our faculty and a few renowned guest instructors put together exceptional programs,” said Program Director and Professor of Chemistry Balint Sztaray. “Students took classes in the same cutting-edge research labs, studios and makerspaces that our college students do. It’s a unique opportunity that will really set them apart when they apply to colleges.”

The experience gives students a window into college life and allows them to explore potential careers they are passionate about.

"I was thinking nurse practitioner, but now I'm leaning more towards physician assistant, which I never thought I would do. Same with athletic trainer. I didn't even know you could do that," said Sabina Colangelo, a rising senior from Denver, Colorado who was in the Health Care Professions program.

students sit at a table looking at books

Students learned about legal careers in the Lawyers and the Rule of Law program.

Many of the skills students developed can be applied to any field.

"The first day we had them talk about their interests. We had archeologists, doctors, nurses and all different kinds of jobs,” said McGeorge School of Law Professor Cary Bricker, who taught the Be a Trial Lawyer in Court program. “They all require presenting and talking to people in some way, so having the confidence to stand up and to persuade, it's transferable to so many other career options."

After academic programming wrapped each day, students were free to explore the grounds, where they could try rock climbing in Baun Fitness Center, cool off in the Chris Kjeldsen Pool and participate in a myriad of social activities from playing in laser tag tournaments to roasting s’mores. Student Life led more than 300 activities for high schoolers over the two sessions.

"I really wanted a taste of college life before I actually went to college," Colangelo said. “I’ve met some great people doing all the activities.”

Vice President for Student Life Maria Blandizzi said she hopes it was an impactful experience for students.

“Moving in to the residence halls required students to be more independent in caring for themselves and fulfilling academic responsibilities," Blandizzi said. "I imagine families are finding that their student matured a tremendous amount in a short period of time.

"Students took the confidence that came from newfound independence into exploring new interests and engaging in different activities, which we hope motivated them to think about all the opportunities and possibilities that come with college life. The rock climbing wall hasn’t seen that amount of summer activity, ever!”

students practice using a drone with the help of a faculty member

Students explored career options and gained hands-on experience in the Drone Flying class. 

In just two weeks, Katie Daniels already sees a difference in her daughter Madyson, who attended the women’s leadership program.

"She has been in leadership school since third grade and she does the leadership class in high school, but she called me and said ‘This class is a little bit different. I’m learning there are different ways to be a leader. This class is showing me different perspectives.’”

Ceres High School student Ayleen Bustos agreed.

"It just opened my eyes that the world is so much bigger than I thought it was," she said.