In the last decade, a small but growing number of universities and colleges have planted a flag of sorts on the West Coast, building small campuses in the heart of San Francisco with easy access to Silicon Valley and its wealth of entrepreneurship and startup resources. Up until recently, MBA students were the ones who received the lion’s share of benefits from these facilities, through executive MBA programs, semesters abroad for MBAs and other fast-track programs. That is starting to change as administrators have realized that undergraduate business majors are increasingly hungry to get a taste of Silicon Valley culture beyond what they read about in textbooks or hear on the occasional alumni panel.
Santiago Quinones, a senior at Babson was part of the inaugural class of students to participate in Babson’s new semester-long program on their West Coast campus, offered for the first time to undergraduates this fall. He’d been considering living in San Francisco at some point after graduation, so he jumped at the opportunity when he learned about it.
“I was really excited to hear about the program because I just thought it was one of those opportunities that come once in a lifetime,” he said. “I wanted that exposure and an understanding of what the culture and environment out there was like. I had to take advantage of it.”
WHARTON, BABSON & MIAMI ARE PIONEERS IN WEEK-LONG SILICON VALLEY IMMERSIONS
A semester or intensive week-long immersion trip in Silicon Valley is quickly becoming the domestic version of study abroad programs for undergraduate business students with a passion for entrepreneurship and technology. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Babson College and Miami University (Ohio) are pioneers in this space, creating new programs that allow undergraduate business school students to spend concentrated periods of time in the Silicon Valley area, hob nob with entrepreneurs, conduct research and, in some cases, pitch business ideas to venture capitalists. The experiences are giving students a first-hand look at what startups need to do to succeed in the competitive environment, as well as gain access to a large network of alumni and entrepreneurs who may help them land jobs and internships in the Bay Area.
“There has been a substantial amount of student interest in really getting more exposure to what is going on in the West Coast,” said Lori Rosenkopf, vice dean and director of Wharton’s undergraduate program. “While they might love to spend a whole semester, the first step for us in the short term was saying how can we bring San Francisco to them and how can we bring them to San Francisco.”
That turned out to be a fairly easy problem to tackle, given that Wharton already has a 33-000 square foot campus in San Francisco’s historic Hills Brother Coffee building, with commanding views of the San Francisco Bay and the Bay Bridge. It has been home to Executive MBA programs and second-year MBA students who choose to spend a semester on the West Coast.
STUDENTS LOBBYING FOR MORE TIME IN SILICON VALLEY
Undergraduates were already clamoring for the chance to spend some time on the West Coast campus. In fact, back in November, Wharton senior Larry Fan drew up a petition on Change.org titled “Extend Wharton’s Semester in San Francisco Program to Undergraduates, according to an article in The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Even before that petition circulated, Rosenkopf was busy designing a half-semester class exposing students to the Silicon Valley via research articles and video conference calls with Wharton alums from the Bay area. It was offered for the first time this fall. Building on the momentum of that class, she and Lee Kramer, director of student life at Wharton’s undergraduate division, took a group of 40 students to San Francisco for a week to Wharton’s San Francisco campus. Students spent the week conducting research on Silicon Valley for academic credit, meeting alumni at companies like Ebay, Google and Prosper and sightseeing.
Lauren Li, a Wharton junior from Los Angeles studying marketing, took Rosenkopf’s class and also went on the trip, because she was eager to get a first-hand look at what it was like to work on the West Coast, she said.
“The trend with a lot of kids at Wharton is to stay on the East Coast and go to New York or another East Coast city and work there a few years after school,” said Li, who hails from Los Angeles and eventually wants to return to her home state. “I wanted to check out what it was like to work on the West Coast. I think there are a lot of unexplored opportunities in the technology industry and to me that is exciting.”
WHARTON WILL BEGIN OFFERING IMMERSION TRIPS TO L.A. AS WELL
The trip proved so popular that Wharton plans to offer it again next year, and will be organizing a similar trip to Los Angeles next year for students interested in the media and entertainment industry, Rosenkopf said. There’s no immediate plan at the moment for a semester-long program on the West Coast for undergraduates, but administrators are discussing the possibility and assessing student interest, she said.
Babson College, a Wellesley, Mass.-based school known for its strong entrepreneurship focus, launched its Semester in San Francisco program for undergraduates this past fall with 20 students. Undergraduate administrators were eager to capitalize on the school’s West Coast campus in San Francico’s bustling SoMa (South of Market) neighborhood, said Lynn Santopietro, director of Babson San Francisco. Babson opened up its West Coast campus five years ago for its Blended Learning MBA program.