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NMSU amplifies success with Google Tech Exchange program

New Mexico State University has participated in the Google Tech Exchange program for three of the four years that the program has been in existence. Five NMSU computer science students were selected to participate in 2019, 11 were invited to join the 2021 tech exchange cohort, which this year is completely virtual.


Head and shoulders of a woman
Breanna Widner is among 11 NMSU computer science students selected to participate in the 2021 Google Tech Exchange program. (Courtesy Photo)
Head and shoulders of a man
Maximino Robles is among 11 NMSU computer science students chosen to participate in the 2021 Google Tech Exchange program. (Courtesy Photo)
Head and shoulders of a woman
Avery Lee is among 11 NMSU computer science students chosen to participate in the 2021 Google Tech Exchange program. (Courtesy Photo)

“Last year, when Google decided to go online due to the pandemic, the students got their choice of going back to their home campus or staying on at Google to complete the program,” said Son Tran, computer science professor and department head. “Some returned home, others remained at Google headquarters near San Francisco to complete the semester.”
This year, the students are able to take up to three Google courses online along with the rest of their NMSU courses.

Previously they enrolled in five Google courses while in residence there.
The 11 NMSU computer science students selected for the 2021 program are: Ziad Arafat, Jesus Barba, Miranda Bishard, Luke Brandes, Isaac Apolonio Duran, Miguel Fernandez, Nicolas Grijalva, Avery Lee, Kevin Olivares, Maximino Robles and Breanna Widner.

Google’s program began with students from only Howard University, a Historically Black College, then added other HBCUs and Hispanic Serving Institutions like NMSU in its second year. So far, 10 HBCUs and HSIs have been invited by Google to participate.

“The Google Tech Exchange program is continuing to expand its efforts with HBCUs and HSIs,” said Enrico Pontelli, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The program not only helps our students to build their computer science skills but also to develop social capital to help them pursue internships and employment after graduation.”

Students are invited to participate in the spring of their sophomore year. With optional classes, they may continue studying with Google throughout the summer and fall semester. The students are assigned projects and have Google mentors and access to professional skills training.
Nicolas Grijalva is a New Mexico native who chose NMSU because of access to financial support and the close proximity of his family. He is set to graduate in Spring 2022 and plans to learn all he can from the tech exchange. “I’m excited to learn job/interview skills that I can utilize in my future career,” Grijalva said. “I am also excited to be learning in a Google environment.”

Under a dual degree program, Breanna Widner plans to graduate with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from NMSU by December 2022. She got interested through the Young Women in Computing program at NMSU, an outreach effort for middle and high school girls in the region. Widner says YWiC is the reason she chose NMSU. Through the Google Tech Exchange, she hopes to gain much more.

“First, the skills I will gain from this program are very valuable, such as technical interviewing skills and learning all about how programs are designed to interact with people,” Widner said. “These skills will allow me to be prepared for getting and excelling at internships and later jobs. Second, learning from people who are working in the industry gives me the opportunity to learn about applications of these skills and possible career paths for me. And third, it allows me to network and get to know people who are actually in the jobs I may want to pursue someday.”

Miguel Fernandez, who grew up in Las Cruces, hopes the experience will land him a job as a game designer or software engineer.

“Google Tech Exchange is valuable to me as a student because it will help teach me interview skills, how to act, and what to expect, as well as building connections I can use in the future when applying for a job,” Fernandez said. “I expect to gain the skills to be able to nail any interview I go to in the future, whether it be for Google or another company.”

Avery Lee grew up on a ranch in House, New Mexico. The networking with Googlers is what she believes is most valuable, considering the competitive nature of the job market she expects to find when she graduates in 2022.

“Overall, this program has helped me gain confidence and feel more comfortable in my role as a computer scientist,” Lee said. “It gives me much-needed exposure to the field and allows me to network with other computer scientists across the nation. It helps me see how the skills that I’m learning in college will apply to my future workplace, and how to hone those skills to fit requirements from big tech companies.”

Maximino Robles grew up in Sonora, Mexico on his parents’ conservation ranch. He plans to graduate from NMSU in May 2022 with a major in computer science and a minor in philosophy.

“I'm interested in the overlapping relationship between computers, brains and minds,” Robles said. “Along the same lines, it's clear that computers have forever shifted our landscape, and we still haven't fully assimilated all that they can offer and all that they can't offer.”

Ziad Arafat, a Lebanese American born in New Mexico, will graduate with a major in computer science and a minor in either neuroscience or geology. His main interest is artificial intelligence.

“Many of the professors here are highly passionate about teaching and always try to create a challenging learning environment for me,” Arafat said. “With Google, I hope to get more hands-on experience in programming and project management and develop strong communication skills. I also hope specifically to learn how to work more effectively in a fully remote learning and working environment.”

Pontelli has watched the program grow over the past few years and he expects it to continue.
“Our students love the program,” Pontelli said. “We would like to see it expand to include more of our computer science students in the future.”