Class of Computer Science Grads Breaks the Mold

May 12, 2016

Three years ago, Cal State Monterey Bay and Hartnell Community College started an ambitious computer science bachelor’s degree program called CSin3 (formerly CSIT-in-3).  

It aimed to prepare students from the Salinas Valley to compete for careers at Silicon Valley’s top firms, and to do that in just three years. 

On Saturday, May 21st the first cohort of students graduates from CSUMB, KAZU's parent institution.

And in a field dominated by white and Asian men, more than 80% of the students in this class are Latino and nearly half are women.

“The skeptics and the doubters should know this is a program that truly works,” says Teresa Matsui of the Matsui Foundation. She is the daughter of Salinas Valley orchid farmer Andy Matsui who conceived of the idea for the CSin3 program, and then paid for it by giving every student a full ride scholarship. 

“It was a way of giving back to the community that has been very supportive of him and to the community represented by our workforce,” says Matsui.  Many of the students are the children of farm workers or immigrants themselves.

The hope was to train them for jobs at Silicon Valley tech giants like Apple, Uber and Salesforce, and some have accepted jobs at those big name companies. 

“These are companies that mostly hire from the top ten, top twenty schools in the country, but they are seeing this as a place where they can actually find talent,” says Sathya Naraynan, CSin3 Co-Director.

But since the program launched three years ago, a new opportunity has emerged to do high tech work closer to home in the growing field of agricultural technology.

Soon to be graduate Jose Diaz has accepted a job with Salinas ag tech start-up, Heavy Connect.  It’s software that allows farmers to use mobile devices to simplify time-consuming administrative tasks. 

“Over at Silicon Valley, I feel I would be another worker maintaining  a company.  But with Heavy Connect it’s going to make big change, and that’s what I want to do: help the community,” says Diaz. 

Heavy Connect co-founder Patrick Zelaya has been so impressed with the CSin3 students that he’s held off filing full time positions in anticipation of their graduation.

“It was just luck that there was this talent mill of students that are proving themselves to be technical rock stars by completing a four year degree in three years in the same town that were starting this business,” says Zelaya.

He says it’s an added benefit that along with computer science skills, they bring knowledge of that ag industry.

CSin3 Co-Director Joe Welch  says some of the students came to the program from parts of the Salinas Valley where they hadn’t been introduced to computer science in high school.

“And absent the program they wouldn’t know how successful they could be in they just worked and worked and worked.  We’re seeing the embodiment of grit,” says Welch.

In the Cal State system, only about 28% of students transferring from a community college finish on time. In the CSin3 program it’s 69% from a starting class of 32 students and almost all the others will finish within the next year.   

Leticia Sanchez is one student who will be graduating in December.   When she started the CSin3 program, she was still developing her English language skills and the majority of her schooling had been in Mexico. Now she’s also considering a career in ag tech.

“I feel like if I stay in Salinas, I will be able to give back to my community. Do something for my community,” says Sanchez.

When she started the program she had a goal of earning enough so her mother could stop working in the fields.  Now she sees that happening in the near future. 

With this cohort graduating, the schools already have three other cohorts going through the intensive program.  The Matsui Foundation has committed to pay for their tuition too.