Think back to your first high school job: not cutting grass for your parents or taking care of your neighbor's dog; your first real job, with paychecks, taxes, and a consistent schedule. What was that like? If you were like most American teens, you might remember babysitting, scooping ice cream, or washing dishes. They aren't the most rewarding jobs or the most entertaining. But I can't say the same about mine.
I knew that my job was going to be different from the beginning. As a 17-year-old, you don't expect much out of summer work, just something to put gas in your beat-up car really. Yet when I walked into WMSI headquarters for the first time, my eyes lit up. In that little office space on Park Avenue, technology was everywhere. Robots of every function and design crowded the shelves, 3D printers hummed away on tables, and busy workers in matching blue t-shirts lined the room. Suddenly my misconceptions about what my line of work was going to be were thrown out the window, and I knew that this was how I wanted to spend the next few months.
Now it is my second year with WMSI, and on a cool July morning at 7:15am, my alarm goes off as usual. After hopping in the shower and throwing on my own (now slightly worn out) blue WMSI t-shirt, I grab a bagel on my way out the door. When I stroll into our basement classroom, my coworkers (many of them my age) are hard at work. July is the heart of summer camp season, and we are prepared for an especially active day today. The usual morning routine is put in motion with all hands on deck. I help set up our activities tent on the lawn, while laptops, the projector, and other miscellaneous electronics are brought over from the office.
As 9:00 rolls around, excited campers begin to tromp in, and we get down to business right off the bat. The kids happily doodle or fold paper airplanes around me, and soon the classroom is filled with different aircraft whizzing past my ears.
By the time the last camper has arrived and settled in, we are ready to move on to our first daily activity. The computer program Scratch is a favorite for this, and within the next few minutes everyone is engulfed in their own imaginative stories. Scratch can be difficult at times, and there are always many requests to be dealt with. This makes me a wish granter of sorts, and for that hour or so before snack time, I am tasked with making all sorts of crazy, beautiful ideas come to life. My favorite request comes from a young boy who wants to turn a fortune cookie into a Boeing 737 and then fly away. The look on his face when it finally works is priceless.
At the conclusion of our snack break and a whirlwind game of sharks and minnows, we all head back inside to begin our next activity, which is new this year: all-terrain robots. The campers are broken into pairs to begin work while I design a course for them. The final product is complete with a pump track, a gravel pit, and a steeply curved wall at the end (à la American Ninja Warrior). Construction and brainstorming are in many ways just as big a part of my job as actual instruction, and in this instance, the work pays off and everyone is having a blast.
Upon finishing lunch and our afternoon game, the kids are once again herded inside for the final activity of the day. This time we are making marble runs--an activity also new this year--out of various crafting supplies. The kids use their persistent imaginations without fail, and before I know it, another object whizzes past my ear; a marble of course. I look up to find a massive structure suspended from the ceiling with string, and chuckle to myself, "Why not?".
Before we know it, the day has gone by, and the campers all tromp back out the door to waiting parents, leaving us to try and make the classroom look like it wasn't just hit by a Category 5 hurricane. But, much to my surprise as always, we manage to sweep, sort, and put away everything in due time. From there all the counselors head outside to debrief how the day went: favorite parts, possible changes, and even best funny quotes are shared.
As I stroll back to my car, I think of how lucky I am not to have a "normal teenage job". Instead of sitting behind a counter or at a sink, I get to share my love of technology and all of its benefits with others. And by teaching children these useful skills, I am giving back to my community as well; raising a future generation of independent, creative thinkers from my area. Whenever someone asks me what I do for work, I usually laugh and state, "Oh I play with Legos," but in reality what I do is more similar to what's printed on the t-shirt I wear every day. I invent, design, make, craft, code, and most importantly, imagine.