A Summer at Harvard


Rachel Piazza, Editor

Spending eight hours a day for a week at Harvard may sound intimidating, pretentious, or boring. However, this was not the case.

In July I was fortunate enough to attend Harvard’s Summer Business Academy, a week-long business intensive program ran by Harvard students. Although anxious at first, I came out of this program effervescent and even more ambitious than I had been previously.

Day One: We’re All Very Hungry 

The eight hour day on campus was filled with lectures and workshops from professors and CEOs, including keynote speaker, social entrepreneurship professor Brian Trelstad who is a Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School. We learned about the social enterprise spectrum: margin and mission, meme and mandate, as well as how different businesses weigh profit versus the impact to the community or even the government.

Additionally, Shuya Gong, a designer at IDEO, gave us an IDEO design workshop. It was a creative experience, first attempting to draw our peer’s faces under a time limit, and ending with a better understanding of the importance of design in business. The key assignment was for each team to develop a new product that they would pitch later in the week in a competition.

My design for my team’s product

Between these challenging moments, we had frequent snack breaks. The most memorable part of day one for me was how hungry I was. I think the other students can agree on that.

At the end of the day, we spent time brainstorming in assigned teams. We practiced elevator pitches and wrote a group contract. To my surprise, all of the students got along quickly and nicely, and I was excited to work with my team for the remainder of the week.

After group work, we had an ice cream social, a fulfilling way to end a fun and hungry day.

The Hillel building where most classes took place

New Ways of Learning 

The middle of the week was jam-packed with learning. We did market research and SWOT analyses, we had a marketing and branding workshop, we did small presentations, business plans, slide decks, resumes, interviews, and more. It felt like I was a sponge absorbing an entire world of ideas.

We had a moderated entrepreneurship panel with CEO, Scott Xiao. He lectured about his integrative approach to healthcare with a business he founded called Luminopia. Luminopia is a treatment in the form of virtual reality. Kids with lazy eyes could put on VR goggles and watch tv shows that are exercising the eyes, unbeknownst to the child, and ultimately fixing his/her’s lazy eye.

VR healthcare

Xiao even used memes in his lecture about avoiding bankruptcy.

The meme was like this

Nervous Energy: Case Studies and Street Quests

On day three, we were handed a thick packet full of graphs, numbers, stats, and dates. We had twenty minutes to try to memorize as much information as possible. Then, we headed to a new room for a case study.

The case study was on Ben and Jerry’s history and profits as a business. I was gripping onto my packet with white knuckles as we entered a beautiful law building with red and brown arches and stained glass. It was like something from Harry Potter.

Harvard Business School Professor, David Collins, welcomed us to sit in a large auditorium style classroom with microphones at each chair. I was shaking with nervousness. I hardly retained anything from the packet! What if I get called on and say something stupid? 

I sat down with my friends and watched Professor Collins pull down six chalkboards that were as high as the ceiling. He said the business classrooms don’t have any windows so they are no distractions. He pulled the shades on the law classroom window all the way down. We were set.

The law classroom

The case study was actually exciting and insightful, like a puzzle you’re trying to work out with a group of scholars.

The nervousness was only resolved for a moment, though. It was time to go around Harvard Square and interview strangers.

My team and I split into two groups and we headed out. Our mission was to pitch our product, Pocket Police, a button you can press that immediately alerts the police when you need help.

I’m usually comfortable speaking to strangers, but this was on another level. Almost no one was from America, and even fewer would listen to us. It got to the point where my teammates and I would guess a person’s nationality before talking to them.

Dead Poets, Diet Water, and Dozen Photos

As an exercise, we all had to pitch weird and useless products. My team stood on our chairs and pitched Diet Water. It was like something from Dead Poets Society, but with less poetry.

In the afternoon, our teachers took us to the Charles River and we took group photos. My classmates and I got to explore for a while and I had the opportunity to speak with one of my teachers, Raylin, about life in Boston.

My class at the Charles River

We finished the day with a campus insights presentation. We learned how to be successful in business while still attending school.

The Final Day: Pitch Competition 

On day five, we took a tour of the campus. I was stunned by how huge it is. There are archaic buildings and new ones, too. Even on a rainy day, it was bustling. It was inspiring.

I nearly cried over the beauty of Memorial Hall. It looked like a castle, with a gothic atmosphere, more stained glass, and walls lined with fallen soldiers.

Memorial Hall

For the remainder of the day, each team worked painstakingly at their pitches.

After three different slide deck constructions, five attempts at a logo design, and a week of preparation, it was time for the competition.

The pitch competition took place in another large auditorium style classroom with a giant projector board. All of the parents sat in the audience. Two Harvard undergrads (the judges) took front row seats. I sat anxiously with my team. I thought I would never feel prepared enough to present, so I might as well get it done.

The other teams presented intelligently and maturely, and most students were calm. Thinking about how I had spent a week with these unique and driven people was a confidence booster and made me feel readier.

When my team and I presented, we had no cards to read off of and the slide deck was not in eye’s reach. This experience has definitely made me a better public speaker, as doing without resources makes speeches more natural and forces one to really know the information he/she is presenting.

My team and me presenting at the pitch competition

I did not win the competition, but it didn’t bother me. I had a sweet feeling of accomplishment and amicability.

Good Memories

Although this certainly was an academically memorable week, I will never forget the fun times in-between lectures.

Me with some of my classmates after the competition

We basically had every meal together and there’s a bonding experience in that. Our lunches were spent outside in beautiful courtyards with hammocks. We would read or talk or play cards.

My teammates and me with our participation certificates

I’ve never been around people I could so easily click with. Everyone had similar mindsets and hobbies, and I think we all bounced off of each other’s energies. The teachers were so kind and helpful the entire time.

I would like to thank Mrs. Amy, foods, interior design, and newspaper advisor, for nominating me for this program.

I’m incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity, and I encourage all interested Shawnee students to apply. The Academies have programs in Pre-Med, Business, Coding, and Politics.

All in all, spending a week at the Harvard Summer Business Academy was inspiring, fun, challenging, and definitely unforgettable.