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How Silicon Valley Institute Inspires Students From Around the World with Beams

When Cathy Chang, founder of the Silicon Valley Institute (SVI), discovered the Beam store in Palo Alto, CA she knew it would be a great addition to the tour she routinely gives to international students. A global educational service provider that puts an emphasis on experiential learning and essential competencies for entrepreneurship and innovation, SVI seeks to inspire and motivate people to make a positive impact by enhancing the lives of individuals and their communities.

Q: Tell us a bit about SVI’s clients and about the kinds of educational programs you create for them.

A: We host a lot of international groups - from undergraduate students to members of government agencies - so our clientele is very broad and diverse. They all come to Silicon Valley because they’re eager to learn about its technology-based entrepreneurship and innovation. Some of the groups are more interested in specifically learning more about the Palo Alto environment, so I take them on walking tours. The Beam store is one of the sites we often visit.

Q: What is it about the Beam store that first gave you the idea to add it to your programming? And how does it add to the overall educational experience SVI offers?

A: When I first came to the store a couple of years ago, I was really impressed – especially with the product. We all use video conferencing, but I’d never seen anything like Beam before, in how it makes remote physical presence a reality. I feel that Beam is the type of product that really represents Silicon Valley. It shows how thinking differently yielded a new kind of communication tool. So I think it shows the uniqueness of the product, and it’s wonderful for students to see how people can evolve and improve upon older kinds of technology.

Q: What do you hope that students take away from the experience of interacting with Beam?

A: I think this is a great inspiration for students to understand innovation. The more people who get to know about telepresence technology and Beam, the more it will motivate them to think outside of the box, as Suitable Technology has.

Q: How do students react when they visit the store and first interact with telepresence technology?

A: It’s surprising - the main reaction when they first see a Beam moving toward them is excitement! They really don’t expect that; they’re just standing there, and all of a sudden a Beam approaches. The mobility of Beam makes it feel like the person on the screen really is present with you.

Q: What do your clients think about the Product Specialists who pilot the Beam?

A: We’ve had hosts from many different places -- from the East Coast to Seattle and all over Southern California. That’s really cool, and what I think students like about that is they see that clerks can work from home. Also, the Beam store staff is always so nice. Our visiting groups leave feeling like they’ve become friends with the representatives! So even though the clerks are remotely located, I am always impressed by how quickly each group gets to know them.

Q: Are there any other inspirational moments that you observe during your tour?

A: For those faculty members in my groups, I can see how they are imagining how useful Beams are for remote students. For them, the biggest challenge of using a laptop for remote teaching and learning is that it’s not interactive. You see one screen and can’t actually move anywhere; so the Beam allows them to see the possibilities – you can see more than one spot, and you can move around yourself.

I also know that when I introduce the products to visiting groups, sometimes there are administrators from organizations who are so impressed that they ask about how they can purchase a Beam.

Q: What other points of interest are on your Palo Alto tour?

A: I like taking students to “the birthplace of Silicon Valley,” the Hewlett Packard garage, for example. It’s fun to show students where new ventures started. That’s the past, whereas the Beam store represents the present and future. Seeing is believing!

 

 

Photo: Our recent visiting group of graduate students from three different business schools (Institut Quimic de Sarria in Spain, Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan, and the University of San Francisco in the U.S.) took a group photo at the BEAM store on University Avenue in Palo Alto.

 

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.