Why Working at Camp is Better Than an Internship

June 3, 2021Cooper Schwartz

I’m less than two weeks away from my college graduation and I’m finally about to finish a project I started at the end of my second year.

As my sophomore spring was coming to a close, I was preparing to return to Harlam for my third summer on staff and first on the Leadership Team. There had been a few virtual meetings I’d attended (ahead of their time!) to start getting ready for the summer, so camp was on my mind. The previous semester, I learned how to use the 3D modeling CAD (computer-aided design) software SolidWorks in one of my classes. While thinking of something to do while I was taking breaks from studying for final exams, I came up with the great idea to use my CAD skills to make a to-scale model of Harlam’s Chapel on the Hill. I found some good pictures of the chapel, grabbed a ruler, and got to work.

I ended up finishing the main structure’s design before I went to camp that summer and since then, I’ve continued to add to and improve it (I recently added the Ner Tamid, or Eternal Light, to my model), but I never intended to leave my model living only on my computer. My school (Case Western Reserve University) has a makerspace on campus that, among a number of other things, gives students access to 3D printers, and about a month ago, I used those to finally print out my model. All that’s left now is to sand down the top a little bit more to clean it up, and I’ll be the proud owner of my own personal Chapel on the Hill!

CWRU puts a lot of emphasis on students getting experiential learning, especially in the form of internships, and I’ve chosen to work at camp for all four summers of my time here instead of working at an engineering internship. Because of this, I’ve heard the question “Why are you going to camp instead of finding a summer internship?” a lot. Honestly, though? It’s kind of a no-brainer for me.

From the point of view of a staff member, camp is all about problem solving. Sometimes it’s doing your best to help keep your bunk clean enough to win the Golden Plunger (and the special snack that comes with it!) and sometimes it’s coaching your camper through which rocks to grab to make it to the top of the climbing wall. No matter where you look, there’s always something new to find a solution to. At camp, you’ve got to figure out something to do fast and start doing it, just like many of the scenarios my classes have considered.

When I’m assigned a project at school, I’ve been able to quickly identify what needs to be done and get started working because of the practice I’ve had quickly solving problems at camp. If, halfway through the project, my group and I realize that we need to completely change the way we’ve been going about the work, I’m able to lead the change, due in part to my experience handling dramatic schedule changes on short notice at Harlam. In a few of the organizations I’ve been in at CWRU, I’ve held roles that supervised other people. My summer as an Assistant Unit Supervisor gave me a place to practice providing feedback to the people I supervise, which I was later able to use effectively in those organizations.

This transfer of skills goes the other way, too, and I’m able to use the things I learn in my classes to help me succeed at camp; building a sturdy tower of cards with my campers during a rest hour, running elective programs about Java programming (during Harlam@Home last summer) or astronomy, or any number of other things.

My summers on staff at Harlam have helped me so much in my time at CWRU, and I’m grateful I was able to take advantage of the opportunity. I can’t wait to be there this summer!

If you’d like to print your own Chapel on the Hill, you can download the model here!

This was originally posted on Camp Harlem's blog. 

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