At Google, PayPal and beyond, Oakland students receive real-world lessons about Bay Area experiential learning opportunities

Students wearing white lab coats with hoods and white masks at Onto Innovations.
Northeastern students from the Oakland campus visit Onto Innovations in Milpitas, California, during the Experiential Entrepreneurship program. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University

OAKLAND, Calif. — First-year Northeastern University student Joel Brook doesn’t usually don a white full-body coverall for his studies on the Oakland campus.

But Wednesday was no ordinary day. Instead of attending class, Brook and hundreds of other students headed for Bay Area workplaces as part of the university’s new Experiential Entrepreneurship program.

While some students headed to Google, the Oakland Zoo or other locations, Brook headed to Onto Innovation, a semiconductor equipment manufacturer in Milpitas, California, a suburb of San Jose.

There, he got a real-world lesson in the importance of keeping the semiconductor manufacturing space pristine.

“Those machines are so precise that even if a small speck of dust gets in them it can completely mess up the readings,” said Brook, a Boston resident studying on Northeastern’s Oakland campus. “You have to try to minimize as much as you can any dust or bacteria” from getting into the room.

For Brook, the day was an eye-opener. 

“I like being able to speak to people who actually work in the industry,” he said. “Being able to talk to them and see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it is really inspiring.”

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun helped kick off the Experiential Entrepreneurship program on Tuesday.

During the two-day program, students in Oakland alternated between spending a day on campus — hearing speakers from private industry and the public sector, and working on their own solutions to real-world problems — and visiting 31 worksites ranging from small to expansive.

‘Curiosity and a willingness to explore new horizons’

The participating businesses were just as happy to meet the students.

“Northeastern students exhibited several commendable qualities,” said Voleine Amilcar, director of marketing and communications for Berkeley Repertory Theatre, an award-winning nonprofit that hosted students for backstage tours and panels. “They possess curiosity and a willingness to explore new horizons, and some even expressed a genuine passion for the arts.”

Amilcar echoed the virtues of experiential learning, not just for the students’ benefit, but for business and community leaders looking to employ the next generation. It’s a win-win situation.

“It empowers students to apply classroom knowledge to real-world situations, equipping them with practical skills, problem-solving abilities, and a deeper understanding of various career paths,” she said. “For Berkeley Rep, the value of experiential learning lies in the opportunity to connect and engage with the next generation of artists and professionals, contributing to the continued growth and vitality of the arts community.”

First-year computer science and biology student Aarushi Gupta was impressed by Berkeley Rep’s commitment to its mission of championing the arts.

“Berkeley Rep seemed so invested in their company,” she said, noting that she got a lot of inspiration from the visit even though it didn’t directly apply to what she was studying.

Google engineers offer career advice

At Google’s spacious Mountain View’s visitor center, software engineer Grace Vesom told students to “make connections.”

She also told students to “be memorable somehow” and to fearlessly “take up space.”

Student Advait Dharampal said he appreciated hearing about the different career paths taken by Vesom and her Google colleague David Rendleman, as well as advice from software engineer Kristine Umeh.

Umeh, a double Husky who also studied Chinese music, inspired Dharampal, a computer science major, to pick an interesting minor. 

“How much interdisciplinary work she did resonated with me a lot,” Dharampal said.

Umeh said the opportunity to advise current students about how to best position themselves for a successful future was a chance to use her experience to help others. 

Umeh told students they need to develop soft skills such as teamwork and holding up under pressure as well as to cultivate technical skills.

“I would do at least one dialogue (of civilizations) or study abroad,” Umeh said. “This is basically a first introduction to a cross-functional team.”

I like being able to speak to people who actually work in the industry. Being able to talk to them and see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it is really inspiring.

Joel Brook, a Boston resident studying on Northeastern’s Oakland campus

What’s the company culture at PayPal?

When envisioning their perfect careers, not many students fantasize about sitting at a desk in an office. But they need a little help understanding what the alternative might look like.  

Jahanavi Sinha, a first-year computer science and economics major, visited PayPal and returned to campus with a clearer picture of its company culture, which was decidedly “anti-cubicle,” something she wouldn’t have known had she not seen it for herself.

“PayPal was focused on collaboration and how working together with people is the key to success,” Sinha said. “I noticed all the shared spaces around campus — not the typical ‘cubicle culture.’”

Sinha appreciated Northeastern’s experiential learning model. It’s something that drew her to the Oakland campus.

