My Last Summer at Camp, By Meryl Stark '12



One of my whitewater groups - about to get on the river and run some rapids! That's me in the middle - helping campers put their neoprene spray skirts around the boats' cockpits before we push off.

YES I did graduate from Olin last May, but decided to have a little more fun before joining the real world...

Last summer, I traded my lab coat for a swimsuit, my project plan for a lesson plan, problem sets for lifeguard drills, and my computer for a kayak. I taught the Whitewater Merit Badge at Camp Grimes, my local Boy Scout Camp in the mountains of North Carolina. Each week, I prepared a new group of teenage boys for our Friday river trip. I taught paddling, maneuvering, wet exiting (how to get out of the boat when it flips), and rolling. We also had a few "talking" requirements, where I had to cover information as opposed to skills. When we had to compare the American Whitewater Safety Guidelines to Boy Scouts' Safely Afloat Principles, I did what any good Oliner would and pulled out sharpies and post-its!

Teaching whitewater was incredibly challenging, yet very rewarding and fun at the same time. Every day was hands-on, and I was able to share in my campers' excitement as they learned new things and mastered skills. The best part of every week was of course the river trip. The river itself is tamer -- most people tube the Class I to II.5 rapids -- but like anything in nature, a river is never the same twice; nor was the group I led. Some weeks when it had rained a lot, the water level was up and the rapids were wilder. One time we found a snake hanging from a tree. Twice, we had to bail early for the ubiquitous southern afternoon thunderstorm. A few times, my campers rarely flipped their boats. Other times, I had more kids in the water than in boats!

I loved seeing my campers take turns leading the group and point out the various river features that we talked about in our class (eddy lines, strainers, downstream Vs, etc.). The adult leaders along for the trip were always a hoot. Two scoutmasters were rocking GoPro cameras, and one collected trash along the river and decorated his boat with it.  Every week a pair of leaders had quite the time maneuvering the 2-person "Party Barge" boat.

Additionally and possibly most importantly, I got to spend the summer with great friends, and made plenty of new ones. I shared a cabin and worked alongside my best friend from high school. I even saw my brother every day--he led the ecology area. 

Working at camp is not new for me. I did it the summers before Olin and after my first year. I also attended the same Girl Scout camp for 10 years. However, attending Olin and preparing for a career in engineering forced me to make a tough decision. After my sophomore year, I chose not to return to summer camp. Although I really wanted to be at camp, I felt pressure from my peers and Olin to think about the future. That meant getting a "real job." It was difficult, but I decided to leave camp behind for two summers and work internships for big companies. While I don't regret the experience I gained through these internships, I constantly missed camp--everything except the food!

This summer, since I had time after graduation, I applied for camp staff the day the application went live. I knew that camp was the right choice. After working other jobs, I have a different perspective on camp. It's tons of fun, plus it makes me a better-rounded person. In the years I've worked at various camps, I've learned how to lead, be flexible, and work alongside others in a very different way than I did in the engineering workplace.

Overall, this was one of my best summers ever. I remembered how much I love teaching, plus I was outside all the time. I'm sad that this was probably my last summer at camp, but I know that there are more awesome experiences to come.

Posted in: Alumni Speak, Because I Wanted To, Just Plain Fun