Life Should Be Like Summer Camp!

July 12, 2018
Students at science summer camp with drone

By Dr. Sandy Antunes
Professor, Astronautical Engineering

Imagine this workday. Your boss greets you at 9 am and you get a short talk on a totally new task you have to do.  You get together with your co-workers to work on it, and you make good progress over the course of the morning.

At lunchtime, you have the option of working on the project more that afternoon, or switching to a new project in a new area. You make your choice, as do your co-workers. At the end of the day, you have either (a) completed a project in depth or (b) started two projects and brought them halfway. Also, you got served snacks.

So why can't life be more like summer camps?  We're running several summer camps here at Capitol. All are week-long day camps (9am-4pm) at about the $400-450/week rate.  The Cyber camps just wrapped up, and I have a Coding Camp (Python & Pi) from July 30-Aug 3, as well as a Game Design Camp from Aug 6-10.

Dr. Atunes

As an adult, I've gone to a Dude Ranch to ride horses and play ping-pong-- summer camp for adults.  But I've also done more serious efforts and gone to professional workshops and conferences, which are really three-day camps for adults.  I just wrapped up a two-day trip to Morehead State University to test our upcoming CubeSat payload for launch.  First, it passed the environment tests!  Second-- yep, it was like summer camp. I got to learn about new things I didn't know about, while in the hands of experts who knew what they were doing.

So why don't we restructure both school and work to be more like summer camps?  At Capitol we (the professors) love the hands-on we can do in the classroom, and all colleges use a camp-like structure where you only have 1-3 classes per day, each maybe 90 minutes, with a gap in between to recharge yourself. We should use this model for K12 (kindergarten through high school) education, and for work.

Most engineering level jobs (other than operations) involve a fair amount of learning new things and task switching.  Taking a camp approach means that, instead of seeing it as 'more work', you tackle your job like getting Boy Scout merit badges or Girl Scout Try-Its.  Got a chance to learn a new computer system, switch to new software, or deliver results on a new project? *Ding* You've just gotten a new Achievement Unlocked!

Part of a good camp attitude is taking a clue from Choose-Your-Own-Adventure games.  "You have a deadline!  Do you put in extra hours (go to page 5), ask the boss for a one-day extension (go to page 7), or call in that favor from your co-worker to get their help (go to page 9)?"

A big thing that differentiates life from college (or high school) might not just be the workload-- my college students regularly tell me that while college <em>material</em> is harder than high school, the "work" is easier because it's less artificially scheduled, more applied.  And work is the ultimate in applied effort

So yes, I am running two camps for high schoolers this summer (and those of you caring for kids are welcome to send them over for an awesome time!)  But really, can't life just be a series of summer camp experiences, if you choose the right perspective?

Happy summer,
Dr. Sandy Antunes