A Conversation with Minerva Student Jake

Meet Jake, a student in the Class of 2019 | Feb, 26, 2018

Quick Facts

Jake Schaeffer

California, U.S.A.



Why did you choose to attend Minerva rather than a school with a traditional campus environment?
My decision to attend Minerva came during my Ascent Weekend (Minerva’s weekend for admitted students). I had just visited the admitted students open house at Vanderbilt University the week before, and while it seemed like everything I had been told I should want in a college, I felt a few things were missing. Vanderbilt didn’t seem to fundamentally challenge its students (apart from ramping up the difficulty of work compared to high school-level work) or itself as an institution. Like other American universities, it seemed to attract students through investments in its brand, campus, and facilities, while charging insanely expensive tuition fees.

When I visited Minerva, sat down with our Founding Dean, and went through the intentionality and research behind the curriculum, I knew this was where I wanted to be. It offered the type of education that I felt would truly make me stand out from my peers at other schools. The academics are structured such that critical and creative thinking are the base of your studies, from the first year all the way through your fourth year. I know that this curriculum, combined with the cultural experience gained from traveling the world, is what will most prepare me to excel after college.

Why did you select your majors and concentrations?
I’ve always wanted to be a Computer Science (CS) major. Within CS, knowing how to use data to understand and tell stories is the most important skill I can develop. I wanted to balance the technical aspects of CS with a business degree, as customer data has become the organizing principle around which operations, technology and systems revolve. Using big data — rather than intuition — to better anticipate changing market conditions will enable companies to deliver the kinds of personalized services that generate an identifiable and strong brand. Bringing the quantitative tools in a data scientist’s toolkit to an area like brand management gives me the opportunity to involve customer preferences in the development of product marketing initiatives and insights into new forms of company-consumer interaction.

What do you like about Minerva academics?
My favorite thing about Minerva academics is the relevance of the curriculum. At Minerva, courses are revised on a annual basis, and students play a crucial role in what’s covered in classes through a process of iterative feedback. As a result, the material covered by faculty are forward-looking, and structured to give students the skills they need to be successful after graduation.

What do you aspire to do when you graduate?
I hope to have the opportunity to work as a data scientist on branding initiatives. The scientific method was applied to marketing to create the field of growth hacking. I believe creative directors can similarly involve quantitative analyses while constructing brands for companies. How institutions interact with their customers can be improved both from an efficiency, and more importantly, ethical perspective.

The biggest step I’m taking toward achieving these goals is reading as much as I can. From reading novels like The One Device to understand the impact good design, engineering, and logistics can have on the world to looking to design ethicists like Tristan Harris in order to determine how tools like social media should be designed to preserve mental health, I want to understand how these questions can be answered using the massive amounts of data already collected.

Tell us about a collaboration with a Civic Partner that you are proud of.
Blockchain technology is typically only referred to in the context of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. However, the implications of a global, distributed spreadsheet that can record transactions reaches far beyond the realm of the finance industry. Devising new and financially focused applications of this technology is the focus of the organization theloop. I worked with this Seoul-based company alongside members of their ICON team, a project within the larger company with the goal of utilizing theloop’s enterprise blockchain engine to connect privatized blockchain communities, allowing previously disparate networks to do business with each other without leaving the blockchain. With theloop, a team of students and I were brought in to ideate and think of unforeseen applications for their blockchain engine. Getting to work with a company focused on a field as forward-looking as blockchain technologies to actually carry out the initial stages of product development was one of my favorite experiences of the semester.

What do you enjoy most about being a part of the Minerva community?
Before attending Minerva, I had a very good grasp on the technicalities of the school. I had asked a hundred questions on the basics of the school. What I never expected, though, was the impact my fellow classmates would have on my college experience. As the first graduating class at Minerva, my cohort only has just over 100 students. In limiting the size of classes, each becomes almost like family. Rather than splintering off into small cliques of students like themselves, each student ends up getting to personally know every single member of our community — who, together represent over 35 different countries — in a very sincere way. The best part is, that bond has only grown stronger with each new country we experience together. And although saying goodbye will be heartbreaking, knowing I have a community scattered across the globe of friends is a comforting notion.

Many Minerva students are passionate about music.
I’ve played the trombone since I was 10. I started in the fifth grade, and still have a blue plastic trombone that I bring with me to each city I visit.

What are some of your other passions and interests?
I was born with a disorder known as Optic Nerve Atrophy that brings my visual acuity down to about one quarter that of the average person’s. I believe this played a crucial role in my passion for music growing up. From picking up the trombone in the fifth grade because “I thought the slide sounded funny” to working with a renowned film composer this past summer, music has always been the medium through which I’m able to easiest express myself. As I’ve aged, it has provided consistency and reliability across years and locations.

I’ve recently gotten into filmmaking as well. The opportunity we have at Minerva to experience seven countries in four years awards my classmates and I with a unique storytelling opportunity. In the last four years, I’ve taken a one-second video every day. Without realizing it, I’ve put in hundreds of hours of dedicated practice time to finding the pieces of my life worth documenting, and the technical capacity to do so. Turning these amalgamations of clips into concise visual depictions of my relationship with a city is an exercise I find incredibly rewarding.

What are you currently reading (outside of class materials)?

  • Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
  • The Kite Runner
  • The One Device

Tell us about your most recent internship experience.
I recently interned with Michael Brook, a film composer who has worked on such films as Into the Wild, An Inconvenient Truth, and Brooklyn, who I was connected to through Dean [Daniel J.] Levitin. Michael had nearly 20 years of musical ideas and data stored within his studio, and he was looking for ways to more methodically organize that data so it could be more efficiently used in his ideation process.

When I found out I got the role, I was ecstatic. The opportunity to spend the summer working in a studio in Hollywood with a composer who had scored the films I grew up with and loved was an opportunity unlike any other. I worked in the studio with Mr. Brook, helping him by preparing music sessions, maintaining his website, and designing a database that categorized and allowed for rapid access to his 18 years of musical sketches.

Why was this of interest to you?
Music has always been the defining creative outlet in my life. From the local band in middle school, national jazz camps and big bands in high school, to my own passion for creating music, getting an opportunity to apply technical data science skills in a music industry role was a dream come true.

Why was the project important to Michael Brook?
When a composer is asked to score a film, they’re given ideas by directors, but these are often abstract at best. Soundscapes, musical synonyms, and references may be provided if you’re lucky, but quite often, little more than the “feeling” of a scene or a simple request for “a piano at this part” is given. Having an internal library of potential fits, categorized by feeling, instrumentation, and whether that idea has been used on other films is necessary to the daily work process of a composer.

What prepared you for this role?
The Minerva product design courses, and the business curriculum at large. Designing a product — even one to be used internally — requires feedback, iteration, and a healthy heaping of empathy. Designing a tool that will be functionally useful on a daily basis requires an understanding of not just your product, but the workflow in general. Above all else, the business curriculum emphasizes human-centered design in the design process.

Who did you report to and what was your experience with your manager?
I reported directly to Mr. Brook. My favorite aspect of this position was that I was able to have conversations with him on a daily basis. Whether about the music industry more broadly, the directors he was working with, or his take on the world as told through the lenses of his musical tours, the opportunity to talk on a daily basis is what I am most appreciative of.

What were two HCs you found most relevant and useful during your internship?


Setting up the database such that its use would be evidentiary was the focus of my work. Knowing how to organize each individual soundbite, whether by keyword or film it was used in, and how to make the things you could search for and the results make sense with little to no explanation was a fun challenge. Even when designing something as simple as the layout of a spreadsheet, knowing how current systems are used and where they can be improved is a crucial piece of design.