Three Program Alums Unpack the Coveted "Silicon Valley Program"

The Silicon Valley Program is an opportunity for students of the Claremont Colleges to marry their liberal arts education to exciting challenges facing technology firms in Silicon Valley, and a chance to help drive the culture of innovation in dynamic companies in a global hotspot.

Applications for the SVP are now open, so we interviewed three CMC students to gain insight into the experience of being an SVP student.

Elva Fu '18 worked with the start-up NovoEd, a B2B Educational Technology Platform Provider, for four months in the fall of 2016. Julian Castañeda '19 has been working with Electric Imp for the past eleven months. He started working in the spring of 2017 and into the summer, and currently works part-time for the same company. Max Jørgensen '18 interned for Fibrogen, a biotechnology company in downtown San Francisco, for fifteen weeks in the fall of 2016.

On the work they did and the responsibilities they had:

One commonality among all three participants was the rigor of their experiences. Diving headfirst into the professional world provided them with an exhilarating time of learning, as they were put in charge of a wide range of responsibilities.

Fu said she worked in a nine-person team on curriculum design, customer success, and marketing. "I did mostly content marketing and lead generation, but also dabbled in learner engagement,” she said. “I was interning at the most exhilarating time, as we were just about to launch version 2.0 of the platform and I got to participate in the whole process!”

Castañeda worked under the Head of Product Marketing. “ Some of the responsibilities that I had were cleaning up databases, conducting product and photo shoots, creating content for social media channels, redesigning case studies and customer stories, and my biggest project--managing and launching Electric Imp’s first online store.”

Jørgensen, on the other hand, had a slightly different experience. As part of the clinical operations department, he oversaw all the data management for the clinical trial he worked on.

Sharing their thoughts on the work environment:

“I loved Electric Imp’s atmosphere. The company is only about 55 people, so it was a small and intimate environment,” said Castañeda. Fu loved the environment as well, and although “everything was at a super fast pace and there was a lot of work, [she enjoyed] keeping [herself] busy.”

All three of the interviewees claimed that they encountered a lively atmosphere and many professionals with years of experience, all of whom were excited to share their knowledge. Fu said, “the whole office is open and interactive, filled with comedy, creativity, positivity, and endless snacks!” While Electric Imp has “an open-floor layout where no employee had an office”, NovoEd has “an awesome Christmas party” and a company dog named Dakota.

Castañeda concluded with his thoughts on working at a start-up: “Working in a start-up environment is great because you get a lot of freedom to explore different parts of the company and have a more relaxed schedule.”

Their take on the most underrated fact of the SVP:

“There are so many interesting facts that I would list but the one that really stands out is that anyone who is interested in SVP should not be afraid of not being able to afford this experience,” Castañeda said. “As a first-generation, low-income Latino student, I was worried that spending a semester outside of Claremont would be a huge financial burden for my family and me. Fortunately, this was not the case because the financial aid office worked closely with us to make sure that a semester away from CMC would be as affordable as Claremont.”

Jørgensen found that a semester abroad followed by a semester of the Silicon Valley Program was “very doable,” although it may be significantly harder if the study abroad period is for two semesters.

“An interesting fact about the Silicon Valley Program is that the networking sessions are actually not that intimidating. You get to meet a lot of super cool and nice people from diverse industries, and I now have two mentors in tech and consulting from those meet-ups,” added Fu.

Some top advice to future applicants and participants, from the alumni:

All three of the interviewees stressed the importance of tenacity, both throughout the application process and during the experience itself, in order to pull through the overall work load. Another point was to not be afraid to communicate with the people around you, whether it be asking for help or requesting time off to catch up on work.

Castañeda said that the classes taken during the program were less stressful than those on campus. "It helped that the entire cohort was taking the same classes so we were able to collaborate and study for tests together," said Casteñada. "If we did not do so well, we all got to celebrate our suffering together.”

Jørgensen advised to not be afraid to take time off. “Andrew Ceperley, one of the directors of the program, makes all employers aware that you have midterms, finals, homework, and major papers due throughout the semester," he said. "If you need a Friday off for that Saturday midterm or need to work half-days on a Thursday and a Friday, most of the time your employers will  be willing to give you that.”

Fu’s suggestion is to start finding an internship early. “It is not very common to have fall and spring interns, but your tenacity will eventually pay off," she said. "Be active and positive about it, seize every opportunity, and really advocate for yourself.” She stressed the importance of taking advantage of co-workers' experiences while on the job. “Have lunch or coffee together and you will learn so many different things! Do not be afraid to ask for advice or clarification, and honestly admit it when you make a mistake (I will not tell you that I deleted a whole live course from the website the second day of work).”

Fu, Jørgensen, and Castañeda emphasized the importance of embracing all that the city has to offer. Take time to explore the city and get to know more people!

Getting nostalgic and sharing their most cherished memories:

Their most cherished memories were made with the people they met during the program, highlighting the importance of interacting and meeting as many new people as possible while participating.

Jørgensen began by describing how, on one weekend off from class, he went free-diving with a random group of guys he had befriended on the train to work.

One of Castañeda’s favorite experiences happened in the SV100 Leadership Class (now listed as LEAD150). “Professor Scott Sherman’s lesson for the day was learning how to fail. So we all split into groups and went into the community to fail, although we found that it was much harder than we hoped. One group went to a coffee shop and asked to do latte art where the baristas agreed without hesitation. Another group asked to go rock climbing at a neighboring rock climbing gym and also got a 'yes.' The point of the lesson was to prove that people are much nicer than expected.”

Fu’s favorite memory was the special farewell party before she left. “It was just so sweet. They took the effort to make a PowerPoint presentation titled 'Ten Things People Say About Elva' and wrote me a four-page card! I thought I lost it on the way back home and was really upset, so I wrote an email asking for another one shamelessly. They mailed me another one--with jokes. Then I found the original one, so I have two cards now.”

On the challenges faced:

Jørgensen, Castañeda, and Fu all agreed that simultaneously working as an intern and a student required good time management skills. “It is especially important when the product launch coincides with finals, and you have to commute every day!” Fu said. “But we toughed through it, and it’s a truly rewarding experience.”

Meanwhile, Castañeda also faced challenges trying to navigate Northern California’s public transportation system for the first time. “I know that I missed my stops a few times, so trying to get back on track was a struggle sometimes.”

Jørgensen pointed out how CMC is a very social campus, so, “going from 'I know everyone around me' to 'I do not know my neighbor' was definitely a challenge for me.”

SVP applications are now open and due Feb. 12.


Photo Courtesy: Elva Fu