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Star-Trekking Across the University

It seems that barely a long weekend passes without one of the clubs carting an Airbus load of classmates off to a distant land. As Citizens of the Global Village we barely pause for breath before jumping on the next plane Trekking out of town. Why do we do this? How did this TrekMania start, and where’s it going?

WestTrek is the original, and still the biggest. This behemoth, dating back to a prehistoric 1996, transports over 300 student each January to sunlit silicon valleys. This popularity has inspired young pretenders – West has been joined by East, South and even, North. The roll call now includes a multi-layered Eurotrek and Treks to Seattle, Austin, DC, Denver, Boston, New York and Hollywood, with talk of Africa, Asia and even exotic Maine.
The Origins of the Species
A bunch of HBS students got together in the mid ’90s to check out the California tech scene – tech was hot, and Boston was not. Since then, over a thousand students have trekked West, and enjoyed meeting with top tech types, swapping business cards and business plans, securing jobs and getting a suntan in January. As they return to the dank Boston winter (with the Stanford GSB rejection hurting especially bad), thoughts turn to uprooting to the land of Tropicana.
Jim Matheson, President of the High Tech and New Media Club (HTNM), which orgnanizes WestTrek and co-sponsors many of the others, pays credit to the students who get involved in organising these events, “It’s incredible that it’s all student-run. Organizing a Trek is one of the few opportunities students get to actually do something more operationally orientated, rather than strategising.” The work-load is considerable – lives get dominated, relationships ruined (and made), and cases skimmed.

Why should I boldly go?
In addition to learning about new technology offered by WestTrek, students give up their time and money to for a number of reasons, such as to explore new regions and network with potential employers. HBS itself cooperates closely with the Treks, helping for example, to identify alumnae and interested companies, but does not give administrative or financial help. HBS also benefits – the Careers Service use the Treks to gain access to the smaller and more obscure companies that may otherwise not think of approaching us.

The tech interest of the students, demonstrated by the Treks, has been matched by HBS with the opening of a ‘California Research Center’ in Silicon Valley, an e-friendly syllabus, and the new LAN in Spangler (have you gone wireless yet?) Most Treks are funded partly by sponsorship – companies giving cash, or dinners, with the rest funded through registration fees for students, who also pay travel and lodging.

The only way is up
Experiencing technology was the first, but no longer the main reason for the Trek sensation. Each Trek is different – each has its own personality, with traits, and character that developed over time. Unexplored geography, tantalizing culture and cheap CitiAssist loans, lure us, Lorelei-like, to discover new places where plans, and stories, are made.

January 29, 2001
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