“I have a sister and she’s a senior in college,” Sinha said. “She definitely has not had the physical experience of her college letting her go to a company and enter a building to see what it’s like.”

Develop skills that translate to different jobs

Matt Fan, a first-year data science and math major, agreed that choosing a company based on your particular major is outdated thinking. He chose data science specifically because it has broader applications, and offers more flexibility when it comes time to choose employers. 

These ideas were reinforced by the business leaders he met from T-Mobile and Berkeley Rep.

“I learned that whatever degree or major you’re doing right now, it won’t necessarily translate to  your job. But the skills translate to different jobs,” he said.

Sanya Reddy, a first-year finance major, found her visit to Square, a payment processing startup, helpful in highlighting career flexibility within technology companies. A self-described “people person,” Reddy was happy to hear that there were more people-focused employment opportunities in financial technology than she originally thought.

“It reminded me of other roles that don’t involve engineering or tech aspects — more tech-adjacent roles,” she said, citing examples like working with investors or becoming a manager within the company. “I prefer something not too corporate. It’s too easy to get sucked up into helping other companies rather than helping other people.”

Northeastern students visit Onto Innovation in Milpitas, California, during the Experiential Entrepreneurship program. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University

Connecting the underserved to health care

One of the job sites Athena Lebron visited was Pair Team, where she met the co-founder of the company that connects underserved communities to high-quality health care.

She also participated in a conversation with Bay Area entrepreneurs who graduated from Northeastern.

“After seeing all the opportunities Northeastern has, just from going to the school and the name, I realized there were some things I should probably be taking advantage of,” Lebron said.

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Student Jake Timblick said he’s interested in possibly becoming a clinical psychologist and had a lot of questions for the Pair Team representative about the difference between having his own practice and being an entrepreneur.

“It turns out there aren’t too many differences between entrepreneurship and opening up your own practice. It’s just the product you are selling is very different,” Timblick said.

“The other question I was asking about is networking. It’s very clear as a student you have so much access to networking,” he said, adding that he plans to email the entrepreneurs for more information.

A peek into someone else’s success story

Theresa Kubo, a first-year student from the Bay Area, enjoyed visiting Red Bay Coffee, a female-owned startup in Oakland. She not only got a free coffee but a peek into someone else’s success story.

“They care about their employees and want to make sure they pay them well, and support them to grow as a person in the workplace,” she said. “It’s extremely inspirational to see a woman of color from the Bay be able to have a startup and thrive from it.”

Sinha agreed that her exposure to all types of businesses, from large corporations to small startups, was key to the success of the Experiential Entrepreneurship program.

“When people think of internships, they think of a big company like Google or Apple,” she said. “The impact that startups have is big.”

But the biggest thing that Sinha took away was a quote from a panelist at PayPal. It was so impactful that she wrote it down: “Think about a world that doesn’t even exist yet.”

The quote stuck with her.

“There’s so many things we can do with our ideas,” she said.

Meeting Northeastern entrepreneurs was inspiring

Yuna Kang of Georgia and Benjamin Kim of Los Angeles said meeting Northeastern entrepreneurs was inspiring.

“It shows the strength of the Northeastern alumni network,” Kim said.

He spent the afternoon at the Oakland Zoo, where among walks and talks in spaces inhabited by lions and tigers and giraffes he learned about the marketing and fundraising it takes to keep a large zoo afloat.

Carrie Maultsby-Lute, head of partnerships for Northeastern’s Oakland campus, said university officials base the Oakland experiential entrepreneurship program on three themes: the creativity and ethics of technology, sustainability, and health and wellness.

“Under the technology, creative ethics theme, we took students to Google and Paypal — larger companies that everyone has heard of,” she said.

“We also took students to some medium-sized companies that were scaling like Marqeta and Block,” a dynamic fintech company, Maultsby-Lute said.

Students also visited nonprofit companies centered on technology, including Gameheads, which she said “is teaching underrepresented students how to get into technology through gaming and creating their own video games.”

“We also took a group of students to Berkeley Repertory Theatre to talk about how creativity and ethics and technology shows up in a space you might not traditionally think about when you’re thinking about careers in technology,” she said.

“We really tried to have a dynamic mix of the different types and sizes of companies,” Maultsby-Lute said.

Cynthia McCormick Hibbert is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at or contact her on X/Twitter @HibbertCynthia.