Students from the inaugural Spring Break in Silicon Valley trip pose for a group photo
in front of eBay's headquarters.

By: J.D. Ross
(315) 443-3094

This week marks the fifth year that the School of Information Studies (iSchool) will bring a group of Syracuse University students to Northern California’s tech hub for the Spring Break in Silicon Valley (SBinSV) immersion experience.

The students, along with iSchool faculty and staff mentors, will spend the week visiting entrepreneurs, incubators, startups and venture capital firms, and learning first hand from the people that made these companies of the new economy possible.

Along the way, they’ll network and share ideas with Syracuse University alumni, who host many of the company stops throughout the week.

Over the years, the trip has grown, explains Julie Walas Huynh, the iSchool’s Director of Academic Advising and Student Engagement, and each year a new group of students gets to experience a little slice of life in Silicon Valley.

“The trip is now bigger than any one person or entity, it runs with an aura of enthusiasm surrounding it – and not just from the students, but from the site visits, alumni and potential employers that ask to be involved year after year,” said Huynh. “There are a handful of companies and people on this year’s schedule that we’ve met with all five years, and a handful more for four of the last five years, and that history provides a real richness, almost a legacy, to the trip, and a real benefit to each group of students.”

Jason Blanck was a master’s student in the Communication and Media Studies program at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication when he went on the inaugural SBinSV trip in 2011.

Blanck, who was a founder of Broodr, a niche product marketplace, recalls the trip’s stop at the 500 Startups accelerator program as the most memorable one for him.

“Touring the facility, meeting with portfolio businesses, and receiving feedback allowed us to learn how most startups in Silicon Valley operate and grow,” recalled Blanck.

Today, Blanck is a Senior Manager for business development at American Express.

Another takeaway from the trip for Blanck was the willingness of Syracuse University alumni to help budding entrepreneurs.

“The University has a large network of technology experts in Silicon Valley, and there are many opportunities to either launch or join a startup, regardless of your experience,” he said.

Anne Marie Suchanek was a sophomore in the iSchool’s Information Management and Technology program when she went on the first SBinSV trip.

Now an IT Business Analyst for Avanade in Seattle, Suchanek remembers being struck by the difference between two different work cultures.

“The trip opened my eyes to West Coast culture and the different ways that businesses operate than on the East Coast,” recalled Suchanek. “The biggest takeaway was that you don't need cubicles and a suit and tie to get good work done.”

Daniel Russell was finishing up his senior year at Le Moyne College when he joined the first SBinSV trip. Now a Sales Engineer at Terakeet Corporation in Syracuse, Russell is also active in his own startup venture, WriteFlick.

“I think the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem and vibe I felt when I was there really influenced me to continue pursuing the startup I am working on,” said Russell. “We had the opportunity to see how the entire ecosystem functioned – from universities, to investors, to small startups, to big startups, to incubators, and even the startups that failed. This really provided the group with a holistic view and understanding of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur and how the system functioned as a whole.”

“The one thing that sums up the entire trip was the vibe,” emphasizes Russell. “This vibe isn’t something that you can experience anywhere else. It’s like a drug, a rush of energy that sparks creativity and ignites excitement. Whether you walk into Facebook or the local Starbucks, the energy you feel is unmatchable to anything else and is something that one can only experience in real time and bring back with them.”

This vibe carries through to the iSchool staffers helping to guide the students on their startup journeys.

“What continuously shocks me to my core is the depth of learning and understanding I humbly get to witness as each group of students experience a week absorbing the Valley,” says Huynh. “I watch them grow as people in their passions, solidify life goals, build confidence and make lifelong connections – and each year playing witness to those things has been an incredible privilege.”