October 1, 2015

How Three Seniors Spent Their Summer Vacations

Kate / 12th Grade

The following is excerpted from the September/October 2015 edition of Oakwood’s high school newspaper, The Gorilla

The summer before senior year is a precious one. Rising seniors should savor their last moments of relaxation before the barrage of college application stress begins. Summers should be spent enjoying time with one’s parents and friends before it slips away, or falling back in love with one’s hometown. Nothing is more important than being present in these last moments of childhood. Right?

Wrong. Many competitive (read: crazy) Oakwood seniors use their summer months to beef up their college applications with just one more extracurricular. Internships seem like the perfect way to add to an already bulky resume; they show maturity as well as experience in the workplace, and lucky students might even get paid minimum wage.

Cayla: The Office of the Inspector General

Cayla spent her internship in Downtown Los Angeles, in an office above the famous Grand Central Market. The vibrant, bustling outdoor marketplace must’ve formed an interesting contrast with the seriousness of the cause Cayla and her colleagues worked towards at the Office of the Inspector General.

This office oversees all the jails in Los Angeles country and makes sure that the treatment of inmates is humane, and that jail conditions follow constitutional guidelines. A vocal advocate for human rights on the Oakwood campus (notably through her leadership in Girls Learn International), Cayla says she was drawn to the position because of the human rights aspect.

Speaking about prisoners, she earnestly tells me, “Even though they’ve made mistakes and had missteps, they’re still human and deserve basic rights.” A daughter of two criminal defense lawyers, Cayla knows firsthand that the prison industrial complex is a deeply corrupt system. Because of this, she went into her job with the attitude that jails are bad and the mission to fix them.

The office she worked in is only two years old and still understaffed, so Cayla, who was their first-ever intern, wasn’t just sitting at a desk or doing busywork. “I would usually leave work with more stuff to do the next morning,” she says.

An average day included lots of filing, but not the boring kind you’d expect of a high school intern. Cayla read and filed reports written by actual inmates in Los Angeles. Though Cayla couldn’t get too specific—the information in the reports is confidential—she describes this reading as very emotional. “I didn’t expect to read the things I did,” she said. “The Office of the Inspector General is the inmates’ only hope to get what they need.”

Even more intense than reading prisoners’ words, however, were the two days when Cayla had the opportunity to visit jails in person. It’s understandable that Cayla was scared the first time she walked through the Wayside Jail in the deep valley. Despite being familiar with her stalwart personality, the thought of the petite, blonde, seventeen-year-old standing “in the center of a huge circle with inmates all around” makes this writer’s heart jump.

After experiencing jail life, talking to the captain of the jail about running a jail, and working with adults in the Office of the Inspector General, Cayla gained a fresh perspective on imprisonment. She realized that the problems facing jails are more complicated than she anticipated. “It’s not just an evil government intentionally hurting inmates,” she explains. Inmates are often very manipulative, making it difficult for those who run jails to do their jobs. Even with her newly holistic view, Cayla maintains that jails aren’t perfect and says, “We need to be doing better.” She says that her internship focused her desire to study to political science and, one day, help rid the world of human rights abuses.

Michael: Innerpeace Ventures

While Michael’s summer job was not technically an internship, it required the same level of drive and hard work as one—and it’s simply too cool not to write about. Most Oakwood students first realized that Michael had started his own company when he texted them over the summer, asking them to buy his product on Amazon. Following the link that he included led to a completely legitimate Amazon company named Innerpeace Ventures, which sold two products: The Chillbox and The Crash Kit.

The Chillbox contains twenty pairs of earplugs, and the Crash Kit contains ten pairs of earplugs and a sleep mask. But how on earth did an almost-eighteen-year-old create a company in less than a summer? Michael explains that his family helped him get started. His aunt had started an Amazon company that manufactured sleep masks, and she asked him if he wanted to do the same. “It seemed really interesting, so I took her up on it,” Michael says good-naturedly.

