64 HBCU students went to Silicon Valley

The week before Thanksgiving, I was fortunate enough to attend the UNCF HBCU Innovation Summit. I and 63 other students (representing 21 HBCUs around the country) embarked on a 5 day tour around San Francisco’s hottest companies. I took some notes, and I wanted to share the highlights with you. Some of the advice may overlap, and some might cancel out with the others, but I hope you digest it all and find inspiration to go do some of your best work.


Jeff Lawson is excited to work at Twilio. You can tell by the way he talks that he loves it, and that was one of the biggest things he expressed to us: do what you love.

He was never fully happy in his roles before Twilio, and he is thankful that he kept searching instead of settling on something that he truly didn’t love. When it comes to business, he let us know that it’s all about getting your customers to love your product. You don’t have to wait on the investor to [have people love your product]. In fact, the investor is waiting for you Lawson saysHe encourged us to choose a place to work right after school where we can learn alot and make a difference.


We went a couple blocks down the road (literally) to Yelp after Twilio. We heard from a panel who gave very genuine and timely advice. We were encouraged to take ownership of our own careers, and pushed to reach out to people doing the things we want to do and learn from them. We were told there are three types of people we should try to add to our network:

  1. Peer, or someone who we is experiencing the same things we may be going through and will be willing to help support along the way.
  2. Mentor, or someone you can see yourself as when you think of your career trajectory.
  3. Sponsor, or someone who can open the door and provide opportunites for us because they see the potential in us.


Pinterest had an awesome headquarters. One of the best on the trip in my opinion. They also had some of the most genuine and honest panel speakers. Some of them graduated from HBCUs, and it was cool to hear their stories. They told stories about them quitting their jobs, moving to Paris to become lingerie designers, making mistakes and never quitting along the way. They pushed our group to make the most of the opportunites that will come our way…like going on a 5 day trip to Silicon Valley, all expenses paid.


I want to remind you…this is all on the first day of the trip. Half of the group had to leave Pinterest early to head to Uber. To our surprise we were meeting Travis Kalanick, the Co-founder and CEO at Uber. (The other half got to meet Pinterest’s CEO.)

Uber is home to some awesome people like Damien Hooper-Campbell, who is the Global Diversity & Inclusion Lead at Uber, and an HBCU grad (Morehouse). After Damien’s presentation, it was time for Travis to speak with us, and he’s big on stories. A story about Mark Cuban rejecting an offer to invest in Uber. A story about him having to eat ramen with no money in the bank. A story about him overestimating the risk in a decision which allowed Lyft to come in and take market share. The man has stories for days. I asked him a question…nervously. I asked him who does he go to when he needs advice. To everyone’s surprise, he said he doesn’t ask others for advice. Instead he listens to stories and takes what’s applicable to the decision he has to make. I thought it was interesting that he’s also reading about the founding fathers because if those guys could successfully start a country, then [he] can handle the problems that come up with a company. Travis encouraged us to hustle, hustle and hustle. He talked about his socks that say “Blood, Sweat and Ramen”. These socks are a perfect match for his Champion’s mindset: Work harder, smarter and better than the competition and never 2 out of the 3. Leave it all on the field he says.


We left Uber and hopped on the elevator to go see Square. Yes…they’re in the same building. Square’s card reader is a very elegant piece of work, and that same care and attention to detail is seen throughout the office. It’s beautiful. We went to Square on the same day that they IPO’d, so it was cool standing inside the headquarters on such a historic day for them. Square has an awesome, awesome, awesome group of recruiters that we met. They’re very genuine and truly looking out for students’ best interest. Gloria, Saqi, Anil and Vanessa are all really good people; Some student got to do paired programming with Square’s engineers which was a great to see them taking the time to invest in the students after work hours on IPO day. Gloria, a recruiter at Square, is very passionate about creating a diverse environment at Square. She encouraged us to not be defined how people labeled us and to always believe in our abilities 100%. Simple, yet timeless advice.

In my opinion the trip wasn’t about exposing us to Silicon Valley, but about exposing Silicon Valley to us. It was such a group of talented Computer Science and Engineering majors who have had bomb internships at The White House, Jawbone, Yik Yak, Adobe, Johnson & Johnson, NASA and more. If anyone out there is looking for talent from an HBCU, I suggest you do two things: search through the list I compiled of the students who went below with their LinkedIn profiles. I also suggest you visit an HBCU and walk around the campus and connect with students. There’s so much talent.

Isaiah Grigsby, Clark Atlanta University

Carlette OdemwingieSpelman College

Lusenii KromahNorth Carolina A&T State University

Angelica WillisNorth Carolina A&T State University

Swedhana Viswanathan, Hampton University

Kehlin SwainPrairie View A&M University

Chidimma Christine Amagwula, Prairie View A&M University

Josuel MusambaghaniMorehouse College

Shannon JohnsonBowie State University

Aaliyah GriffinSpelman College

Anthony WashingtonTuskegee University

Jonathan SmithFlorida A&M University

Jasmine Stith, Prairie View A&M University

Janay A. JohnsonBennett College for Women

Darian NwankwoMorehouse College

Isaiah Weaver, Morgan State University

Surabhya AryalFisk University

Frank NijimbereMorehouse College

Sydney MeeksBennett College for Women

Brianna FugateSpelman College

Ebenezer Nkrumah, Fisk University

Kehinde OrogbangbaHampton University

Taiwo Orobangba, Hampton University

Aminata Sow, Bowie State University

Joey Courseault, Morehouse College

Elizabeth LynchSpelman College

Nicole JeffersonVirginia State University

Aaron ChambersClark Atlanta University

Morgan Marshall, Florida A&M University

Pradip KhanalClaflin University

Emmanuel Mong, Claflin University

Gentry Redmond, Florida A&M University

Zack Myrick, Morehouse College

Johan RhodesPrairie View A&M University

Ifreke OkpokowurukMorehouse College

Samman Bikram ThapaHoward University

Jenish KoiralaClaflin University

Ty’Javon BrownMiles College

Nia CawthorneBennett College for Women

Roshan ThapaliyaHoward University

Bright DotuFisk University

Sakshyam DahalClaflin University

Elizabeth SengobaSpelman College

Ashley Kelsey, Prairie View A&M University

Quentin Morales-Perryman, Hampton University

Jonathan Taylor, Tougaloo College

Shyainne BellBennett College for Women

Briana Granger, Clark Atlanta University

Sarah Jones, Howard University

Dmariee Hanson, Howard University

If you want to learn more about the trip, click here.

If you want to connect with some of the awesome people who organized the trip, click here.

Big thanks to Jarvis Sulcer, Aisha Bowe, John Martellaro and Kitt Grant for making it possible for me to go on the trip. And my sister 🙂