For Sam, Summer Camp Experience Proves Life-Changing

For SARRC ‘Tech Camper’ Sam, participation in a one-week summer camp program in 2018 led to a $40,000 scholarship to the University of Advancing Technology to pursue a bachelor’s of science degree in game programming.

Sam, 23, thought he was going to be a teacher. His mom was a teacher, and so that was familiar to him. In fact, he even worked at her school, helping at the childcare and aftercare facility.

Then one day, Sam’s parents were looking at programs offered through (SARRC and found a summer Tech Camp program offered at University of Advancing Technology (UAT). SARRC partners with a variety of camps to support inclusive programs for campers of all ages, including this weeklong, on-campus program.

Knowing that Sam had loved robotics club as a child, the family thought it might be a fun way to spend a week of summer.

So Sam, who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), was enrolled in the program’s July 2018 session—a decision which would prove to be pivotal for his life’s path.

Finding a Purpose

“My favorite part is when he called me on Wednesday and said, ‘I’m really sorry, Mom, but I can’t be a teacher because I just found out I’m really good at coding and programming,” Jill shares of Sam’s week at camp.

The inclusive nature of the program also made him feel comfortable being away from home, which allowed him to explore his interests.

“We said he found his tribe, which is really cool,” Jill shares. “They’re all into technology, robotics, and everything that Sam is into. Plus, everyone there thinks like Sam.”

Sam had always been drawn to technology, but it wasn’t something that was on his radar as a possible career. He had enjoyed video games growing up, and even used game controllers as a way to strengthen his hands and improve his fine motor skills.

“Video games were a big part of my childhood,” Sam shares. “This is something I’ve enjoyed for a while. And now coding, programming, animation… I fell in love with it when I was [at camp]. I got so excited talking to my parents about what I was learning. “I loved the tech camp. [And], it opened my eyes about what was available to me. Because my mom was a teacher, I thought I’d be a teacher, too. But when I got to tech camp, it showed me what was available to me and I fell in love with technology again.”

The Next Step

For Sam, the camp ignited a passion and an interest in pursuing technology as a career.

“He’s got a whole new purpose,” his mom explains.

He loved it so much that he applied to UAT’s bachelor of science program, majoring in game programming. He had to fill out applications, which included essays—something Sam says is difficult for him. 

Still, the University was so impressed with his passion and application that he was awarded The Innovator Scholarship (the university’s highest), which provides a $40,000 scholarship to be used for the eight-semester program, which as a year-round program is completed in 2.5 years.

“I was amazed,” Sam says of receiving the unsolicited scholarship. “I wasn’t expecting it, first of all. I was shocked.”

Although UAT offered him a place beginning Jan. 2019, he will start in Sept. 2019 in order to have time to prepare for the transition.

“It’s partly scary with Sam being on the spectrum,” Jill admits of him going to live full-time on-campus. “He’s the kind of guy who will give the shirt off his back to anybody, so him being about an hour away is scary.”

Yet, she continues, “Sam’s matured a lot in the last few years and I couldn’t be happier for him. He has a purpose. Both his dad and I are so proud of him that he’s found what he wants to do. I don’t know what the future holds for him, but this is exciting and not many people get this kind of opportunity.”

SARRC partners with various camps in Arizona to support inclusive camp experiences. Options include Phoenix Theatre, University of Advancing Technology, Camp Daisy and Harry Stein, Camp Simcha and Children’s Museum of Phoenix. Find more information here.