December 14, 2017
School & Youth
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  • Eleven Severna Park High School students experienced the trip of a lifetime when they traveled to Silicon Valley in order to get an inside look at the companies that drive our world.
    Provided
    Eleven Severna Park High School students experienced the trip of a lifetime when they traveled to Silicon Valley in order to get an inside look at the companies that drive our world.
  • Eleven Severna Park High School students experienced the trip of a lifetime when they traveled to Silicon Valley in order to get an inside look at the companies that drive our world.
    Provided
    Eleven Severna Park High School students experienced the trip of a lifetime when they traveled to Silicon Valley in order to get an inside look at the companies that drive our world.
  • Eleven Severna Park High School students experienced the trip of a lifetime when they traveled to Silicon Valley in order to get an inside look at the companies that drive our world.
    Provided
    Eleven Severna Park High School students experienced the trip of a lifetime when they traveled to Silicon Valley in order to get an inside look at the companies that drive our world.
  • Eleven Severna Park High School students experienced the trip of a lifetime when they traveled to Silicon Valley in order to get an inside look at the companies that drive our world.
    Provided
    Eleven Severna Park High School students experienced the trip of a lifetime when they traveled to Silicon Valley in order to get an inside look at the companies that drive our world.

Severna Park High School Signature Program Travels To Silicon Valley

Rob Odle
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November 3, 2016

Eleven Severna Park High School Signature Program students experienced the trip of a lifetime in the closing days of October. Daniel and Peyton Brack, Erica Szymanski, Brian Yeatts, Griffin Strickler, Christian Lim, Bohdan Andrulis, Carson Whitney, Caleb Robinson, Drew Prodehl and Carolina Cassel Durr all traveled to California to get an inside look at the global technology hotbed that is Silicon Valley.

Known for its high concentration of companies like Facebook, Google and Apple, Silicon Valley is home to countless technology and engineering firms that range from global leaders in the field to blossoming startup businesses.

JoAnne Brack, signature program facilitator at SPHS, thought that a trip to San Francisco would be the perfect chance to inspire students and connect them to a global business community.

Students visited massive companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter but also made a point to tour lesser-known companies like Way2B1, Autodesk and Marvell Electronics. The idea behind visiting different size companies was so that students could understand the life cycle of the businesses.

Planning for the trip began about nine months ago, and was possible thanks to the help of the Signature Program’s Integrated Community Stakeholders Team. In fact, it was Stacey Locke, chair of the ICST and a member of the University of Maryland (UMD) department of computer science, who helped facilitate much of the trip.

“You can’t just go take a tour. You have to have a host that brings you into the companies,” JoAnne Brack explained. Luckily, Silicon Valley is populated with many UMD alumni working in myriad roles at various companies. Not only were the Maryland alumni able to give SPHS students an inside look at what it’s like to work for companies like Google, they were also determined to give insider advice about what it takes to get the job in the first place.

“Really, the whole process and journey taught the students what to expect in real life,” JoAnne said, citing all of the advice given by hosts.

In fact, many students learned much more than just what to expect in the real world.

“I’ve always been interested in computer science, but I was never really certain about what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go,” said Daniel Brack, a senior.

But, after hearing from multiple UMD graduates about the opportunities they’ve been afforded through their education, Daniel was ready to make his choice. “[The trip] really inspired my college choice and my choice of what to do with my major,” he said. “It pretty much cemented in my mind that I want to be a cyber security major.”

Daniel said that cyber security is something that he had considered pursuing in the past, but he was never ready to make a firm decision as he was still considering completely different fields and positions, such as a marine pilot.

The Silicon Valley experience alone was more than enough for Daniel to confirm his new life plan.

“It was absolutely unbelievable to see how engaged the students were and how enlightened they were,” JoAnne said. She added that she was thrilled to “help facilitate future goals and careers and give [students] a taste of what it’s really like to work at those companies.”

Another student, Carolina Cassel Durr, was talked into going on the trip by her classmate, Erica Szymanski. Cassell Durr had some interest in business, but she had planned to pursue a degree in journalism after high school.

After attending the trip, however, Cassell Durr, a sophomore, decided to change her life plan completely. Learning about the different jobs and opportunities on the West Coast inspired Cassell Durr to now pursue a degree and career in engineering.

“The trip was a complete turning point,” Cassell Durr said, adding that she is already planning to take business-focused classes next year.

Though the trip did not completely alter their futures, two fellow sophomores, Peyton Brack and Christian Lim, said that they felt it was a life-changing experience.

Both students had gone on the trip because of their interest in business, and each had hoped to network a bit while they were there. The boys were worried that the tours would be uninformative, lecture-style presentations, but were delighted to find that their hosts were employees of the company, able to show off nearly every aspect of the business — including the unique company culture.

“Most people there were relatable,” Peyton said. “It’s easier to talk to people there, and it’s easier to make connections with them.”

Peyton was impressed with the way businesses, especially Google, operate in Silicon Valley. He described the Google Mountain View headquarters as a “college campus,” and praised its myriad amenities such as a gym, arcade and volleyball courts.

“I didn’t think there was any other way to run a company,” Peyton said, describing the relaxed business environment at Google. “I thought it was just managers and employees, but it’s just different [in California]. How much they care about their employees is crazy.”

Feeding off Peyton’s point, Cassell Durr agreed. “I think communication is key. Here, they say communication is key, but over there, everyone really works together.” Cassell Durr said that her impression was that of companies adapting to the needs of employees to create a “group work” environment as opposed to a hierarchy.

Lim agreed with his classmate’s points, but said that, while the business culture was interesting, he was much more focused on the many areas of work available for those with the right skills.

For instance, he left for the trip hoping to learn more about the business side of things, such as finances and management, but he returned more interested in computer science than ever. Much of that can be attributed to a host at AOL, another company the students visited, which told Lim about the future of computer science, machine learning and artificial intelligence. “I thought that was really cool,” Lim said, adding that he now sees the importance of a strong knowledge of both business management and computer science. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I think I have a much better understanding now,” Lim said.

For all of the students involved, the trip served as a lesson in what their future could be. Jobs at Google, Twitter and Facebook are some of the most sought-after positions in the world, but, as Peyton said, every SPHS student has the potential to be hired.

“As long as we personally want to get it, I think we have a shot at it,” Peyton said. “They told us, ‘It doesn’t matter how many of hours of school you have, you need to want it.’”

In January, those 11 students will hold a reception at the new Severna Park High School. Parents, board members, teachers and friends will be invited to hear the stories and experiences of each student as they tell “how they were inspired” over the course of the trip.

Until then, each of the 11 will likely share their story with anyone who will listen, and will keep in constant contact with the peers that they made lifelong memories with.

“We became a family on this trip,” Peyton concluded.


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