In 2012, David Armstrong, Jr. (OAK1) was a junior in high school when he joined The Hidden Genius Project’s Inaugural Immersion Program – a then 24-month commitment for the original five participating Geniuses. Following the completion of the program, David remained connected to The Hidden Genius Project. In 2015 he served as a Youth Educator for our first Catalyst event, and in the following years was the first to complete a corporate internship program developed for a Hidden Genius Alum. Today, we’re proud to celebrate David as the first Hidden Genius college graduate. David received a degree in Business Administration and Computer Information Systems from California Polytechnic State University.
How does it feel to become the first Hidden Genius Alum College Graduate from OAK1?
Being the first college graduate as a Hidden Genius Alum is a surreal feeling when I think about how far I’ve come as a professional and as a person. When I first started the program, I was still unsure if I wanted to pursue a career in technology, but as time went on throughout my first summer I gained a passion for it. I got a thrill from solving problems and building out the visions we laid out as a team at the beginning of the summer. In the next summer at The Hidden Genius Project, I got the opportunity to mentor the new incoming OAK2 cohort and that was the year that I fully understood how impactful the program was.
Back in 2012, it was hard for me to understand the importance of spending my summers learning about leadership, business, and technology from the five founders in my first year. As I matured and became wiser, I understood how life-changing it was to be a part of The Hidden Genius Project. Mentoring the younger students not only allowed me to improve my leadership skills, but understand the value of how important it was to set an example for the future Hidden Genius scholars. Being the first Hidden Genius Alum to graduate college is an honor, and hopefully, it inspires students in the newer cohorts to achieve their dreams and aspirations through hard work and persistence.
How did The Hidden Genius Project prepare or support you throughout your college journey?
Spending my summers at The Hidden Genius Project learning about entrepreneurship and technology inspired me to pursue a degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Computer Information Systems. There were numerous skills that I gained from the program that were transferable to my college education. Presenting our mobile application ideas, participating in hackathons, and collaborating have all given me the proper knowledge to thrive in college.
The support they have offered me in terms of advice and resources has made my college experience that much more greater. Each year throughout my college journey, they would ask me about my career aspirations and then provide me connections and resources that align with my goals.
In what ways did you remain connected to The Hidden Genius Project (staff, OAK1 Geniuses and new cohorts) over the years?
Over the years I would talk to the staff whenever I would come back home from school during break. I’d stop by the office to give an update on school and any interests that I had. I also kept in contact with Zulu from OAK1 and a few students from OAK2 through social media.
While interning at CBS Interactive in the cybersecurity department, I had the opportunity to host a hacking workshop for the new Hidden Genius cohorts that visited us during their business trip. During the workshop, I was able to talk about my experience through the program and connect with them as a big brother and mentor.
What was it like completing the last few months of your senior year back at home because of COVID-19?
Coming back home the last few months to finish school was definitely an unusual transition for me. I was accustomed to being in class and communicating with classmates and instructors in person instead of a screen. At the same time, I enjoyed spending the last few months being back at home and spend quality time with my family.
In the midst of this pandemic, I was able to adapt and thrive working in a virtual environment. From taking in-person classes to switching virtually at a moment’s notice is a different experience for teachers and students. Even though it took some getting used to, I did everything I could to make this transition as smooth as possible.
Now that you are a college graduate, what’s next for you?
As a fresh Cal Poly graduate, I am eager to explore career opportunities with companies that value diversity, inclusion, collaboration, and innovation, especially with companies that have a strong track record in giving back to the community and exercising carbon neutrality.
In many ways that the community has helped me along my educational journey, I plan on doing the same for young underrepresented students and people in tech. The career opportunities I’m looking for now include Cloud Computing, Cyber Security, and Devops. [Click HERE to view David’s Executive Summary.]
Do you have any words of wisdom for Geniuses entering college remotely this fall, and for those who are approaching graduation themselves?
For the college freshmen, the best thing to do throughout your college journey is to network as much as you can throughout your years at school. Now that school is virtual for the fall semester, I think it is even more important to make it an emphasis to connect with your peers through clubs or other ways to collaborate. When school does go back to normal, make sure to enjoy your college years and make the best of it because it goes by fast! For the students approaching their final year, know that it is important to continue to stay focused and persistent throughout those last few semesters.