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Northeastern’s Experiential Treks program connects students on Oakland campus with industry giants like Tesla, SAP and Block

Multiple students stand in a news station's studio before a green screen for Northeastern's Entrepreneurship Treks program.
Northeastern students visit ABC7 Bay Area during the Experiential Treks on March 19, 2024 in San Francisco, California. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University

Grace Koo, a first-year computer science and business major on Northeastern’s Oakland campus, has an affinity for electric cars, specifically ones made by Tesla.

So when the opportunity arose for her to spend time at the company as part of the university’s Experiential Treks program, she thought it would be the perfect time to learn more about the carmaker.

Now, after the E-Treks, if you were to ask Koo how Tesla assembles its cars, she’d provide a more detailed answer than most first-year college students.

She also came away with a list of contacts at the company she can use when applying for co-ops and jobs, and many of those contacts are Northeastern graduates.

That’s precisely the goal of the program, says Karimah Omer, associate director of partnerships at Northeastern.

Launched last semester, the E-Treks program partners with Bay Area companies to give students immersive real-world experiences.

Students visited the following companies Tesla, SAP,  Golden State Warriors, Humane, ABC7 News, Onto Innovation, Chabot Space & Science Center, Urban Machine, Oakland Roots, Artthaus, Block (formerly Square), Oakland Museum, Port Labs, ABC7 News, Oakland Zoo, Heirloom Coffee Roasters, and The Lawrence Hall of Science.

This is the second time Koo has taken part in the program. Last semester, she learned from experts at PayPal, a financial tech company, and Port Labs, a business accelerator for startups.

“The whole experience of E-Treks has been really helpful for people like me,” Koo says. “As someone who doesn’t have those big connections in the big tech world space and the industry itself, I think the school provides an equal opportunity for all.”

Like Koo, Jahanavi Sinha, a first-year computer science and economics major, also experienced Tesla this semester, and PayPal and Port Labs last semester.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that Tesla is at the forefront of innovation, especially in the automotive industry when taking [into consideration] advancements into autonomous driving technology,” she says. “It was really interesting to get the opportunity to be able to see how they create these cars and how they’re working toward environmental sustainability.”

Sinha had the opportunity to interview Northeastern graduates working as engineers at the company’s facilities where it makes cars and humanoid robots.

“Being able to connect with them was something that could help me in the future, especially when it comes to applying for co-ops or even jobs,” she adds.

Richard Zou, a first-year business administration major, experienced Block (formerly known as Square). The tech company, which was started by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, provides mobile payment processing services for retailers and restaurants.

Zou is studying financial technology at Northeastern, so it was a perfect fit.

His favorite part of the Block immersion was learning more about the company’s history and early products.

“One thing we saw was the history of their chip readers,” says Zou, who visited Onto Innovation & Turner Construction last semester. “We saw an initial sketch of how Square was created, when the company was co-founded by Jack Dorsey.”

Mehr Anand, a freshman computer science major, learned from experts at SAP, a business analytics company. He has an interest in their artificial intelligence products.

“I’m a computer science student, but my concentration is in AI,” he says. “I know AI is a huge buzzword, but SAP is also very huge into AI. They created their own AI recently, which they have been evolving.”

Anand is confident the E-Treks program will one day help him land a job at a company like SAP.

“SAP went over internship possibilities, work opportunities, how to apply, who they are looking for, and why working for SAP was such an amazing experience,” Anand says.

Last semester, he visited Kaiser Permanente, a health care company and YEP, a financial services company.

It’s not just Northeastern students who get a lot out of the experience. The partnering companies also see the E-Treks program as a great recruitment tool.

Jorge Villalobos, senior director of manufacturing at Onto Innovation, says the program has helped his company attract young talent.

Onto Innovation is a provider of metrology semiconductor equipment, and although the semiconductor industry has seen a resurgence in the U.S., it’s been hard to find young workers who are interested in gaining the skills to work in the space, he says.

“Now with the geopolitical stuff that’s been happening with the Chips Act, there’s been a push for the semiconductor industry,” he says.

Andrea Lepore, vice president of brand partnerships at the Oakland Roots Sports club, says the E-Treks program falls perfectly in line with the organization’s community goals.

“This program was a natural fit for us to engage with Northeastern,” she says.

Humane, a tech startup developing wearable AI technology, hopes that by partnering with Northeastern it can attract high-quality students for its internship and co-op programs.

The company’s first product is the Ai Pin, a wearable device that can be used to play music, send messages and make calls.

Monique Macias, Humane’s university’s program partner, says what sets the company apart from other tech companies is that it’s trying to disrupt the industry with a new product category.

During their immersive experiences, Northeastern students were able to speak directly with the engineers who developed the Ai Pin and demo the technology.

“We had engineers from the mechanical side. We had product design. We had software engineers,” she says.