CMC Silicon Valley Program Offers Students Experience in Tech Fields

Claremont McKenna College will begin a search for a new director for its Silicon Valley Program, which offers students the opportunity to apply their liberal arts education to the technological working world. The program originated from the Evans’ Information Technology Advisory Board Networking trip, a weeklong event during winter break that gave students a chance to work closely with CMC alumni in the Silicon Valley.

With the success of the program, interest arose to broaden the student experience from one week to an entire semester. CMC's Senior Development Officer Stephen Siegel CM’ 87, who is retiring this year after nearly a quarter-century at the Claremont Colleges, was serving as the associate vice president for development at the time and stepped in to help shape the program into what it is today.

“The Silicon Valley Program is much more of an experience than a semester off campus,” said Jenny Smith SC ’16, who worked for Looker, a data analytics company, through the program. “You have to rely on your director for a lot more than just classes. It’s your entire life during the semester. Steve was very involved in our program. He did everything from conducting interviews to getting us accepted into the program all the way to meeting with each person’s manager of their internships, driving up to two hours to meet mine.”

As a part of the program, students spend a semester interning at various companies in Silicon Valley while simultaneously attending classes.  

“The program is extraordinarily tough, from 40 hours a week working to seven hours of class on Saturdays and doing homework assignments,” Siegel said. “But the students learn how to accomplish all that and when they return to campus, they almost always report how easy campus life is and how much they learned.” 

Not only does the program instill a strong sense of time management within the students, but also it presents them with a link between their academics and the working world.

“It accelerated my career, “ said Surya Sendyl CM ’16, who worked as a business analyst at a company called Orbital Insight.  “It was an immersive experience that made me fall in love with the whole startup culture. I saw a company grow and nearly double its revenue in a matter of months.” 

Most student participants participate in the program during their junior year. They take up a paid internship during the semester, often at startups, although many students have worked in investment banks and other well-established companies. Alumni from all five colleges help connect students to opportunities.

First implemented in 2012, the Silicon Valley Program is much younger than its counterpart in Washington D.C. and still has a long ways to go. It is often the students in collaboration with the directors of the program who ensure that the program is constantly improving.

“Our Silicon Valley students have really been great from the first group that applied when there was no faculty, no classes, no place to live, no internships, no history, that group really had the pioneer spirit, and every cohort that followed them had a similar spirit,” Siegel said. “They realized that not everything was going to be perfect and we would work together to resolve any issues that came up. I truly think that without the students who really wanted to be there, the program just wouldn’t be successful.”

According to Siegel, efforts to increase the innovative aspect of the program are in store. The next aim is make the program more attractive to students who aren’t interested in economics or engineering but who still want to experience working in the Silicon Valley.  

“I am very excited for the future of the program,” Siegel said. “I know that it’s in good hands and I’m looking forward to many more years of success for it and for the students.”

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