Seniors get up-close look at Silicon Valley innovation center
Seniors get up-close look at Silicon Valley innovation center

A group of seniors got a peek inside a Silicon Valley innovation center when they visited A3, a research and development hub for Airbus, on December 5.

Students in the Computer Science & Technology and Advanced Topic Physics classes took a tour of the facility and heard from engineers, designers, and other A3 employees who are working on projects that aim to transform the aerospace industry. They also heard about an exciting paid summer internship with the company.

"Opportunities like this to see the inner workings of a Silicon Valley startup provide the students with an opportunity to envision themselves in a career where they get to use the skills they are learning in the classroom. They must see the staircase before they can take the first step," said computer science teacher Amy Azevedo Mulgrew '02.

The students' main guide was Bix Cruz, father of Damiera Cruz '20 and head of recruiting at A3. He answered questions about the company's projects, the process of bringing an idea to life, important hard and soft skills, and more. "It was also helpful that Mr. Cruz took the time to talk about the application process to a company like A3 and advise the students on how to best represent themselves through their LinkedIn profiles and their ability to talk about their past work and interests," Mulgrew said.

Cruz worked on a project called Vahana, which recently wrapped up testing on an autonomous vehicle that can take off like a helicopter and fly like a plane. Other projects students learned about were:

  • Voom, which Cruz described as Uber but with helicopters
  • Airbus UTM, or Unmanned Traffic Management, which is developing an air traffic control system for drones
  • Monark, which aims to help improve weather forecasting
  • ADAM, a project to improve efficiency in aerospace manufacturing

In a series of presentations, students heard from Head of Systems Marlene Ferrier and Senior Aerodynamics Engineer Monica Syal, who both worked on Vahana; Mike Vergalla, the project executive for Monark; Senior UI/UX Designer Mina Gilan and Business Analyst Jameson Lee, who work on ADAM; Network Architect Damini Gera; and Communications Director Paige Wilson.

In addition to talking about their projects, each of the A3 employees offered the students valuable advice:

  • Be bold when communicating, Ferrier told the girls, especially when you're the only woman in the room.
  • Like other presenters, Ferrier also stressed the importance of being able to effectively communicate what it is you're working on; you can create something amazing, but it doesn't mean anything if no one knows about it.
  • Break big projects into smaller tasks to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Syal said to approach the work as if building a mountain rock by rock.
  • Also important, per Syal: Be happy to fail.
  • Iterate, iterate, iterate—that was Vergalla's main advice. Take the idea out of your head and make it tangible, then build from there. "Making a terrible thing is better than making nothing," he said.
  • Gera urged the students to keep their portfolios as diverse as possible. Someone who can work across industries will be more valuable.
  • Think about the why behind your chosen career, Gera said: "The answer to the why is what will take you places."
  • Follow your passion. As Vergalla said, "I found the most success by allowing myself to be myself."

The presentations were also live streamed to students back at Santa Catalina.

"Their advice for our girls about taking credit for their work, navigating various communication styles, and tackling challenging problems had a huge impact," said Mulgrew, expressing gratitude to Cruz, A3, Assistant Head of Upper School Peter Myers, and her fellow teachers for making the experience happen. "The field trip really provided lessons that I cannot provide in the classroom setting alone."

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