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Columbia West Coast Treks: Bigger, Better Than Ever in 20th Year

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West 20th Columbia bigger Year

MBA students are back on the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia Business School (CBS), shuttling to and from class, gathering to work on group projects and heavily involved in student clubs—much as they were in the first term. But close to 100 of those students have an expanded perspective of West Coast career opportunities thanks to their participation in career treks to a wide range of startups and established firms stretching from Los Angeles to Seattle.

January marked the 20th anniversary of CBS’s Career Management Center (CMC) West Coast Treks, and in the two decades since they have grown in countless ways. “In that first year, back in 1998, there were probably about a dozen students on the trek along with a couple of faculty members,” recalls Gina Resnick, senior associate dean and senior managing director of the CMC. Initially, the West Coast trek was focused on technology firms in Silicon Valley, primarily hardware companies, she says. Over time, the tech firm visits expanded to include software, storage and handheld device companies, and a concurrent venture capital (VC) trek was added. This year, 60 students took part in the tech trek, 12 toured many of the leading VC firms in the Valley, another dozen or so headed south for a media trek in L.A., and smaller groups set off on their own treks to healthcare and green energy companies.

The number of student participants and range of industries aren’t all that have multiplied over the years, Resnick says. “Columbia Business School’s presence in the Valley has grown and grown,” she says. “Now, when we call companies and say we’re are from CBS, everyone knows exactly who we are. It’s very exciting to see the reception our students get when we come out.”

Student interest dictates which company visits are included as part of the various treks, and much of the heavy lifting in terms of planning and logistics falls to the students themselves. “It is a great development experience for them—just making the contacts out here and putting the treks together,” says Resnick, who spoke to Clear Admit from a classroom at Stanford while on the trek last month. Student organizers worked throughout the semester to develop the programming in collaboration with the CMC. “They even held an amazing kickoff in New York, complete with leadership exercises and an executive beamed in from a Silicon Valley startup to talk about how they could best utilize their time during their visits,” she says.

Tech Trek 2017

Columbia West Coast Treks: Bigger, Better Than Ever in 20th Year

Pedro Barata, CBS MBA Class of 2018

Pedro Barata, 28, was one of the organizers of the Technology West Coast Trek, responsible for communicating with some of the companies the students would visit to discuss agendas, points of interest and logistics. Among the 21 scheduled stops were Apple, CreditKarma, Flextronics, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, LYFT and Uber. First-year student Barata, who spent five years working as a management consultant for a boutique firm in Brazil and Argentina before business school, most looked forward to the Microsoft visit. “We would be hosted by the North American CFO, who is a CBS alum,” he explains. “That highlighted the strength of our community and how approachable people are.”

But in retrospect, a visit to apartment rental tech startup Zumper perhaps proved most beneficial for him. “We were hosted by the founder, who gave a candid perspective of the startup environment in the Bay Area,” Barata says. The Zumper visit provided a clear view of its culture, challenges and solutions as well as access to insights and information that weren’t available at some of the other companies visited. It also helped that Zumper founder Anthemos Georgiades was a former consultant and MBA grad, making it very east for Barata to relate to him.

This up-close view of companies’ cultures—and Silicon Valley overall—was incredibly valuable, according to Barata. “From my experience, the way you are hosted and interact with people in their environment tells a lot about the culture,” he says. “My takeaway is that the region has created an environment that values diversity of thought, risk-taking and resilience—and that drives their success.”

The trek cemented Barata’s goals of working in innovative environments. “We met inspiring people who achieved their goals through different paths, yet with a common trait of innovating and challenging the status quo.”

Columbia West Coast Treks: Bigger, Better Than Ever in 20th Year

Sampoorna Dasgupta, CBS MBA Class of 2017

Second-year Sampoorna Dasgupta, 28, called the tech trek “the most organized CBS trip I’ve been on,” complimenting the organizers, who also happen to be friends and were even roommates on the trip. But hers was a vantage point that let her fully appreciate all the work that went on behind the scenes to make it happen.

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