By Mika Reyes (Kai Entrepreneurship Wesleyan Co-President)
I probably sent out 70+ emails total to coordinate the annual Silicon Valley trip we had early this year. Cold emails to our hosts, reminder emails to our participants, follow-up emails to the Kai team. Kai’s Slack channels were buzzing with ideas about how to fundraise for our participants, where we should live for the week, which companies to visit on each day, how to be smart about our funds. We worked tirelessly to make this program succeed for the second time in a row, and I like to think we did just that.
But what exactly was success for this program? At first, my personal goal was to maximize the happiness and satisfaction of our participants. I wanted them to leave feeling enthusiastic about the big companies we visited and get inspired to work in the larger tech industry. “Wow, we’re visiting Facebook and Google? This itinerary is awesome!” Music to my ears. Perhaps someone could even get a job offer because of this exposure!
Only on the second to the last day of our trip did I realize how skewed my success metrics were.
That night, we had a dinner discussion with three Wesleyan alums currently living in Silicon Valley. Over taco salad and red sauce pasta, participants shared their reflections from the past three days. One person talked about her conflict exploring a building that served free food to all employees and coming out of that building to see a whole street filled with homeless people. Another commented on diversity: how most places mention it is a priority, but don’t have unique ways of proving how diversity is promoted in the workplace. My first thought: “Oh no! They aren’t having a good time. What are we doing wrong?”
As we continued to converse, however, I realized that my initial success metrics were clouding the true goals of the Kai Silicon Valley experience. I was too concerned about giving people a good time, when I should’ve reminded myself of why we established these programs in the first place: to not only help our students get a glimpse of the tech space so they could further their careers, but to put their liberal arts critical thinking mindsets into practice to the problems associated in the space. To give them a holistic glimpse of the culture and environment of the industry. To help them see beyond the fully furnished lounges, 401k benefits and daily free food.
I re-evaluated my meaning of success. A person coming out of the experience with a job was a bonus. A person coming out of the experience with a better understanding of whether the industry is a good fit for them, and with a critical view about the problems in the space that they could reflect on to enact change in the future was success.
The alums in our dinner felt “a breath of fresh air” for once again being around Wes kids. It was rare to have discussions about the social issues that plagued their every day, signaling to me that there was not enough of this awareness outside of the confines of our school. Kai was established with the mission of bringing inclusion and diversity in entrepreneurship. After this experience of immersing ourselves in industry, it’s more important than ever that we strive towards this goal. We need these critical minds in these spaces, igniting conversations on social issues. We need these liberal arts change makers in the industry. We need to problem solve around the problems that are sometimes left hanging.
For the rest of the semester after that, Kai focused on planning for our future. And as we continue growing, we hope to push this mission forward, within our own organization, for the people we service, and for the wider entrepreneurship industry. There is still a lot to do and a lot more emails to send, but these conversations are a good start, and I’m sure there are more to come.