No experience required, lots to gain

What summer jobs can teach local teens

BY ANGELA K. ROBERTS

As a student office staff worker in Cary Quadrangle, a century-old, sprawling residential complex on Purdue University’s West Lafayette campus, Michaela Hixson is continually steeped in dormitory culture.

Romance blossoming on the graveyard shift. Mysterious snack food deliveries with unknown recipients. Guys in boxers parading out the doors during nighttime fire drills.

And then there was the time a student showed up in the basement simply wrapped in a bath towel. “No shoes, water on him, dripping, and he said, ‘Can I please have the key to my room?!’” Hixson exclaims, laughing.

For the West Lafayette, Indiana, resident, these adventures in collegiate life started long before the SATs were even on her radar. During her sophomore year at Harrison High School, while Hixson was working at a local ice cream shop, her mom shared a summer job opening — no undergraduate experience necessary.

“It was fun for me to see how college worked, to already be in that college environment in high school, dip my toe in for what was to come,” says Hixson, who just completed her sophomore year in Purdue’s College of Science. After beginning as a seasonal employee four years ago, Hixson has expanded to year-round employment, gaining important skills in teamwork, responsibility and time management along the way.

As adults, we may joke about our summers flipping burgers or blowing a whistle at the neighborhood pool. But in truth, these experiences typically offer far more than a paycheck or a bullet point on a college application. As summer heats up in Greater Lafayette, we present a sampling of paid and volunteer opportunities for your favorite teenagers, along with a few of the life lessons that the jobs may impart.

ACADEMIA

Purdue University
West Lafayette
purdue.edu

From serving as day camp counselors to prepping residence halls for fall, Purdue University typically has offered a plethora of summer jobs to local high schoolers and undergraduates. With a pause on staff hiring, the university has fewer openings for 2021. At press time, we found postings for such positions as custodians, groundskeepers, network operators and Purdue Surplus Store workers, some of which required applicants to possess a high school diploma or GED or be currently enrolled at Purdue.

See current opportunities at careers.purdue.edu. The Center for Career Opportunities shows jobs available at Purdue and beyond for current Purdue students and alumni; visit cco.purdue.edu/Home/myCCO

HOSPITALITY

Cafe Literato
West Lafayette
literatocafe.com

Located just a mile up the road from Mackey Arena, Café Literato is a brick oven pizza and espresso bar located in the Faith West complex of apartments, a fitness center, church facilities and a daycare. With both indoor and outdoor seating, the restaurant serves as a gathering spot and study hub.

Eric Black, a West Lafayette Junior/Senior High School graduate who started there at 19, was promoted to manager a few months later; now, two years in, he hopes to return to Ivy Tech soon to pursue a career in the restaurant industry.
He says that teen workers aged 17 and up can take orders, prep toppings and make beverages while honing communication and customer service skills.

“The owners say that we are in the business of people,” Black says.

“You won’t find a lot of environments to work in where you can tell that the people genuinely care and are friendly and social.”

A nice perk on top of the paycheck and all the friendliness: A free drink on each shift, along with a substantially discounted meal.

Copper Moon Coffee Company
Lafayette & West Lafayette

coppermooncoffee.com

Lafayette, Indiana-based Copper Moon Coffee Company boasts four café locations in the area, with more likely coming soon. Nick Thompson, vice president of sales and marketing, says the retail locations hire workers starting at age 16 to take orders, clean, and prepare food and beverages.

“There’s a lot of opportunities to be creative with our cafés,” he adds. “We encourage our team to come up with new creations, new drinks, new flavors.” In fact, one of Copper Moon’s seasonal specialties, the Lunar Fog — an Earl Grey tea latte with vanilla, similar to a London Fog — emerged out of an employee competition.

Even if teen baristas don’t win a design-a-drink challenge, they will gain skills in face-to-face communication, collaboration and sales. Additionally, says Thompson, “I think it would be pretty impressive, a cool, fun party trick, that they know how to make really good coffee drinks and maybe even do some art with the lattes.”

