Anaheim Union High School District’s iLab inspires students to tackle issues by innovating solutions

Countless amounts of automatic hand sanitizer dispensers were installed in response to the pandemic, but recent graduate Thomas Dinh noticed a problem whenever he pulled his hands away from the machines.

Excess sanitizer soap or solution can drip onto the ground when someone pulls their hands away too quickly or if the dispenser is malfunctioning.

Problems like this — or ones on a more complex scale — are concerns educators from the Anaheim Union High School District want their students to think about and potentially develop solutions that could help make the world a better place.

Thomas recently graduated from Western High School in June and is planning to attend University of California, San Diego in the fall. His vision for life after high school and plans for his future began to take shape when he was a sophomore on campus. A friend encouraged him to check out a new program called Incubate Learning Accelerate Breakthroughs, or iLab.

“The AUHSD iLab at Western High School is a space envisioned by Superintendent Michael Matsuda to incubate learning, accelerate breakthroughs for and by the students of the district,” iLab instructor Douglas Noah said. “Within this space, students are provided with instruction and support to nurture their ideas and desires for products, services or businesses to address societal problems they encounter throughout their day to day life.”

  • iLab drip tray
  • iLab Thomas Dinh student
  • AUHSD iLab instructor and student
  • AUHSD iLab
  • iLab instructor
  • iLab promo graphic

In the iLab, students learn basic engineering, business and finance skills related to the specific problem they are addressing. With guidance from educators like Noah, students gain real hands-on experience with 3D printers, 3D scanners, vacuum formers, heat presses, vinyl cutters and other equipment to support the development of their unique product.

As projects mature, mentorships can be formed with appropriate AUHSDs partners in the area to further develop their concepts. The district offers more than 20 career technical education pathways at 10 high schools representing more than a dozen industries, including engineering, biomedical science, finance, construction, cybersecurity and computer science.

In addition, AUHSD has also established a work-based learning program called Anaheim’s Innovative Mentoring Experience Program (AIME), which enlists more than 80 business participants who are supporting the students with exposure to career opportunities and workforce preparedness.

The district has created two classes to help students in the iLab brainstorm ideas and turn their thoughts into inventions. The classes are career technical education electives held in conjunction with North Orange County Regional Occupational Program.

Thomas created several projects during his time at Western High, including a drip tray that was installed underneath the automatic hand sanitizer dispensers on campus to collect the solution before it drops onto the ground, preventing messes and falls.

“iLab has helped me gain a broader sense and knowledge what I want to do in the future,” Thomas said. “I want to go into engineering when I attend UCSD in the fall. This experience has helped me decide what I want to do.”

Beyond its classes, the iLAB also has a speaker series to bring new ideas and technologies to students. The first speakers to kick off the program were two AUHSD alumni, Shawn Patel and Jason Yue, who developed a Wi-Fi-based irrigation system to sustain crops and gardens.

For more information on the different career pathways in AUHSD, visit: