Summer Capstone Program provides UCLA undergraduates a pathway to employment

By Nicole Wilkins

Undergraduates in the ten-week Summer Capstone Program worked on a case study of a fictional startup, honing their skills in finance, business, and law, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration between STEM and business, and preparing for future careers by thinking from both startup and investor perspectives. (Image courtesy: Mitchell Mangoba / CNSI)

This summer UCLA undergraduates took part in a ten–week Summer Capstone Program aimed at increasing skillsets sought after by California’s high-tech employers. The program was launched by the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA as part of a three–pronged workforce development program, with support from the state of California, to enhance student engagement with industry partners and address the critical need to provide training that will enable them to enter the workforce.

As part of the capstone experience, students worked in teams to conduct an in-depth case study examination.   This summer, they analyzed a fictional startup company seeking funding while learning how to conduct a due diligence review from the perspective of a potential investor. Using their existing STEM knowledge and program–acquired business knowledge and skills, they worked towards an investment recommendation pitch.

“The Summer Capstone program was designed to challenge our students to solve complex problems while working in a team setting and putting critical skills to the test to help demonstrate their readiness for work in their field,” said Rita Blaik, director of education at the CNSI at UCLA. “The multidisciplinary resources available at the CNSI make this the right setting to provide valuable experience and skills for students’ future endeavors.”

CNSI’s Summer Capstone experience was created in partnership with global leader and industry partner BASF Venture Capital. BASF Venture Capital is part of the BASF Group, which works to create economic success with a sustainable future by combining environmental protection with social responsibility. BASF Group has approximately 111,000 employees in nearly all sectors and almost every country in the world, making them a strong partner for UCLA students seeking to enhance their skills before entry into the workforce post-graduation.

Two students who took part in the Summer Capstone, Anouska Saraf and Julia Melendez-Hiriart, shared their valuable takeaways from the experience.

Anouska Saraf, a senior in the Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology major is pursuing a degree in STEM and has an interest in medicine, working in the prestigious UCLA Sports Medicine Internship Program at UCLA Athletics. Saraf joined the Summer Capstone Program because she was interested in trying something different from her major and learning more transferable skills to diversify her experience at UCLA.

“I learned so much in the ten weeks about finance, business, law theories and concepts that will benefit me in my future career no matter what I pursue,” said Saraf. “One area I wasn’t familiar with before that I found extremely interesting was patent law. Knowing how to read patents and make projections for financial futures was valuable knowledge to gain.”

Student Julia Melendez-Hiriart would agree, adding that the interdisciplinary work between STEM and business gave the group new perspectives.

“I saw what working in industry really looks like and I gained valuable business knowledge after every session, which I appreciate since I was able to relate it to what we had discussed in previous discussions. Examining the case study throughout the course of this program taught me how to do due diligence as a venture capitalist. I know now how to think both through the lens of a startup company and through the eyes of a potential investor.”

As a rising fourth year Chemistry-Materials Science major, she was nervous to initially apply because her field of study was unrelated to the business world.

“I’m so glad I did the Summer Capstone which allowed me to learn more about the business-tech intersection and about possible career paths for myself,” said Melendez-Hiriart. “The continued mentorship and support I received was instrumental for my success in the program.”

When it comes to advice for students who may be interested in the program, Saraf says it is good to get uncomfortable.

Keep a very open mind and you will be surprised what you learn from the experience,” said Saraf. “You get out of the program what you put in so don’t be afraid to take a deep dive and immerse yourself. Be comfortable being uncomfortable and you come out with so much.”

This summer’s capstone session was made possible by funding provided by the state of California for workforce development through the University of California system.   Planning is underway for the Summer Capstone to return in 2024.  For more information about the CNSI’s workforce development program, and to indicate an interest in applying for next summer’s capstone program, please visit our website. 

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