Minerva Chapter 1 | San Francisco

Minerva Chapter 1 | San Francisco

- 6 mins

A quick recap of what my year looked like at Minerva outside of academics. For me to remember and for you to enjoy.

As I get ready for my sophomore year of Minerva in Seoul (South Korea) and Hyderabad (India), I thought I’d take a brief glance back to the past to hype me up and inspire me for my approaching journey around the world.


Minerva started in a blink of an eye. Foundation week. Friend making. Rituals. San Francisco exploration. Even edamame parties. It came quick, and it came true. My experience was unlike anything I had experienced before. I met students from 51 different countries, had classes in a virtual classroom, snuck into one of the largest tech conferences in the world (TechCrunch Disrupt), travelled to unique locations performing silly dares for Cotopaxi’s Questival, and came third place in my first hackathon, the XingShi Cup, winning $5,000 with new friends.

Janghoon, Alexander, Ba Thien, and me (left to right). Our winning team :)


This was the month where I began to find my position in the scrambled yet fantastic beginning of Minerva.

I was invited to go to the top floor of the tallest building west of the Mississippi River (the Salesforce Tower), walked past Mark Zuckerburg at FB HQ in Mountain View while visiting my friend Yixin, and started my first, and definitely not last, extreme sport — open water swimming. These were just the highlights.

I snuck into another tech conference hosted by GitHub, made it to TEDxSanFrancisco, met up with my brother and his girlfriend, and narrowly missed out on placing in another hackathon.

My friends and I also decided to maximise our time for personal projects by waking up at 6am every morning, getting all of our class work done, taking classes, and then having the rest of the day after 12:30pm free. It was hard waking up so early sometimes, but so rewarding. It also helped with my open water swimming schedule!

Open water swimming in the Bay. It was so cold.


My Effective Altruism group was founded and the Arete Fellowship began in November. Every week I brought together 12 students to discuss topics such as existential risk, cognitive biases, animal welfare, and consequentialist dilemmas.

I also went to the Microsoft Reactor for a virtual reality hackathon, continued to swim in pitch darkness in the Pacific at 7am, came up with a dream and team for my final project of the year, and visited Miami for a week during Thanksgiving to spend time with family and friends.

A nice photo I took of SF at night!


Between Christmas parties, meeting some new friends who I would work for in the next semester (Nick and Ari at Sparrow), and discovering my friends and I would be working for Khan Academy, December came and went faster than any other month. I saw old friends in London, started playing Dungeons & Dragons again, went to Marrakesh for New Years, and spent time with my family.


Minerva began again with a cross-class introduction to the class of 2019 through a hike along the coast of San Francisco. I was asked to tell my story at the main Minerva networking event for the year, Civitas, and set up the official Effective Altruism Minerva group after graduating 10 students from the Arete Fellowship.

I also started working at Sparrow (now Momentum) as a research intern and set up a Dungeons & Dragons group with my friends - I was the Dungeon Master!

Samad, Petter, and me advertising Sparrow to Berkeley students.


After my performance at Civitas, I was asked to speak again in front of the prospective student parents during the Minerva open weekend.

I went to see Two Friends, a DJ group in San Francisco. Spring break came and went, full of reading, exercise, and picnics. By now I had settled into the routine of academics. Finally, I went to DeveloperWeek, a massive tech conference where I met loads of interesting professionals and learnt new skills for becoming a better developer.


March brought me to SXSW EDU in Austin, Texas. There, we hosted a workshop for a variety of education-related professionals on Minerva’s unique pedagogy.

Once back in San Francisco, I interviewed Yixin (my friend at Facebook AI Research) for an assignment, ate amazing ramen noodles with Eric, my Dad’s friend from Salesforce, and met some super cool older Minerva students. We played tennis and ate steak together, a few times.

We are now really good friends - Joao is still a friend I look up to today and stay in touch with. We ended up travelling to France together and I rented his girlfriend’s apartment in Berlin when I lived there. He is working on this YC startup now: Zapt.

I also competed in a robot design competition and volunteered at MIT Technology Review’s AI conference, EmTech Digital, where I saw the likes of Andrew NG and Fei-Fei Li speak.


I went to the Google HQ in San Francisco to grab some lunch, and then a spree of hackathon success began. I wonder if these are related…

At the Minerva hackathon, my team and I designed a solution to increase microfinancing in developing countries and came in 3rd place. I then travelled to LA and competed in the USC hackathon. After sleeping on a freezing cement floor for 2 nights and drinking tons of Soylent, my team of friends came out victorious, with 1st place from CrowdStrike, 2nd from Google, and 2nd for entrepreneurship across all submissions. We developed ReadMe, glasses that blind people can use to read without braille. We came back with too many free things.

We had a lovely beach and picnic day before the term began to end. And to finish off the year, my friends and I successfully pitched our ideas to Khan Academy employees at their HQ in Mountain View.

My team winning the SF Hacks awards!

That was it. I packed my bags, travelled up to Cornell to visit my sister, attended EAGx at Harvard in Boston, and finally headed back to London for an awesome summer.

All in all, it was an epic year. Minerva truly surpassed my expectations.

Yet, it’s hard to believe freshman year is already over. So much time has passed and I still feel like there is far more to accomplish. I am more than looking forward to seeing what Seoul has to offer.

This is a habit for every Minerva semester. I may even make some videos along the way. Stay tuned for 6 more chapters.

Alexander Bricken

Alexander Bricken

Travelling the world.

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