An Interview with the Silicon Valley Program Director

In the fall of 2012, CMC will inaugurate the new Silicon Valley Semester Program (SVSP). On February 7, CMC announced that Steve Siegel '87, former Associate Vice President of Development, will become the program's new director. The Forum sat down with Steve on Friday, February 10, to get his thoughts on the goals, challenges, and opportunities the new program presents. What do you see as the role of the SVSP Director?

To facilitate student interaction in the program and make sure everything runs smoothly. Also, make sure that internship hosts are happy with their interns, and vice-versa. It’s also my job to be a liaison back to campus. The SVSP is an outpost of CMC, like the DC program, and we want to make sure that the students studying in Silicon Valley are a part of CMC, not lost in the Bay Area. It’s a multifaceted job and it’s very interesting--part Dean of Faculty, part Dean of Students, part RA, part mentor, part faculty member, and also keeping my development role. I’m looking forward to creating a community of amazing students.

As roles in college administration go, development has less day-to-day interaction with students. Are you excited to be working with students more?

Yes. For the last six years, one of the best weeks of the year for me is the ITAB Silicon Valley Networking Trip, because I get to spend lengthy time with students. Sometimes I like to just sit back and listen--it’s amazing what you learn...some things I didn’t really want to hear, but most of it’s good and I get to learn a lot about the college from the students perspective.

The other part of that is that we’re all going to be pioneers. We’ll strive for perfection, but I don’t think we’ll see perfection in the first semester. But my hope is that we’ll have a good time with it and make a lot of progress as well.

Have you made progress figuring out the logistics for the program?

Yes and no. The most critical element is the curriculum, which is pretty well set but we don’t have faculty signed up. These will either be current faculty members of we’ll hire visiting faculty members who already live in the Bay Area--either faculty at Stanford or Berkeley, or one of the many Ph.D.s working in business in the Valley. Our primary goal is to ensure Claremont Colleges-quality, regardless of who is teaching. Brock Blomberg is working hard to try to solidify this.

The two classes will fill in pretty quickly--hopefully by May or so. All the students will be taking the same two classes, like the DC program. While the DC program’s classes meet at night, I’m 85% sure that the classes will meet on Saturdays. That said, I’m concerned about students having fun. So we’re considering having students work four ten-hour days, Monday through Thursday, and then have classes on Fridays in order to give students more free time during the weekend. The downside of Friday classes is our hosts have businesses to run and their conference rooms will be filled. Three companies have offered to let us use their conference rooms as classrooms. So while this would be nice, it’s very likely that classes will be on Saturdays.

The sentiment of many students is “I want to live in San Francisco,” but I don’t think that will be as economically feasible. The challenge we face is how students can create a community amongst themselves if they’re spread around the entire valley and city of San Francisco. So the driving guidance right now is to obtain corporate apartments where all students will live, in order for them to create community at night and ease transportation. But that’s the short term. In the mid-term, I can see the college buying apartments or houses in Silicon Valley and renting them to students. In addition, we’ll continue to rent the space to CMC students who are interning in the Bay Area during the summers. The rule I’ve set for myself is that I’m not going to find myself a place to live until I’ve found places to live for all the students.

Could you share a few companies where CMC expects to place interns?

Sure. A lot of companies want us: Atlassian, Google, Electronic Arts, Applied Materials, Zynga.

Michelle Chamberlain (Director of Employer Relations for the Robert Day School) has developed a list of 40 firms that will likely say yes to interns from us. We’re going to have to make some tough decisions. The idea right now is to have two students at each firm, because this will make things easier logistically. But I want students to have the best experience, so if a student came to me and said he or she really wanted to work at a particular firm, we want to make that happen--as long as it’s tech focused.

Five years down the line, describe how the SVSP is perceived at CMC.

The SVSP will be part of a greater innovation and entrepreneurship focus at CMC. If you look at the things we do at CMC today that are entrepreneurship-focused, we have three classes and the Innovative Start-Up Award, but there’s a groundswell of support for entrepreneurship from alumni. So what we’re trying to do is create a program that will help young entrepreneurs at CMC.

How many students will participate in the program?

Right now we’re looking at at least 14, but possibly 16 or 18. Last question, why did you want to become the SVSP Director?

After six years of doing the ITAB Silicon Valley Networking Trip, I feel I’ve gotten to the know the Valley quite well and what it has to offer. I buy into the philosophy that the innovation and exciting things happening up there is extraordinary, and it lines up very well with what CMCers are all about. As I look at my classmates, many of them are very innovative in their thinking. In order to foster that kind of enthusiasm in our students, the SVSP is a great program. It’s an opportunity to start something fresh and do something important, and I believe that it can really make a difference for the college. And I want to make it happen.