Before joining our mentorship program, Joseph Thornton (Oakland Cohort 7) often felt alienated in high school because his interests and mannerisms were different from his peers. While developing his first-rate skills as a technologist in our program, Joseph discovered a brotherhood he finally felt connected to, which he says “was a huge relief.” Now in his first year as an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science major at UC Berkeley*, Joseph credits the coding assignments and financial workshops in our program for helping him to get ahead in school and save money.
How have you been?
As of late, I’ve been doing well. Starting my first year at UC Berkeley has been a pretty smooth transition and I’m doing my best to take care of myself. Thankfully my school is not too far from home so I am still close to family and I go back to visit them pretty often. I do live on campus which is great for me academically because it’s allowed me to take advantage of all the resources they offer.
How did you first learn about The Hidden Genius Project?
I learned about The Hidden Genius Project from my ninth-grade humanities teacher, Nina Portugal. She basically forced me to go to my school’s library where two Geniuses were sharing info about the Immersion Program. Once I got there, I was instantly intrigued to join because of the strong sense of brotherhood I felt from the Geniuses and the scope of opportunities that were offered in the program. To this day, I’m glad that I applied.
What was your experience in the program like?
My time in the program was full of non-stop productivity and growth. Every day we were taught valuable life skills, whether it was tying a tie or smart ways to spend money, everything I learned from the program helped me significantly. And of course, my coding skills were developed and honed all thanks to the projects we were tasked with completing throughout my time with The Hidden Genius Project. In my first summer, I made my very first website about a fighting game (my number one passion at the time). I valued this experience because it gave me a better understanding of just how much time it can take to polish code and get everything working how you want it to.
Something that blew me away in the program was the business trips we went on such as Facebook. Having the opportunity to visit these companies where our skills could land us a job was one of the most inspirational experiences I can think of. Going to Facebook was one of the best business trips I went on because it gave me a glimpse into social media app development. I saw how many people it can take to make a change that seems so small, I even saw some habits of collaboration that mirrored what we were doing in programming which was inspiring in itself. This trip made it clear to me that the program was pushing me toward making it to a company like Facebook one day.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
Something that sets The Hidden Genius Project apart is the feeling of brotherhood. It’s really something special just how close our cohort grew to be. You can really feel just how much everyone in the program wants to help you; staff, mentors, and peers alike. During the pandemic, it was a challenge to feel as close to one another but we as Geniuses went to lengths to keep our brotherhood strong. We would play games online together a lot, and even after our Zoom sessions ended, all of us including staff would stay on longer just to talk to each other.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
Besides learning how to code websites, mobile apps, data tables, and video games, budgeting was a big skill I learned in The Hidden Genius Project and it is saving me in college. The financial literacy workshop was one of the classes I remember the most and I am glad I did. Being on my own and surrounded by all of these stores and entertainment is really tempting, but simply keeping in mind how much I should be spending a month has proven to be helpful in saving money.
What was the most important thing you gained on a personal level (development, relationship, community, etc.) from participating in The Hidden Genius Project?
My high school did not have many Black students so I was accustomed to being the only Black kid in the room or class. And while that didn’t especially bother me, I didn’t realize just how great it could be to be around Black young men my age. At the time I had this concern that I was sort of alienated from other Black kids, mostly when it came to the things I was into. And due to my mannerisms and manner of articulation, many people said I “acted white” so that didn’t help. However, in one of my first meet-ups with the new cohort, I met Geniuses who I could relate to and have common interests with which was a huge relief! I felt reassured that I wasn’t some rare case, and I was able to feel more comfortable in my identity as a young Black man as a result.
How do you think your path might have been different if you hadn’t participated in The Hidden Genius Project?
If I didn’t participate in The Hidden Genius Project I would be much less prepared to pursue coding as my major in college and my future career path. Thanks to the program not only did I get a new MacBook Air, but we also were instructed on how to install tons of software for coding. Many of which I still use now in my computer science classes. Because of my experience with coding in the program, I am always pretty comfortable taking on any tasks and projects around coding. Truthfully, that would not be the case if I did not have the current tools and knowledge provided to me during my time in the program.
When you imagine yourself before starting The Hidden Genius Project, what’s different between that version of you and the current version?
A huge difference between me before and after the program is my work ethic. During the program I got to experience the reward of getting assigned challenging tasks, working through them, and receiving a stipend. It was a great feeling not only because of the pay, but because it felt great to get a job done. Since then I’ve loved working on projects over time and I find myself more hardworking than ever.
In what ways has the staff of The Hidden Genius Project continued to support you since graduating from the program?
I still regularly get emails about great opportunities offered to Geniuses like basketball games and other cool events. I also receive amazing scholarship and internship opportunities that I would never be aware of if The Hidden Genius Project’s staff didn’t keep me in the loop.
If you could talk to yourself just before you applied, what is one thing you would say?
If I could talk to myself before I applied to the program I would say not to be afraid to network. I was pretty shy on our trips to companies which I regret. I would have loved to talk to more people at the companies we visited to get some familiar faces in the field that I’ll be going into.
What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?
You have a special opportunity in front of you so make the absolute best of it! Talk to your fellow Geniuses and have their backs. Listen to what they teach you in those workshops, and write it down to look at later. Everything you learn here will help you in the future, I promise you. And above all, do your best.
*IMPACT FACT: In 2022, Joseph Thornton (OAK7), along with fellow Hidden Genius Alum Gari’un Godfrey (RICH2), made history as the first Geniuses to be accepted into and attend the University of California, Berkeley as Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) majors.