By Tia King, Student
Carleton College & Students Rising Above
Life can be full of opportunities just waiting to be seized. But sometimes as a first-generation, low-income student, these opportunities may not be clearly identified, or you may not have the appropriate guidance or confidence to go after them.
As a single parent, my father mainly raised me. In high school, I was fortunate to earn a spot in Stanford University's Summer Math and Science Honors (SMASH) Academy, which strives to introduce more underrepresented students into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. It was through my involvement with SMASH Academy that I learned about Students Rising Above (SRA) -- a program that provides mentoring and guidance for low-income, first-generation students to get into-- and ultimately graduate-- college.
After completing the application process in my junior year of high school, SRA identified me as a promising student. The organization assisted with my college admission process including finding, applying and maintaining financial aid. Without SRA, it's very possible that I wouldn't have been able to go to college, even if I did get great financial aid because of all of the side expenses that I never would've even thought of -- like flights home, application/SAT fees, book fees, etc. SRA also helped identify my strengths and capabilities, which helped me professionally prepare for my journey to Carleton College -- a skill I continue to share with others through my work as a Student Career Advisor with Carleton's Career Center.
The SRA program, and my mentor, stresses the value of internships. So when I learned of a Facebook internship through the recommendation of a computer science teacher, I knew it was an opportunity I had to pursue.
SRA was a huge help with the application process because they helped edit my personal essay numerous times, and provided mock interview preparation by asking questions they thought Facebook interviewers might ask. Going through these exercises with the SRA staff helped calm my nerves and made me feel more prepared.
After passing the initial round, I moved on to a phone interview. I focused on not talking too fast, stuttering or mumbling (because I tend to do that when I really want to get my point across). But since I already had interview prep, I think it went well.
When I received the internship offer, I cried for 15 minutes. Not only because I was excited about starting a new chapter in my life, but also because there is such a stigma around black people-- let alone black women-- pursuing computer science. I was happy that someone took a chance on me, but was always content with the fact that I knew that I deserved it whether I received an offer or not.
I interned at Facebook from June 15-August 7, 2015. My manager was from Facebook's Messenger department, but I wasn't necessarily on the Messenger team. The students in my program collaborated in teams of three on their own mobile application -- ours was a unique video connectivity app.
A typical day started with waking up in a company apartment. A Facebook shuttle would pick us up outside our door and take us to work. Breakfast was provided daily and consisted of items like dreamy bacon, power smoothies and fresh orange juice. After breakfast, my team and I would work for about 4 or 5 hours, stopping every now and then to visit the fully stocked micro kitchen for a snack. If we happened to see Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg, we would try to maintain our cool and professionalism while on the inside we were freaking out -- because this was our life!
At lunch, it was typical to see lots of visitors, tour groups and celebrities. Football players, the cast of Straight Outta Compton and numerous musical artists visited Facebook throughout the summer, so it was not unlikely to casually spot a famous person. After lunch, my team and I would work for another 6 or 7 hours depending on our current project. Before getting on the shuttle to go home, it was easy to grab a to-go box for dinner.
Although I'm a low-income, first-generation black female college student, I seized the opportunity to work at one of the most influential companies in the world. Throughout my internship, I learned that confidence -- not arrogance -- will take you far. Another key takeaway was that preoccupation with error is not a common thing to see at Facebook, as everyone makes mistakes and acknowledges them. If you're willing to make those mistakes, learn from them and then build something great -- then Facebook is the place for you.
Tia King is a first-generation college sophomore at Carleton College, where she is contemplating majoring in computer science, linguistics or Japanese. She is the vice president of Carleton's Black Student Alliance, and works as an advisor in the Career Center, where she helps students strengthen their resumes, assists in alumni recruitment and facilitates professional on-campus events.