Empow Studios brings technology, arts, and play together to help young learners discover and build on their creative talents. They teach classes in programming, robotics, video game design, animation, design, audio engineering and other creative skills for the 21st century at over 20 locations in Massachusetts. Many of the students enrolled in their summer programs are designing games that are eligible for submission into the 2016 National STEM Video Game Challenge.
When 22-year-old Lynne Richman had her first taste of STEM camp, she was 12 years old and hadn’t really had a chance to explore technology. “The camp was called ‘iCamp,’” she recalls. “It was a week-long day camp where you picked a project at the beginning of the week and the counselors helped you to finish it and improve upon it throughout the week.”
At the time, Richman was excited about what was then a novel idea. “It was the first and only camp I ever went to where I got my own laptop for the week and a chance to experiment with and learn new and fun software,” she says. “I honestly loved it. It gave me the chance to be creative in a medium that I had always felt comfortable in and it opened me up to new experiences and new connections with like-minded kids.”
Fast forward ten years and Richman is teaching at the same camp, now called ‘Empow Studios,’ where she is employed as an instructor. Her job involves teaching kids how to complete projects while tapping each child’s potential and allowing them the freedom of self-expression. ‘I love seeing how excited they get about the stuff they’re working on and hearing their ideas for elaborate additions and future projects, no matter how impractical they might sound,” says Richman. “It inspires me to be exposed to their unadulterated creativity and passion.”
A Career Evolves
“Some of my favorite technologies that I learned about at camp were the home design and video game design software,” says Richman. “It was so fun to learn about how to design my own house and customize all aspects of the furniture. Additionally, learning about how to design and program video games, albeit simple ones, was incredibly interesting and fun, not to mention educational.”
Richmann says she didn’t realize that the programming skills she was learning would be extremely useful later on as a college freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey. There she was required to take a programming class for her math major. Beyond the programming, she also developed a love of teaching at the camps, which really took shape as her formal ‘camper days’ were winding down.
“Mostly I just didn’t like the thought of having to leave camp behind me,” she recalls. Fortunately, when she was sixteen and had aged out of the program as a camper, she was old enough to be a junior mentor, and then was later employed as a junior counselor. “I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the awesome environment,” she notes. “As a camper, the counselors had always made me feel accepted and included and had encouraged me to be creative and push the limits of my own abilities to continue to grow and challenge myself. It was such an exhilarating experience and I really wanted to be a part of making it happen for others.”
Richman’s involvement with kids and technology began to shape her career path. “Working at the camp, I realized how much I really enjoyed the teaching experience and it led me to pursue teaching in other forms and settings, such as tutoring and eventually pursuing a degree in math education, which I’m currently working towards,” she notes.
Tips for Teaching
Currently, Richman’s days as an Empow Studios instructor start with campers trickling in and heading straight to their projects to continue where they left off the day before. “I remember that feeling of excitement and dedication; there is always more to add and improve upon and it can be exhilarating to feel so much ahead of you,” she recalls. As the eager campers begin work, Richman instructs each child on how to make their ideas come alive, while allowing them the freedom to forge ahead on their own.
“My advice to get kids interested in a concept or topic is to really get to know them and learn what they are genuinely interested in and then see if there’s some way to combine or mix in their interests with the concept,” she notes.
Richman also generates interest among students by showing them some of the projects she’s in the process of creating, which often includes games or artwork. “I like to show the kids what I’m working on because I’ve found that it inspires them to see what is possible after years of experience and learning the programs,” says Richman, who is quick to encourage others who may be interested in a teaching career.
“If teaching is something that you want to do, then it is absolutely something you should pursue,” says Richman. “The world can always use more wonderful teachers! Behind every great scientist, leader, engineer, etc. is a teacher that helped them mold their talents and skills and perhaps even inspired their pursuits to begin with. You never know the impact you can have and it certainly never hurts to try.”
In addition to working as a technology instructor, Richman is working towards achieving her Bachelor’s Degree in mathematics and then plans to pursue a Master’s Degree in education. “My current goal is to finish up my degrees and find a good teaching job near family,” she says. “Long-term: my goal is to be as happy as I can be and make those around me equally as happy.”
Now a camp instructor, nine years ago, 13-year old Lynne Richman (right) and a fellow camper made a TV ad to promote a video game they had created during their stay at iCamp (Empow Studios)