As for the earplugs, Michael’s father owns a factory in Culver City that makes earplugs. Michael helped out there over the summer and was able to get some of the excess earplugs free of charge. He still had a long way to go, though, before Innerpeace Ventures was a successful company.

Michael needed to get his product recognized. He tells me that his marketing strategy was to give his earplugs and eye masks “a younger vibe” and market them to college students: a demographic that may want some peace and quiet in the midst of hectic residential life. He worked towards this image through packaging and Amazon images, which show a girl playing an electric guitar and a young man wearing earplugs as he works in a crowded computer lab. Mike also needed to make his product relevant on Amazon.

He says, “I looked at a lot of Amazon tutorials and learned how to play the game.” One key component of this game is the concept of “action.” Action encompasses the number of clicks, views, sales, and reviews a product has, and as Michael explains, action begets more action. “The more action you have on a product in a short amount of time means the higher it’s going to move up when searched,” which is essential for a product to get found and eventually bought.

How did Michael get action? His plan was to ask friends to buy and review his product, promising to reimburse them for the essential service they did for Innerpeace Ventures. After a week and half, Michael already had strangers buying the Chillbox. He recalls his excitement when he got his first sale from a non-Oakwooder, a buyer in Massachusetts. “Last week, I had one day when I sold fifteen to random people,” Michael tells me.

What’s the biggest thing he learned about starting a company? “That it’s not as hard as people make it,” Michael says candidly. “Amazon makes it really convenient: I can make money sitting at home and editing things on the computer.”

Innerpeace Ventures is obviously a hit—but how much money is Michael actually making? If you’re worried that Michael is becoming an evil, greedy CEO, you can breathe freely. After Amazon takes 15% for its third-party services, Michael says that he gives half of his product to his mom’s foundation, a nonprofit organization in Romania that puts orphans through college.

Maddie: Children’s Hospital

Maddie knows for sure that she is deeply interested in pediatrics, or children’s medicine. “I can only imagine that being a kid and being super sick and not knowing what’s gonna happen would be really really scary,” she explains passionately. “In pediatrics, there is a big component of compassionate medicine—not just being a doctor but being someone who is comforting.” She seems like she could go on for hours.

Maddie sought out a job at Children’s Hospital because she cares about children’s health, but she didn’t expect to end up where she did: in the pulmonary administrative office. According to Merriam-Webster, “Pulmonary” means of, relating to, affecting, or occurring in the lungs, but at Children’s Hospital, it mostly means cystic fibrosis. Maddie explains that cystic fibrosis is a disease that causes the mucus found in all lungs to get so thick as to clog bronchial tubes, making it hard to breathe and causing a violent cough. She also explains that it largely affects children.

The youngest person in the office (the next youngest had just graduated college), Maddie would begin an average day by sorting through paperwork, doing the scanning and stapling typical of a summer job. She would then go through sleep studies—charts of how patients breathe as they sleep—which can reveal important health information about a person with cystic fibrosis. After this, she had the opportunity to shadow Children’s Hospital’s head pulmonologist on his rounds as he checked in with every patient in the pulmonary wing, discussing diagnosis and treatment with young patients.

This experience was particularly moving for Maddie. She says that going into each patient’s room and talking with them taught her that they were regular kids with an irregularly difficult life. Many were high school age and asked her what it was like. She says that she would never have guessed the kids and teens were sick if she’d met them outside of the hospital: “It was weird because they were so normal,” she explains emphatically.

Once Maddie got talking about the nature of cystic fibrosis, the conversation darkened. While sufferers can live a relatively normal life while in remission—Maddie says that if you saw someone with the disease walking down the street, you would have no idea they were sick—the disease can take over one’s life. Maddie explained that this is especially sad when kids are older and cystic fibrosis prevents them from going to school or college because their lives are so bound to their medication. Cystic fibrosis tends to gets progressively worse with age, and there is no known cure. The life expectancy for someone with the disease is forty-three years. Maddie manages to stay optimistic, however, saying that doctors like the ones at Children’s are constantly working to find a cure. “I can tell there is a lot of hope there,” she says. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”