As the 70+ high school students from across the world poured in that July morning, I was brought right back to that same day in 2015 when, as a rising high school junior, I was in their place. I never thought I’d end up on the other side someday.
If only I had only known the amount of blood, sweat, and tears (yes, truly all three) it would take to become the Residential Training Associate (RTA) I wanted to become: someone who could inspire and motivate the students and anchor all the tasks behind the scenes. While much of the work as a student was academic, I found much of the work as a RTA required emotional intelligence. We received all the training we could, but there was nothing that could prepare us for every possible situation that would turn up. As a team of RTAs, we had to learn to navigate together.
As one of the most challenging high school summer programs, the Management & Technology Summer Institute (M&TSI) is a three-week, for-credit program geared towards mostly high school seniors (and select juniors). Those who attend are interested in not only some aspect of business and engineering, but more importantly the harmonious blend of the two. When the students arrived, I saw in them what I remembered feeling: anticipation, excitement, and just a touch of nervousness about what lie ahead.
As an M&TSI alum, I had some idea of what students expected, what worries they would have, and what sorts of challenges they would face. Knowing this helped me guide my role as RTA and improve their experience. I undoubtedly expected a mix of serious challenges and goofy fun. Both were experienced to the max this past month.
Working with all the different parties involved with M&TSI definitely posed its challenges as we all had our
own ideas of what a successful camp meant. For the students, it was learning and having as much fun as possible. For the professors, it was providing a meaningful college-like experience. For residential camp coordinators JKCP, it was safety. And for the RTAs, it was helping to facilitate all of the above. Learning to make the final judgment call as a team was undoubtedly one of the biggest lessons I learned.
An Inside Look at M&TSI
For the students, a typical day during M&TSI involved several business lectures in the morning, speaker events after lunch, engineering labs in the afternoon, and various assignments at night. We RTAs never had a typical day – and that’s what made it exciting for me! From emergency trips to early airport runs, there were days that dragged until 4 AM and days that started at 3 AM. I guess a typical day for us was working with the unknowns and learning to handle critical situations, all while bonding with each other and the students.
One of the most impressive things to come out of M&TSI are the working engineering products each team designs and builds. From attachable motion sensors to operate sinks to bands that swap all shared social media accounts at once to lane switch and brake lights on bikes, I loved all of the creative prototypes. I was so impressed at the complex projects the groups could develop in such a short amount of time. In fact, I actually still use one of the group’s prototype on my bike!
The best part about M&TSI was meeting the students and getting to know their backgrounds and future aspirations. I enjoyed all the meals I shared with the students and exploring parts of Philly and beyond on various trips. I also loved the quality time spent with the other RTAs. We truly shared a special experience and formed a unique bond through it all.
From late night yoga and poker in Provosts Tower library to jamming out on bus rides and basketball scrimmages in the Palestra, I’ve cherished every moment with the M&TSI students. In particular, some of us RTAs designed various mock awards on SolidWorks and laser cut them to present to students on the last night. We all came together in the library and shared some jokes and stories all night long as our “last hurrah” together, memorializing a summer experience we would never forget.
Shannon Lin is a member of the Class of 2021 and was our Head RTA for M&TSI this summer. She is an electrical engineering major concentrating in health care management & policy. After graduation, she plans to pursue a Master’s in Systems Engineering and apply her various disciplines to the healthcare industry. She is focused on increasing access to care, improving diagnostics capabilities, and reforming payment systems. Her favorite thing about M&TSI was the instant bonds the RTAs and students formed in a short three-weeks.