RECREATION

Get Air Trampoline Park
Lafayette
getairsports.com

Adolescents who couldn’t wait for PE class to start when they were in elementary school might feel right at home at Get Air Trampoline Park, located in a strip mall on the south side near Noble Roman’s Craft Pizza and Pub.

Teenage workers (typically 16 years and older) begin as lifeguards — “patrolling the park to make sure that everyone is being safe and having fun,” says Tyler Dubea, general manager. “Sometimes this would be refereeing dodgeball games, making sure that only one person is going in the foam pit at a time, or just engaging in small talk with parents.”

Dubea delights in teaching his charges the fundamentals of business success, such as teamwork and leadership. Beyond that, “I strive to learn about all of our employees, and figure out what they want to do after school, and teach them as much as possible about that aspect of our business,” he says. “I have had someone that wants to be a graphic designer, so we have discussed some of our park advertising, our target demo, and let them use their skills to design something
for us.”

McAllister Recreation Center
Lafayette
lafayette.in.gov

Outdoorsy types can enjoy fresh air and sunshine while chaperoning kids at McAllister Recreation Center’s summer day camp, located near 18th and Greenbush streets in the former Longlois Elementary School. The facility features a gymnasium, rec room, ball fields and lots of green space.

From late May through early August, counselors 16 and up plan theme weeks, attend development sessions and supervise youngsters on field trips to Lafayette pools and parks. Adolescents aged 13 to 15 can enroll in the Head Camper program, training for future summers.

“We pride ourselves on summer camp being a fun and rewarding experience both for kids and counselors,” says Ashley Conner, seasonal camp counselor with the City of Lafayette. “Counselors learn how to effectively communicate with children, peers and parents. They also learn strategies for managing children in a group setting.” While camp staff are typically hired by May, local teens can set their sights on jobs for 2022. 

ANIMAL CARE

Pooch Palace Resort
Lafayette & West Lafayette
poochpalaceresorts.com

With two locations in Greater Lafayette offering boarding services, doggie day care, grooming and group training classes, Pooch Palace Resort is a delightful get-paid-to-do-what-you-love opportunity for teens who can’t get enough of canines. “The biggest part of what makes this place fun is just being able to work/play and care for dogs all day long,” says owner Paul Whitehurst. Teen employees assist in the daycare and overnight areas by feeding dogs, taking them on breaks and cuddling and playing with their furry clients.

Emily Chubb works at Pooch Palace when she’s not attending class at Harrison High School or performing on Turning Point Academy’s dance team. “The dogs all have different personalities and there are no two dogs that are alike. This makes the day a lot more fun,” she enthuses. Along with discovering characteristics of different breeds, Chubb says she’s also learned about communication, time management and teamwork on the job. “The people around me always have a positive attitude,” she says. “It’s been a great learning experience.”

Whitehurst sees another proficiency that the teen has developed: leadership. Chubb is “one of our most dedicated and hard-working staff members,” he says. “She came to us as a very quiet and shy teen and has blossomed to where she is now training other staff members.”

Columbian Park Zoo
Lafayette
columbianparkzoo.org

From a Galapagos Tortoise to prairie dogs to the Laughing Kookaburra, the Columbian Park Zoo showcases wildlife from around the world in exhibits that teach visitors about conservation and biodiversity. For adolescents contemplating animal-related careers, the facility offers the immersive Zoo Teens opportunity.

Volunteers aged 14 to 17 who are accepted into the program perform non-dangerous tasks under the supervision of professional zookeepers and educators, such as cleaning and food preparation. Zoo Teens also interact frequently with humans as well, gaining confidence in public speaking and small-group communication, says Courtney Nave, zoo assistant education coordinator. “I’ve seen such growth, not just in interpersonal skills, but being leaders, through this program,” she says.

Applications have already closed for this summer; but check the website for late openings and other opportunities. ★