In one word, The Ronald & Carrie Ludwig Duke in Silicon Valley program was phenomenal. In late May, 24 students entered as the 2019 cohort. One month later, one family returns to Duke with unparalleled experiences, opportunities, skills, connections, memories, and friendships.
The diversity of interests and backgrounds strengthened the uniqueness of our cohort. To give you the numbers, we have 24 students from 11 states and 3 countries pursuing 13 different majors and 12 I&E certificates. I thought participating in the program without knowing any other students would be difficult. However, almost instantaneously after arriving in Mountain View, I had become close friends with the entire group. Not only did we engage in academic activities together, we shared every aspect of our lives for a month together. From visiting the Golden Gate Bridge to conquering escape rooms, we studied, worked, traveled, ate, explored, and had fun together.
Each of our days involved class at the Computer History Museum and a site visit. . Professor Salman Azhar taught our I&E course, and he was simply magnificent. In the first week of class, he instilled an open, honest, and inclusive classroom environment. This enabled us to have intellectual, sincere, and fun discussions. One topic that resonated with me was the importance of being authentic and vulnerable. Authenticity is imperative in order to develop meaningful relationships and have deep conversations. This program did a great job incorporating and reinforcing that concept through team-building activities and class. In addition to traditional class time, we often had guest speakers who ranged from venture capitalists to nonprofit executives.
The topics we learned included communication techniques, decision analysis, the lean startup, the business model canvas, ethnography, situation analysis, design thinking, and much more. This breadth of topics seemed intimidating, but Salman never failed to explain each in depth while educating the class in an interactive, exciting, and memorable way. He encouraged each of us to embrace a technologically-curious and entrepreneurial mindset. He personalized his teaching style for every individual and constantly made jokes to keep class energetic. The academic aspect of Duke in Silicon Valley was terrific.
The site visits were a signature component of the program. There is no other program at Duke where students can receive firsthand experience and knowledge directly from well-known tech giants and promising startups.
Kevin Hoch arranged the site visits and is a fantastic director for the program. The variety of companies he coordinated visits for consistently appealed to the majority of our cohort. At most site visits, we were able to meet with Duke alumni working at the company and learn about their journeys. Each company had different events planned: campus tours, speaker presentations, and workshops. At each site visit, there was a large amount of time for Q&A, allowing us to ask insightful questions, helping us learn more about the company and individual career paths.
In the first week, we visited Smartcar API, Stanford, Google, Tesla and toured the Computer History museum. It was interesting to learn about and contrast aspects of a small startup with a large corporation. The Duke alumni at both companies also provided their advice on what to do after college.
Our cohort visited Affirm, Netflix, ThirdLove, YouTube, Apple, and Planet Labs in the second week. The wide range of industries and types of companies allowed us to familiarize ourselves with different company cultures and lifestyles. My favorite visit was to Apple’s headquarters, Apple Park, in Cupertino. The massive donut-shaped building is a mile in diameter and an architectural feat – it was completed in April 2017 and was Steve Jobs’ last project before he passed away in 2011.
The third week, we met Ron and Carrie Ludwig. We also visited Impossible Foods, Uber, LinkedIn, Hyp3r, the San Francisco Giants, Palantir, and Rothy’s. The San Francisco Giants game was the highlight of the trip for most of our cohort. We took pictures with the Giant’s three championship rings and World Series trophies. It was a tremendously fun and memorable site visit.
In the fourth and final week, we visited Accenture, Facebook, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Instacart, and Carbon 3D. And just like that, our one month program had concluded so quickly. We are so incredibly appreciative and grateful for this amazing opportunity. When we return to Duke in the fall, keep an eye out for all of our new startups!
Philip Liu is a rising sophomore from Austin, TX intending to double major in Mechanical Engineering and Economics. Philip is a tour guide for the Undergraduate Admissions Office and the Pratt School of Engineering, a member on the Duke Student Alumni Board, a contributing writer to the DukEngineer Magazine, and the Co-Founder of the Duke robotics service organization.