High school students explore passions with unique summer jobs.
When it came to finding a summer job, Lakewood Ranch’s Mairead Studdiford thought she might do something that would allow her to pursue her passions.
Over the years, Studdiford would visit Boca Grande on family vacations where she loved taking photos of manatees.
That interest paid off when she became a freshman at The Out-of-Door Academy and learned of a research project where she could earn a summer internship at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota. Why not submit a project about manatees?
Mote Marine was impressed, and Studdiford earned her first internship between her sophomore and junior years. Now she is working her second summer as a Mote intern before she begins her senior year.
While retail and restaurant industry jobs have been go-to jobs for students on summer break, Studdiford landed something more interesting to her, albeit a volunteer position.
“My friends think it’s cool and they support it, but it’s definitely different than what they’re doing for jobs,” Studdiford said.
Although Studdiford said her internship might eventually be important in her acceptance to a top-flight university, that wasn’t the main reason she pursued the job. Instead, she is doing work she feels is important.
With school out for summer, other students also are pursuing jobs that would be considered out of the ordinary. For some, they are testing fields that could become a career.
That’s the case for Studdiford, who has continued to do manatee research and also will participate in other research, such as an upcoming three-day trip to the Florida Keys for a coral restoration project.
“I have so much to learn about marine science,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of marine science because there is so much to learn.”
Brett McDowall, a senior at Booker High School in Sarasota, interns and works part-time during the summer at East County’s Big Cat Habitat. He works in the morning as an intern from 8 a.m. to noon feeding the monkeys and cleaning up the petting zoo. From noon to 4 p.m., he grooms and exercises ponies that are used to give children rides.
“My dream one day is to be a tiger trainer,” McDowall said. “I’m too young, but I figure that if I keep doing this, I’ll get to do it one day. I wanted to work here the first time I came and I actually emailed them when I was like 8 years old because I wanted to work with the monkeys. Now I know that you have to work your way up to that.”
McDowall’s fellow students don’t understand his wanting to do a hard and sometimes smelly job.
“None of my friends really get why I do this,” he said. “They’re all theater kids, so they’re really into that. But what I want to do is inspire kids so that they want to do this someday.”
At the Foundation for Dreams’ Dream Oaks Camp, students have the opportunity to spend their summer doing something they consider a rewarding endeavor. The camp hires counselors-in-training from the ages of 15 to 17.
Lakewood Ranch High student Phoebe Bond, who will be a junior in the fall, said she heard about the job from her friend and fellow counselor Olivia Dice, another Lakewood Ranch High student.
“Helping people with disabilities is something that sounded like what I wanted to do for the summer,” Bond said.
Bond said she is interested in being an educator as a career, so working with children for a summer should prove valuable.
Aiden Mendel, who will be a junior in the fall at Lakewood Ranch High School, said he wanted to work at the camp because of a personal experience.
“When I was younger I had to go to physical therapy a lot and I got close with all of the kids who went there and had special needs,” Mendel said. “When I heard about this opportunity, I knew I wanted to check it out. This might be a pathway to do occupational therapy when I grow up.”
While Mendel is exploring his passions, McDowall already is convinced his summer job will prepare him for the future.
“I love animals, it’s all I think about,” McDowall said. “Sometimes I just sit there and talk with the tigers. People might think I’m crazy, but I love it.”