The pilot program of Wake West, a study-away opportunity located in the San Francisco Bay Area, was launched in the spring semester of 2020. The program will provide participants with the opportunity to explore career options while taking two entrepreneurship classes and gaining valuable internship experience.
The university’s establishment of the program caters to the student body’s growing interest in the Bay Area, with graduating seniors consistently ranking California for the past three years as one of the top five states in which they would like to work.
This holds true across the undergraduate college, with the program attracting students from a wide array of academic disciplines, not only those typically associated with the technological innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley.
In fact, the 12 students comprising the inaugural cohort of the program are a cross-section of the university, with majors ranging from computer science, economics, math, statistics and engineering to classics, political science and communication.
Students enrolled in the program will earn 12 credit hours upon successful completion of the semester. Half of these hours will come from academic coursework; the other half, internship experience and related research.
Program Director Rebecca Gill commented on the way in which the courses highlight the importance of experiential learning and practicing skills that they will use in future jobs.
“The courses that we are teaching out there are specifically geared toward understanding Silicon Valley and the process of entrepreneurship and innovation, because students have a real world setting to practice what they are learning, and vice-versa,” Gill said. “This kind of engaged learning is so valuable, especially for liberal arts students as they realize the unique strengths that they bring to the workplace.”
The two courses offered are Communication in Entrepreneurial Settings (COM/ENT 250) and Evidence-Based Entrepreneurship: Developing Validated Concepts (ENT 201). While ENT 201 may seem familiar to students, COM/ENT 250 transcends the typical limitations of a classroom through conversations and collaborations between students in California with those on campus. The professor will direct this collaborative effort, as they explore similar topics in different environments and learn from one another’s experiences.
Embracing the innovative concept of a flexible and expansive learning environment, students will also venture beyond the classroom while working as an intern four days each week and then independently pursuing research that compliments their internship.
Some of the students currently in the Bay Area are interning for renowned businesses, such as Adobe or Handshake, while others have decided to work at startups, including a mobile dentistry company and a solar energy company.
Junior Tiaye Wooten is an intern at The Naked Market, which is a food startup focused on selling health-oriented food and beverages. He commented on the benefits gained from the experience so far.
“The Wake West program has allowed me to get a taste of what life is like in California,” Wooten said. “It’s been amazing connecting with our West Coast alumni and getting to experience working in the Silicon Valley.”
Students can take advantage of internships available at many different companies in various areas — many involving disciplinary fields typically associated with Silicon Valley, such as computer science, communication, entrepreneurship, economics and technology.
The program also provides students with the opportunity to advance their career goals through planned visits to different companies located within the area, including Airbnb, Slack, Facebook, Handshake and Plaid. While there, students will also meet with alumni as they continue to develop and strengthen their personal network of connections.
In this way, the program expands upon the university’s pre-existing ties to the Bay Area, which serves as the headquarters for a continually expanding alumni network and homebase for the summer session of the Silicon Valley Practicum.
Gill commented on her hopes for the program and how she wants students to benefit from this study-away opportunity.
“The overarching goal of the Wake West semester-long program is to provide students with an immersive internship experience that is supported by academic study,” Gill said. “By living, working and studying in the San Francisco Bay Area, students learn about and experience the entrepreneurial culture and workplaces that are often associated with Silicon Valley — both the good and the bad — allowing them to try on and test the kinds of work and workplaces that they want to go into after graduation.”