Jonathan Shanin knows as well as anyone how a young person’s sport or avocation can wind up becoming a successful career path. It happened to Shanin when he pursued his love of kayaking.

He joined a national kayaking team and also earned naval architecture and marine engineering degrees.

Jonathan Shanin kayaking

For some people, this happens naturally. But what about those kids who never figure out how to connect the dots between what they like to do now and what they can do as a career? Shanin now has an answer for them: the Benjamin Franklin Experience (BFE).

The nonprofit BFE camp gives teenagers, ages 14-18, an introduction to 10 different career fields in science, technology, arts, and engineering. Each day the class is led by an expert.

For example, one of the experts is New Orleans musician/composer/producer Cale Pellick, whose music includes electronic funk.

“He writes the music for a lot of TV shows, as well as for the NFL,” Shanin says. “If you watch an NFL game, before the commercial starts, you hear fired-up music. That’s all composed and created by Cale Pellick.”

Pellick will work with the teens in a local music studio to compose music for a TV show. They’ll spend the day creating a two-minute musical piece, composing it, playing the instruments, recording it, cutting it apart digitally, and mastering it.

“The next day, we’ll work with an environmental biologist who will take us to two different streams. One will be pristine, and the other will be near a construction site,” Shanin says. “We’ll take data samples, specifically taking macro invertebrates.”

With the samples, the teens will analyze their results and learn about the different streams’ health characteristics.

“There’s always a need for programs that immerse students in career experiences guided by experts and mentors,” says John M. Moore, chief executive officer of NEXT Upstate. “The more programs there are, the more likely young people will be able to envision and create a more fulfilling life for themselves.”

The camp is scheduled for two sessions in June and two in July. Each session is for two weeks with 10 days of work exposure, facilitated by instructors, experts, and mentors. Teens turn in a writing assignment at the end of each day, and it’s professionally edited. They also learn speaking skills, which will be useful when they later interview for professional jobs.

The camp costs $2,370 per session. Fees pay for the instruction, equipment, transportation, lunch, and other costs. Through grants and contributions, an estimated 65 percent of attendees will receive academic or needs-based scholarships, Shanin says.

“The right kids for this program are those who have grit,” he says. “They have a passion for something in life. Some are academically stellar; others are high performers in theater or drama or sports.”

Prospective campers can apply for the estimated 100 slots online and submit nomination forms completed by their teacher, pastor, coach, or counselor. The deadline is March 31, 2017.

Programs like the camp’s hands-on experience and NEXT High School’s impact-based learning method give students opportunities to try professional work, says Candace Morris of NEXT High School.

“It can be hard, making the decision of who you want to be and what you want to do when you grow up,” Morris says.

“Many college students can spend anywhere around two years without direction, struggling to decipher what to pursue,” Morris adds. “Programs like NEXT High School and the Benjamin Franklin Experience help young people to find those answers to those questions now.”

Benjamin Franklin, like the camp named after him, did not settle for one career in his lifetime. It also is likely the teens attending the camp will pursue a variety of careers before they retire, and BFE might help them get started, Shanin says.

“There may be an experience that takes them down a path they never saw coming, but it’s a great fit for them — something they love,” he says.

In short, Shanin wants to help young people have evolutionary career experiences, similar to his own journey: the 43-year-old social entrepreneur began working in online marketing for naval architecture firms. Later he worked as a leader in kayaking design, and then he reinvented himself as the founder of AidJoy, a charity that connects nonprofits with a global audience.

“All too often people go down a road for their future because they were introduced to one dynamic individual,” Shanin says. “They pursue that career for years and years, and it may not be the right fit for them.”


The Benjamin Franklin Experience summer program for teens will hold an open house on Monday, March 13, at 5 p.m. at NEXT Innovation Center, 411 University Ridge, Greenville.

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