From Boy to Man: The Story of a High School Intern by Sam Schwamm

In 2011, I created a High School Internship Program at SapientNitro, where I worked as a Senior Associate Project Manager. SapientNitro is one of the largest agencies in America. The program was so well received that Alan Wexler, now CEO of SapientNitro, decided to publish the intern's story on his personal and SapientNitro's official blog. The blog post has since then been archived.  I decided to move the intern's (Sam Schwamm) story and share it with my audience on Feisworld. He was only 16 years old when he wrote this.

I've always been passionated about teaching and mentoring. This story is everything I wanted for a student to experience at an internship program. I welcome your comments and feedback. Please feel free to share with others.

[Update as of December 2015] I have started a consulting services to provided one-on-one coaching for students to help them transition from school to work.

From Boy to Man: The Story of a High School Intern

My name is Sam Schwamm, and I’m an ordinary teenager from the suburbs of Boston. Every morning during the school year, I leave my house (which contains the average sized family), cross my green lawn, and walk out through the gate of my white picket fence. Every day, I spend seven hours in school (the average time) with 1,844 other students, most of who are just like me. Every summer, many of these students find an average job. Some work at the grocery store, while others wait tables or caddy at a golf club. Sometimes, these average jobs make for above average experiences, but most of the time, the students end the summer with nothing more than a pile of cash.

My summer job, on the other hand, was anything but average. While my peers reluctantly put on name tags and starched uniforms, I donned my favorite t-shirts. As they fumbled for a key, I effortlessly extended the keycard from my belt and entered the office. As they stood at a register or a coffee machine, I booted up my company computer and went hunting for the open desk with the most exciting technology.

Simply put, my first day at the Sapient Boston office was overwhelming. I had visited the office twice before, but it had been relatively empty both times. Arriving at ten o’clock on a Monday morning, I gazed in awe at the colorful interior and its quirky decorations (my personal favorite being a large inflatable clown). But more importantly, the office had a creative, youthful, collaborative energy that I had never seen in a work environment. Rather than confining themselves to cubicles and closed doors, employees chatted and worked between desks and in open spaces.

On the second day, I got to work. My first task of the day was to sit in on a brainstorming session for a new campaign. Feeling a bit intimidated, I stayed quiet for the first few minutes of the meeting. Finally, an idea came to my head. To speak out would mean exposing my thoughts to an entire room full of adults, but I took the risk, just once. And then I spoke up again, and again, and again, until I was one of the main contributors to the sessions. By the end of the meeting, the two ideas that the team wanted to submit to the client were both mine. I rarely feel as proud as I did in that moment. Not only were a group of trained professionals willing to listen to my ideas, but they also found my contributions genuinely interesting and significant! The pattern continued in a presentation later that day, where I shared my thoughts on the internship program to an even larger room full of employees and received equally positive feedback. The ability to speak my mind and be taken seriously by people who were senior to myself in both age and experience was truly empowering.

The next few weeks flew by. Before I knew it, I was regularly participating in brainstorming sessions and internal design reviews. Each time I contributed something valuable, I gained more confidence in my abilities. Another amazing part of my internship was an independent project assigned by my supervisor, Fei Wu. The project involved designing a mobile application that could theoretically be submitted to one of Sapient’s clients. Fei would act as the client, setting specific goals and checkpoints, and I was free to consult with anyone in the office. Essentially, I could work on an engaging, realistic project without any creative limitations.

By the beginning of my third week, the application had gone from a small side project to a full time job. I was drafting low level plans, creating wireframes, and designing full-fledged mockups in Photoshop. Per Fei’s suggestion, I reached out to a number of designers and user experience experts to set up one-on-one sessions. With Meredith Lambert (UX) and Liz Collins (Design), I was able to receive invaluable feedback on my work that allowed me to not only improve my designs but also strengthen my creative skills. Some of my best sessions were with David Sutton, a user experience expert, and Matt Lindley. David encouraged my curiosity in the User Experience field by answering all of my questions and continuously devoting his time to provide feedback on my independent work. Over lunch with Matt, who was incredibly kind and supportive, I was able to learn a wealth of information about the advertising world and how I might one day become a part of it.

However, all good things must come to an end. Yesterday, I stood in the main conference room and gave a thirty-five minute presentation covering my internship and my independent project. As I stood in front of an attentive, supporting audience and shared my hard work, I felt a surge of pride. By the end of the presentation, after a round of heart-warming feedback, I was beaming. Not only have I impressed others with my work, but also I really impressed myself with what I could do when I put my mind to it. I worked hard to achieve what I wanted during this month, but the community here at Sapient was incredibly supportive. Before this summer, I had never received any formal training in visual design nor worked in a true office setting. Now, I have discovered new passion in the design field and gained confidence and career skills that I could not have received anywhere else. I sincerely hope that future students, ordinary kids like me, can come to Sapient and realize that they are anything but average.

Sam Schwamm presented his final project in front of a dozen most senior executives in the company. Sam's presentation slides can be viewed here.

Following the internship, Sam is now a student at Vassar College in New York. Because Sam had experienced UX (User Experience) at the my internship program, he decided to further his study at General Assembly. His story was again picked up by PC Magazine.