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Engineering students study “abroad” in Silicon Valley

| Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A few weeks ago, the first ever group of 10 computer science and computer engineering students traveled to California to begin their semester studying in Silicon Valley.

The program has been in the works since Notre Dame California interim director Patrick Flynn was on sabbatical last school year.

web Silicon ValleyCourtesy of Luke Duane

“Things went quiet in the early spring semester of 2016 because [former Notre Dame California director Greg] Crawford was starting to transition to Miami University, but when I was asked to step in as the interim director for Notre Dame California, this idea was revived and I was encouraged to pursue it,” he said. “Since that time, it’s been a matter of setting things up and getting it into place and identifying students to come out here and then making things go when they started arriving earlier in the semester.”

Students involved in the program split their time between three classes — all offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays — and an internship.

Junior computer science major Luke Duane is working 20 hours a week as a data scientist with OpsPanda, a sales-resource planning startup that reached out to him.

“Currently, I’m getting used to the company and how they do stuff and the code and what not, and they’re going to do that for a few weeks — then I’ll get assigned to a project that I’ll be working with another intern so we’ll be working on that for the rest of the semester,” he said.  

Initially, the classes are being held at Menlo College in Atherton, Calif., but construction on the “physical home of Notre Dame California” in downtown Palo Alto recently wrapped up and classes will move there soon, Flynn said.

“We’re not going to be able to hold courses until [Feb. 21] because the internet connection hasn’t been activated,” he said. “It will be activated in the next week or so. Once that happens and we get the networking installed, then the courses will migrate from Menlo, where they’re being held in pretty much a traditional lecture hall with a projector to the Palo Alto facility, which has a very nice teaching space as well as small meeting rooms.”

The facility will be the hub for Notre Dame California for the next three years, per an agreement with the owner of the building, AT&T.

“At the end of that time, there will be a decision about to continue using that space or to move to a new space,” Flynn said. “That’s going to depend on growth, not only of the Silicon Valley Semester program, but the other things that are underway at Notre Dame California.”

Of the courses being offered to students in the Silicon Valley Semester, only one — taught by Flynn — is being taught on site. The others are through the online platform offered through the Office of Digital Learning or through two-way live video streaming, Flynn said.

“I think a recipe for growth for [Notre Dame California] is going to involve those things, but we’re also going to have to identify some local teaching talent, possibly through some of the other local schools to see if they’re interested in sharing courses and work out a mix of course offerings,” he said. “It’s a fact that the cost of living out here is rather high, so I think our ability to bring people out here to teach is fairly limited, so we’ll have to see what we can do in collaboration with other schools and that’s something we’ll be paying more attention to that as we build up other programs to take advantage of the facility and the space while we’re out here.”

Looking forward, Flynn said he hopes to expand the study programs being offered by Notre Dame California.

“We’re looking at an undergraduate study program for Arts and Letters in Los Angeles — you could even imagine similar experiences in San Diego and in Orange County,” he said. “All of those have been discussed as part of the growth plan for Notre Dame California. It’s going to take time — we can’t do it all in a one-year stretch — but if we come up with a plan and then provide the appropriate resources to execute the plan, we should probably have a nice, comprehensive set of offerings.

“We certainly want all majors to have opportunities out here — we don’t want to limit offerings just to STEM majors,” Flynn said.  

In addition to classes and internships, Flynn said he has helped organize a host of “outside activities” for the students, one being weekly dinners with Notre Dame alums.

“What we do is we meet at an area restaurant, we bring in one of the alumni, and they have the chance during the meal and after the meal to talk about their experiences in California, what Notre Dame was like when they were there,” he said. “Certainly, there’s a tech orientation to many of the people, but they’re not exclusively technologists. We have people who are more on the venture capitalist side and some other friends of Notre Dame as well.”

Duane said the dinners have been a great way to connect back to the University while he’s studying in California.

“It’s something I didn’t really realize until I got out here — I had always heard about the Notre Dame network and how deep it is and how many people are out there, willing to help Notre Dame alums,” he said. “I always believed it, but I didn’t really meet it face-to-face until I entered this program.

“ … It’s really cool to meet these people that went to the same school and have found so much success and they’re so well intertwined with the area. They’re very adamant about us reaching out for anything we need. It’s kind of a realization of the abstract Notre Dame network I’ve always heard about that I didn’t actually realize, but it’s kind of come alive and it’s been great to meet those people.”

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About Megan Valley

Megan Valley was Assistant Managing Editor for The Observer. She majored in English and the Program of Liberal Studies and hailed from Flushing, Michigan.

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