As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Interim Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Leonetti/O’Connell and Honors Research in Science Program Head and Science Instructor Allison Ponzio has increasingly incorporated online elements into the Honors Research program, allowing students to expand their opportunities and giving them more control over their research.
The Honors Research program allows juniors and seniors to partake in research in a subject of their choosing, either in science or in the humanities/social sciences. After being paired with a mentor, an experienced member of the field the student is interested in, students have traditionally traveled to the labs of their mentor during their free periods and/or after-school to develop their research.
However, when COVID-19 led to countrywide quarantines, most labs either completely restricted high school students from visiting or placed limitations that prevented students from regular visitation. Ponzio, however, saw this as an opportunity to provide students with access to labs and projects they wouldn’t have prior to the pandemic. For example, students are now able to work in labs from farther distances, work with mentors that weren’t previously available in-person, and can save time that would be spent on transportation due to the availability of online meeting services.
“It really felt like it came out of nowhere: all of these really cool research topics that wouldn’t have been possible if we weren’t already in that remote life,” Ponzio said. “It’s expanded the amount of time that students can devote to projects.”
Kiera ‘23, an Honors Research in the Humanities student, has been working with a professor at UC Berkeley to explore the differences and similarities between waste management systems in both Los Angeles and Taipei. Through online meetings, Kiera is able to interview government officials.
“Especially because of COVID and because I’m doing a project in the humanities, it’s easier for me to connect with other people, like my mentor who is at [UC] Berkeley,” Kiera said. “Also, because my project is more international and global, it’s easier to reach out to people on the other side of the world in order to get more information for my project.”
Casey ‘23, an Honors Research in Science student, has been working with the UCLA Grether Lab for Behavioral Ecology. Casey is working to examine the interactions between two species of endangered kangaroo rats in order to evaluate future reintroduction strategies. While Casey did in-person fieldwork in the summer, she believes the shift to online work has offered her unique advantages.
“UCLA is far, especially with traffic, and being able to do everything remotely meant that I could participate in lab meetings without worrying about commute time and get more work done on my own schedule,” Casey said. “The video analysis and data processing I was doing can definitely be done remotely, so the general shift to online work only opened doors for me.”
Ponzio and many Honors Research students believe the growing emphasis on online platforms signifies a useful shift in the program. Students now have the ability to work under mentors from greater distances, can save time on transportation, and can have greater control over how they pursue their interests.
“This [online research] has allowed for the expansion of what’s possible, in terms of projects,” Ponzio said. “It allows a level of flexibility we haven’t been able to achieve before.”