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CMC's ITAB Silicon Valley Trip Gives Students View of Real World

February 28, 2008

by The Forum

Many programs at Claremont McKenna—from student computer labs to scholarships—are funded by alumni who give back to CMC so we can experience what they could not. One such program is the Annual ITAB trip to Silicon Valley in January. Every year since 2005, a group of about a dozen Claremont McKenna students spend a week in San Jose where they have the opportunity to visit and network with various Silicon Valley executives at leading companies in the area. This year, students brushed shoulders with CEOs, partners, and other top management at nine companies in the Silicon Valley area. The trip, which costs ITAB over $1,800 per student, is provided free to participants.

ITAB, the Information Technology Advisory Board, is an organization of CMC-affiliated executives in the technology industry working to advance the role of technology at CMC. Since 2005, the organization has sponsored a week-long trip to Silicon Valley. The trip was started in 2005 by ITAB Chair Bart Evans ‘70.

Mr. Evans started the ITAB trip to help establish Silicon Valley as one of CMC's “centers of gravity.” “The current centers of gravity for CMC alumni are LA, New York, DC, San Francisco,” Mr. Evans explained to the group of 15 students who attended this year’s trip. That is, CMC alumni are concentrated in a few industries and geographic areas. “The world is getting smaller—much of our country’s business is being exported, but Silicon Valley is one of the few places [in the US] where people are still creating and innovating.” Mr. Evans wants to add the technology industry, specifically Silicon Valley, to CMC’s radar.

During the trip, ITAB pays for all student expenses—a week-long stay at the Fairmont Hotel San Jose, transportation, food, and miscellaneous costs. ITAB also provides each student with calling cards (business cards), a leather-bound portfolio, and tote bags to carry the “shwag” we pick up throughout the week—an “I’m Feeling Lucky” t-shirt from Google, a chunk of Silicon rock from Applied Materials, a bottle-opener that plays the “Yahoo!” jingle, etc.

Throughout the week, students are shuttled to various companies in Silicon Valley from Apple Headquarters in Cupertino to Google Headquarters in Mountain View (plug for Google: free Naked Juices and food everywhere!). CMC Chief Technology Officer, Professor Cynthia Humes accompanies the students on the trip, as her office is responsible for planning the trip.

“It's a lot of work to plan the trip, but we get better at it each year the program is in operation,” said Dr. Humes. “For example, we hope to visit a gaming company like Electronic Arts next year in addition to this year's lineup of companies.”

ITAB is also actively recruiting new members to help defray the costs of the trip. “The current cost is about $1,800-$2,000 per student, with students paying for their own transportation to San Jose. We want to expand our resources to be able to pay for each student's transportation as well,” said Humes.

The ITAB trip (and the similar Financial Economics Institute-sponsored Networking Trip) is an underutilized gem at CMC. Within days after the trip was over, students had landed interviews and even jobs at the companies visited. What one learns in an economics or computer science class makes for useful technical skills, but only opportunities like these prepare students for the real world.

My highlights from the 2008 ITAB trip:

-Presentation by Scott Mauvais ’90 at Microsoft. Mr. Mauvais gave us the down low on why Microsoft isn’t threatened by Apple and a few other “do not repeat this outside of this room” remarks. I will not repeat them. We also got to raid the company store.

-Julie Cox ’07 gave an informative presentation about what consultants, especially IT consultants, do on a day to day basis.

-Listening to John Volk ’70, Partner in the Venture Capital Group at PricewaterhouseCoopers recount his decision to go to law school (“This was nearly 40 years ago… we didn’t know what was what… Duke was the best [law school] I got into, so I jumped in a car and drove across the country.”)

-Ashwin Navin ’99, President and Co-Founder of BitTorrent delivering the keynote address at the Alumni Association-hosted ITAB Reception at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose. In a chat with students after his speech, Ashwin recalled how cool he felt living in Auen Hall when it was the only dorm with high speed internet hookups in every room.

-Weston Presidio, a venture capital firm located on a pier in San Francisco. Jim McElwee ’74, a partner at Weston Presidio, talked about the hardships and benefits of venture capital firms.

-Todd Teresi ’94, Senior VP at Yahoo!, brought in legal and marketing experts from the company to talk to us about censorship in China, redefining Yahoo!’s brand, and other topics. I was pretty unconvinced that Yahoo! would grow or survive much longer after our visit until recently.

-Discussion with Bill MacGowan ’79, Executive Vice President, and Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystem. Mr. Schwartz is a legend in Silicon Valley and his blog is one of the most widely read in the industry.

-Apple presentation by Scott Gilfoil, head of campus recruiting. Mr. Gilfoil gave us an entertaining pitch to work for Apple (and buy Apple products).

-Joe Pon ’89 and George Davis ’80 at Applied Materials. Joe Pon gave us a tour of Applied’s labs, including chip manufacturing and research clean rooms where we had to take off our shoes and wear booties. Mr. Pon also discussed our country’s energy crisis and gave me a clearer view of solar panel technology and alternative energy sources.

-A visit to Infosys in Fremont, CA convinced me to apply for an internship in Bangalore, India this summer. I guess I’ll see how that one turns out…

-Jonathan Rosenberg ’83, Senior Vice President at Google, first fanned out 15 business cards, smiled, and said “E-mail me. I WILL help you.” Mr. Rosenberg also recounted some of his favorite CMC stories and advice for success in business.

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