Students on a previous Spring Break in Silicon Valley trip listen to a presentation at blog comment hosting service Disqus.

By: Paula Meseroll

Next week, 16 Syracuse University students will be immersed in the exhilarating whirlwind of Spring Break in Silicon Valley, touring West Coast start-up companies, meeting—and learning from—the people who work there.

Now in its fifth year, the trip—known as SBinSV—has become a much sought-after experience and the competition to be chosen for one of the few spots is fierce, according to the trip’s coordinator, Shay Colson, director of West Coast relationships at the School of Information Studies (iSchool). The immersion is open to students across all schools, colleges, and disciplines, who must complete an application process which includes making a video in which they describe what they would consider an ideal company or organization to visit. “Our students this year range from sophomores to master’s degree candidates, representing the iSchool, Newhouse, Maxwell, Engineering, Whitman, Arts and Sciences, and Visual and Performing Arts,” Colson says. “The course is load-bearing—three credits—so there are significant academic portions during each day.”

And what a jam-packed schedule it is—as many as 25 company visits in just five days, as well as evening activities with group members and area alumni. “This trip is a chance for our students to immerse themselves firsthand in what is perhaps the most impactful entrepreneurial ecosystem the world has ever known,” Colson says. “They get to visit companies large and small to understand not only how and why each one works, but how they work together to contribute to innovation and success.”

During past trips, students have visited such organizations as Google, Tesla, LinkedIn, Twitter, Evernote, Tilt, Cisco, GE, Stanford University, Coursera, Leap Motion, Livefyre, MobileIron, Splunk, the Computer History Museum, and more.  The immersion has proven to be popular with students, and with the organizations, as well. “We now find ourselves in the fortunate position of having companies contact us to visit them,” Colson says.

Networking opportunities abound

Being able to meet Syracuse University alumni in San Francisco and Silicon Valley is a significant benefit to the students, giving them a chance to network with successful entrepreneurs and to envision what kinds of companies they may want to work for in the future. “We have reached the point where students are routinely being hired as interns and employees as a result of these visits,” Colson says. “Students who previously participated in the trips are now hosting us at their companies. The outreach from the alumni to our students speaks volumes about what it means to be Orange.”

Daniel Goldberg ’15, an information management major in the iSchool, has participated in SBinSV. “It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says. “You’re able to go inside these companies and really get a good feel for how they operate and function day to day. It’s not just a tour; you are truly meeting with company heads, executives, and most cool…SU alumni.”

Andrew Farah ’09 G’11, cofounder and CEO of Density, a spin-off of Syracuse-based boutique software agency Rounded, recently relocated to the Bay Area. A former iSchool staff member, he previously served as a facilitator for SBinSV. This year, he will welcome students to his West Coast corporate offices—located in his living room. “Nearly every company we’ve visited realizes Syracuse is a breeding ground for talent and begins to recruit,” he says. “Many of our student alumni are later employed by past site-visits. Every year, on the ride back to the airport, the students unanimously raise their hands and say: ‘I think this trip just changed my life.’”

To ensure that the trip is affordable for students, airfare to and from San Francisco, hotel accommodations for five nights, all meals, and bus transportation for group travel is paid for through generous donations from the iSchool Board of Advisors.  “Students are responsible for contributing only $500 toward the cost,” Colson says. “We couldn’t do this trip without the support of the Board of Advisors—they make it all possible.”