JHU Students “Trek” to the Bay Area for Intersession

By Sarah Connelly & Paul Davidson

Over intersession we had the privilege of co-hosting a trek to the Bay Area for 20 JHU undergraduate students. The trek focused on tech & entrepreneurship, and it provided students the opportunity to explore careers, visit a variety of employers, network with JHU alums, and imagine what their lives could look like within the broader Bay Area tech community.

Virtual Class (January 9-13, 2023)

Prior to traveling to the west coast, students participated in virtual classroom sessions where they attended alumni guest lectures, learned and applied networking strategies, prepared 60 second personal pitches, and engaged in peer-to-peer resume reviews. The virtual classroom sessions helped students sharpen their networking skills and build confidence in an oftentimes anxiety-inducing practice so they could put their best foot forward and feel more comfortable when meeting alums.

During the virtual week, our alumni guests included:

  • Mark Belinsky, B.A ‘06: Digital Innovation and Scaling Specialist, United Nations Development Programme. Mark discussed how governments across the globe use technology to navigate civic difficulties, and he shared how key historical events have shaped his career.
  • Ralph Gootee, M.S. ‘08: Co-Founder of PlanGrid and TigerEye. Ralph’s talk focused on demystifying the tech industry, team dynamics with his own companies, and the process of successfully being acquired.
  • Arielle Goren, B.A. ‘05: Managing Director at Kivvit. This was Arielle’s 5th year speaking to students taking this course. She led students through interactive networking practices and workshopped strategies for cold-emailing alumni.
  • Song Hia, B.A ‘05: Digital Services Expert, United States Office of Personnel Management. Song shared ideas and thoughts on using technical skills to address social and societal challenges.
  • Atif Kureishy, M.S ‘04: Co-founder, Vistry.ai. Atif walked students through the stages of funding startups and shared beneficial resources before concluding his session with a short demo of vistry.ai’s product.
  • Ellis McCue, B.A. ‘08: CEO of Territory Foods. Ellis detailed her journey from being a JHU undergrad majoring in International and East Asian Studies, to consulting, to becoming a CEO. She shared critical skills students will need in order to achieve success in the tech industry.
  • Margaret Roth Falzon, B.A. ‘11, M.A ‘12: Chief Operating Officer, Squadra Ventures. Margaret’s workshop provided participants with step-by-step tips on how to successfully build and maintain networks here in Baltimore.

Additionally, student leaders from FastForward U, HopStone Capital, and HopAI joined class to share their experiences being involved in tech & entrepreneurship opportunities on-campus. These sessions showcased the many opportunities JHU students have to put their skills into action during their time on campus.

Trek to San Francisco, CA (January 18 & 19, 2023)

While in the Bay Area, students met JHU alums from a variety of areas within the tech & entrepreneurship ecosystem, including venture capital, startup incubators, big tech, and cybersecurity.

Day 1

Students started the trip with an engaging conversation about tech, entrepreneurship, and diversity with Dr. Abe Abraham, MBA ‘15. Afterward, students visited IVP, a venture capital firm based in the Bay Area, where Blair Shane, B.A. ‘93, led them in a workshop and Q&A session with IVP associates and partners.

Following our visit to IVP, students met Alex Schachne, B.S. ‘22, at Founders Inc., a tech incubator that provides workspace and labs for startup founders. Alex gave students a tour of the space and a glimpse into life as a young founder starting out in San Francisco.

Students then went on to explore Golden Gate Park, where many enjoyed the sights & sounds of the park, while others ventured into the local neighborhood to visit coffee shops and local record store Amoeba Music.

That evening, students closed out the day at a networking event at Sapphie Ventures, hosted by Demi Obayomi, B.S. ‘15. Students had the opportunity to meet young JHU alums based in San Francisco from companies including Apple, Google, BlackBook Sports, and Natural Resources Defense Council.

Day 2

The second day of the trek started with a visit to the Stanford d.school, the birthplace of Life Design. We were brought on a tour of the d.school by Kathy Davies, Managing Director of the Stanford Life Design Lab, before taking the rest of the morning to explore Stanford’s beautiful campus.

We then visited the Santa Clara campus of Palo Alto Networks. Students went on a guided tour of the campus and were impressed by the interactive working spaces and employee amenities—the kombucha on-tap was a big hit!

Our final visit of the trek was to the Googleplex in Mountainview, CA. It truly lived up to its name with huge, open working spaces and scenic views of nearby mountains. Our host, Jay Crim, B.A. ‘03, then led a Q&A panel between students and fellow JHU alum Googlers.

After wrapping-up at Google, students enjoyed a networking dinner alongside members of JHU’s Leadership Fellows cohort, as well as WSE Dean Ed Schlesinger and Vice Provost for Integrative Learning & Life Design Farouk Dey. Following dinner, students attended one final networking event with Leadership Fellows and other JHU alums hosted by Adrian Rich, B.S. ‘96. Following the networking event was a Fireside Chat Q&A with Kewei Yang PhD ‘95, moderated by Dean Schlesinger.

Students closed out the trip by writing thank you notes to their Bay Area alumni hosts before returning to the east coast the following weekend.

Student Takeaways & Outcomes

The trek proved to be an invaluable experience for students as many reported that it felt somewhat like a turning point in their Hopkins career. Most students connected with alumni on LinkedIn while others went on to apply for FastForward U’s Spark and Fuel Accelerator programs upon returning from the trip.

Check out the student feedback below for a few first-hand accounts of their experiences:

“The trip was an immersive experience to learn more about career exploration in a completely new lens. I was able to gain valuable skills and network with diverse alumni in the Bay Area. Since we’ve returned to campus, it’s been easier to go through interviews and set up coffee chats. It’s a trip I’ll never forget and I would recommend it to any student interested in startups or technology (even if you’re not a CS major)!”

“The trek experience really helped to change my view of what a Hopkins graduate can go on to do after graduation. I was able to see that a lot of us will most likely have career paths that are non-linear, and this is totally fine. One of the main things that I will take forward with me after the trip is that you aren’t really constrained to a specific career unless you tell yourself that you are. The skills to enter different areas are really opportunities to expand your own career and find a role that you wouldn’t have thought you would be in. I was also very inspired by the entrepreneurial efforts that many alumni are taking and am looking forward to further explore the entrepreneurial space through FFU at Hopkins. I was also very surprised and heart warmed by how open and interconnected Hopkins alumni are, even after they have graduated and walk very different paths in life.” 

“I’ve learned so much about networking and tech development and enjoyed the discussions and activities we did as a class.”

“The lineup of speakers…is very impressive. They were all PHENOMENAL!”

“I appreciate the class structure and love the fact that there are guest speakers every day who bring new perspectives to the table”

“I felt excited to come to class and interact with my fellow students as well as the guest speakers.”

By Sarah Connelly
Sarah Connelly Senior Life Design Educator: AMS, CaSE, & EHE