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Buckeyes experience Silicon Valley's startup culture firsthand

Alum Mike Morell (far right) exposed six engineering students and ECS Director Amy Thaci to the Bay area's thriving startup culture during the inaugural Buckeye Trek.Silicon Valley got a taste for the Scarlet and Gray as a proud Ohio State alumnus exposed current Buckeye engineers to the area’s thriving startup culture in the inaugural Buckeye Trek.

The brainchild of alum Michael Morell (’93 industrial and systems engineering), the new program sent some of the best and brightest students in the College of Engineering to Silicon Valley to soak up the environment of innovation and entrepreneurship.

“After 15 years recruiting in Silicon Valley, it was obvious to me that Ohio State alums were underrepresented,” said Morell. “My theory was that this was simply a result of the lack of awareness of the types of opportunities that exist on the west coast.”

As the founder of Riviera Partners, Morell specializes in talent acquisition for tech startup companies such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Dropbox.

In partnership with the College of Engineering and his colleagues at Riviera Partners, Morell invited six undergraduate engineering students to attend an immersive two-day workshop in late January, introducing them to founders, CEOs and investors from innovative technology companies only found in the Bay area.

Among the Buckeyes to make the trip were computer science and engineering students Benjamin Bloom, Matias Grioni, Junho Lim, Nishant Rimal and Alex Tareshawty, and biomedical engineering student Anthony Mango. Amy Thaci, director of Engineering Career Services, also joined them.

The students attended roundtable discussions with companies ranging from small startups in the venture capital financing phase to established companies in order to learn more about the culture of innovation fostered at each company. Big Commerce, Tile, okta, IFTTT, Quid, Zendesk, Snowflake and Riviera Partners all participated in the trek.

“After experiencing the high paced environment, the brilliant minds behind the newest inventions and the beautiful scenery, I couldn’t be more eager to join the atmosphere,” said Mango. “I will forever be gratified I received the opportunity to participate in a unique program such as this. Most importantly, the friends I made along the way, as well as the connections, will continue to benefit me as I pursue my future career.”

Making connections between high-tech companies and Ohio State’s best and brightest was a major goal for Buckeye Trek, which aims to create a pipeline for future internships and confirms Ohio State as a source for excellent engineering talent.

“It is my hope is that it was just the first step to increasing the Ohio State representation at ground zero of technology innovation,” said Morell.

This isn’t the first time Morell has given back to support Buckeye engineers. He and his wife, Dina, established the Michael and Dina Morell Computer Science and Engineering Scholarship Fund to provide undergraduate scholarship support for computer science and engineering students. 

Immerging students into the fast-paced and innovative world of startup companies during the trek also opened doors for summer internship opportunities and beyond.

“I think the most important lesson I gleaned from the trip is the different opportunities I have at this stage of my career,” said Grioni. “In terms of student priorities, school is always at the forefront. Going on the trip put my career after Ohio State into focus.”

With the success of the first Buckeye Trek, college organizers and Morell are planning to host future trips.

As of now, six Buckeyes have been bitten by the Silicon Valley bug and are hoping to return and work there as soon as possible. 

by Emily Lehmkuhl, College of Engineering student communications assistant