Nurturing Tech and Entrepreneurial Spirit: An Intersession Trek to the Bay Area 

Intersession Treks are one of Johns Hopkins University’s Life Design Lab’s signature programs. The staff meticulously craft multiple industry-based, immersive, and credit-bearing experiences, recognizing the profound impact of integrating our Life Design curriculum into real-world contexts. In one of these experiences over Intersession 2024, 20 students embarked on a “Tech Trek” to the heart of innovation- the San Francisco Bay Area.

Universities play a pivotal role in shaping future leaders and innovators in the dynamic landscape of technology and entrepreneurship. In today’s competitive landscape, particularly in the “tech world,” individuals need more than just technical skills; they must adapt, innovate, and create their own paths.

The Life Design coursework, paired with company site visits, provides students with the essential framework and practical experience to navigate their personal and professional journeys with clarity and purpose. Through this two-week intersession class, our aim was to expose students to the forefront of innovation in the Bay Area and empower them with the skills and mindsets needed to thrive in an ever-evolving world.

Week 1 (January 8-12) Life Design Classwork

The class began with an exploration of our Life Design curriculum, focusing on ‘Get Curious,’ ‘Imagine Possible Lives,’ ‘Build Connections,’ and ‘Take Action’ modules. Students were encouraged to articulate their personal values and professional aspirations, laying the foundation for them to authentically explore their passions and aspirations. Through interactive sessions with distinguished alumni, students gained firsthand insights into organizational values, culture, and the intricacies of navigating professional networks. They also transformed bullets on their resume into accomplishment statements, sharing compelling narratives that communicate their unique passions and interests.

Week 2 (January 15-19) Immersive Experience

The first full day in San Francisco offered a range of diverse experiences, including visits to major software companies and dynamic startups and innovation hubs. Starting off the day with epic views of the city at Salesforce Tower, moving to Pendulum Therapeutics in the Mission Bay District, and finally, Founders Inc. by the Marina gave students a great first day experiencing the city. Their classwork was seamlessly reinforced through their interactions with alumni and recruiters. The tours of the offices and panel discussions with alumni provided invaluable insights into the differences between large tech companies and startups, and the importance of cultivating relationships in the industry.

Day 2 brought the students to Silicon Valley, where they delved deeper into the missions and values shaping prominent tech organizations like Meta and Google. The large collaborative spaces and campuses with restaurants wowed the students and staff alike. Witnessing firsthand how organizational values are manifested in the physical workspaces left a lasting impression on the students, highlighting the importance of alignment between personal values and organizational culture.

The final day of visits was a perfect culmination for our class, topped off with impeccable food at each site that day! The day provided a unique opportunity to meet with an accomplished alumni entrepreneur and CEO of Mixt and tour an innovative company like Applovin. Discussions centered around entrepreneurial experiences with “bootstrapping” and working with venture capital on entrepreneurial ventures. The students also discussed leveraging technology to address ethical concerns, inspiring students to consider the transformative power of tech and entrepreneurship in driving positive change.

Reflection and Networking

As the trek ended, students gathered for a reflective session and tour of Stanford’s d.School led by Bill Burnett, the Executive Director of Stanford’s Life Design Lab. Bill, renowned for his design thinking work, offered profound insights into life design and what makes spaces that offer this work so valuable for students. The trip concluded with a Whiting School of Engineering Networking Event, where students could showcase their newfound skills and connect with alumni eager to share their experiences. The students and staff enjoyed dinner alongside WSE Dean Ed Schlesinger. They enjoyed the Keynote and Fireside Chat Q&A with Chuck Wu PhD ‘06.

Moving Forward

The Bay Area trek was more than just a learning experience; it was a journey of self-discovery, growth, and transformation in two weeks. As educators, witnessing the evolution of our students reaffirms our commitment to nurturing curiosity and fostering meaningful connections. The kindness and curiosity displayed by the students serve as a beacon of hope for the future of tech and entrepreneurship. As they navigate the twists and turns of life, we are confident that they will continue to thrive, driven by the lessons learned during this immersive journey.

A heartfelt thank you to our alumni who contributed your time and wisdom with the students over these two weeks: 

Kanishk Parashar, B.S. ‘02; Soo-Yung Cho, B.S. ‘04; Ellis McCue, B.A. ‘08, Arielle Goren, B.A. ‘05; Ralph Gootee, M.S. ‘08; Ashley Duque Kienzle, M.A. ‘19; Colleen Cutcliffe, PhD ’03; Alex Schachne, B.S. ‘22; Demi Obayomi, B.S. ‘15; Guillermo Ortiz, B.S. ‘14; Matt Auran, B.A. ‘17; Adam Gross, B.S. ‘13; Luis Grimaldo, B.S. ‘12; David Li, M.S. ‘19; Adrian Donis Noriega, B.S. ‘18; Will Shepherdson, B.S. ‘13; Razvan Musaloiu-E, PhD ‘09; Roshan Corsiglia, M.S. ‘08; Ciprian Chelba, PhD ‘00; and Jack Armand, B.A. ‘20 

Student Feedback

“Honestly, this would probably be the most valuable class you can take at Hopkins. Great opportunity to network with peers, alumni, and learn to find resources that can help you.” 

“The best part of this course was the activities that caused us to think outside of our career and about our core values and what we want out of life overall.” 

“Wonderful experiential learning, eye-widening, horizon-expanding.” 

“The visit in SF is so well planned with many extremely qualified speakers. All the events are meaningful in different ways.” 

“This course was probably the most transformative course I have ever taken in my life. Every aspect of this course was thought out and planned. I had an incredible time participating in the course and gained so much out of it. I am so glad I had the chance to explore San Francisco, connect to alumni, talk to recruiters, made so many new friends, and even experienced things I never thought I would experience before (like talking with CEO’s and VPs at huge companies) Caitlin, Justin, and Ashley did a wonderful job at organizing the trip and making it possible. This course was so instrumental to my career journey that I have now completely switched trajectories in life, and I plan to stay connected to a lot of the alumni I have met through the trip. My only regret is that I can’t take this trip again next winter.” 

By Caitlin Broccoli
Caitlin Broccoli Assistant Director of Life Design: Computer Science and Electrical & Computer Engineering