For as long as Diego Jimenez-Adorno, Richmond Cohort 3 (RICH3) can remember, he has struggled with concentrating and organizing his thoughts, which has caused him at times to fall behind in school. After 15 months in our Intensive Immersion Program, Diego developed a pivotal system with his mentor that helped break down assignments and ideas into smaller, more manageable chunks, improving his ability to focus and succeed in school and life. Now, 18-year-old Diego is remotely attending the University of San Francisco for his first semester as an architecture major, and will be joining his twin sister on campus next spring.
How have you been lately?
Everything has been going well with me and my family. My twin sister has already moved into the University of San Francisco and I’m soon to follow her in the spring. My step brother is attending UC Berkeley and has been working on his music booking gigs as a DJ in the Bay Area. I recently got a new kitten named Kala who is a handful but I love her.
Between online classes at the University of San Francisco and making new friends, things have been really fun and exciting. The only downside is that I’m still doing classes online. After finishing an entire year of high school online the last thing I wanted was another semester of virtual classes but I look forward to being on campus next semester.
How did you first learn about The Hidden Genius Project?
My mom was actually the one who pushed me to join The Hidden Genius Project. She always had me signing up for extracurricular opportunities and I would always be up for it. One day she asked me to sign up for the Immersion Program and told me how I could learn to code, get a computer, and a bunch of other things, all for free! I honestly didn’t think I was going to get in, but here I am now, a graduate of the program.
What was your experience in the program like?
I really enjoyed the brotherhood, making connections with the brothers in my cohorts, and helping teach the younger ones as well. It was a great experience to be surrounded by people who looked like me, something I never got to do before. One of my favorite moments was visiting the new Salesforce Tower during a summer business trip with my cohort and going to the top floor. It was super cool looking at the view of San Francisco from up there.
A big challenge for me in the program was learning how to manage my time, especially when I was socializing in class. When we switched to virtual learning, it became even more difficult to focus and sit in front of a screen all day, but I knew I had to get my work done. I overcame this struggle by using my brothers as a resource whenever I needed their help and leaning on my instructors as well. Everyone was very helpful and understanding even if I was falling behind at times.
The leadership lessons were probably one of my favorite parts of the day. It was always incredibly helpful to talk about all of these real-world topics from Black males’ perspectives. I never had the opportunity to talk about these things openly, especially in school as I was always the minority. In the program, we were all the majority and were encouraged to share our experiences and thoughts. It was comforting to hear how my peers were going through similar situations as I was being a Black man.
Describe the app you designed during your time in the Intensive Immersion Program.
While I was in the program I joined the gaming and animation track. In this track, I learned how to create various games in a group setting with other Geniuses using Unity software. We didn’t have a name for all of our games, but one game we made had coins placed at random spots throughout the game. The main goal was to create a character to collect the coins in order to beat the game. I enjoyed this track because we learned how to bring our animations and creation to life while understanding basic game development concepts in C#, especially when creating movement, objectives, and visuals.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
The Hidden Genius Project stands out to me because of how they stick around and help you in the future. You don’t just “graduate” from The Hidden Genius Project, they continue to email me with resources to help me get further along. They’ve provided me with plenty of opportunities from giving me a chance to model for them for their new online store, to also working for them as a Youth Educator, and helping teach younger Geniuses how to code.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
Networking was one of the first skills I learned after joining the program. This skill taught me how valuable it is to connect and build relationships with people who can help put you in contact with others to gain resources or opportunities. I’m really into architecture and when I went to Facebook for a business trip I connected with somebody who designed an office building on their campus. They gave me their contact info which was cool and at that moment I realized how this skill could open doors for me.
Another skill I developed was learning how to brainstorm and break down projects or assignments into mini action steps. For as long as I could remember, I always struggled with planning and jotting down my ideas because I have ADHD. Abraham Keleta (Innovation Educator) helped me overcome this challenge during our entrepreneurship sessions in the program. He taught me how to brainstorm and organize my ideas, write and flush them out, and create a thoughtful plan on how to execute them. Abraham would always remind me to take my time writing down my thoughts, then organize them into solid ideas, which eventually helped me create a better product in the end. I continue to take this approach whenever I have assignments or essays.
Learning how to communicate and pitch my ideas was another important skill I developed in the program. On a consistent basis, everyone in my cohort would have to sell or pitch our ideas about projects we’re working on.
No matter what it is, we practiced learning how to pitch any and everything. Even if it was a new idea for the McDonald’s Double Double, someone had to go up and present it to the class.
What was the most important thing you gained on a personal level (development, relationship, community, etc.) from participating in The Hidden Genius Project?
To be honest, the new relationships I built with my peers and educators is the most important thing I gained in this program. I have a strong feeling that these friendships and relationships will last for life as I know we’ll always have each others back. I still keep in touch with a handful of Geniuses from The Hidden Genius Project and we check in on one another from time to time. It’s really all about the connections.
When you imagine yourself before starting The Hidden Genius Project, what’s different between that version of you and the current version?
When I joined The Hidden Genius Project, I was about fifteen or sixteen years old. At that time, I was more naive about the world back then and what I wanted to do with my life. Now, I feel more prepared to tackle the real world and life, especially when it comes to jobs, friendships, and college.
I definitely feel more comfortable advocating for myself in situations when it’s necessary — I just feel ready. At this point I feel confident in my future, knowing I have The Hidden Genius Project as a reference for internship and job opportunities. I’m much more responsible and I don’t fool around as often either, seeing how the male role models behave and move in the organization helped shape me into who I am today.
In what ways have you remained involved with The Hidden Genius Project since completing the 15-month Intensive Immersion program?
I’ve been working with them as a Youth Educator this past summer helping Geniuses finish their projects. I have also had the opportunity to support big events such as last year’s End of Summer Celebration as an emcee. They’ve also continued to send me emails about upcoming events, job opportunities, and everything in between. The team even reaches out to me to do wellness checks to see how I’ve been lately, both in life and in college too.
If you could talk to yourself just before you applied, what is one thing you would say?
Focus more during the beginning of the program so you can make as much money as possible. If you screw around too much during the first summer or fall season, then it’s really easy to fall behind.
What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?
Definitely apply to the program because they provide you with so many opportunities. Make sure you apply yourself and work hard throughout the entire 15 months.