WORTHINGTON - One could say Jack Johnson’s life experiences have propelled his destiny toward a career in mechanical engineering.
Growing up not far from the beacon at the Worthington Municipal Airport, the soon-to-be high school graduate frequently shadowed his dad, fixed base operator Cameron Johnson, at the airport.
“I’ve always been interested in working with him on projects,” Johnson said. “He does a lot of maintenance on aircraft. That’s what inspired my interest in mechanics.
“I’ve always had an interest in machines and taking stuff apart, and I had plenty of freedom to experiment with stuff like that,” he added. “I made my own model rockets; I’d make my own engines. From there it just progressed on to, I want to do this as a career - I want to work with machines and design stuff.”
Johnson will begin his freshman year of college this fall at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Mass. The college happens to also be the alma mater of two of his maternal uncles - both who have engineering degrees.
“It’s such a great engineering school,” Johnson said. “They do a really good job combining undergrad studies with research.
“When I started my college search, I said I didn’t want the location to be a factor - I wanted to focus on the school and what it had to offer,” he added.
Johnson, who had also applied to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a handful of other schools, said the family connection to WPI and knowing it’s a “really good school” factored into his decision. He toured the campus during MEA break.
As the recipient of a presidential scholarship from WPI, Johnson will receive $13,000 per year in each of four years to help with his education expenses. He was also awarded the WPI Global Scholars scholarship, which provides $5,000 for a study abroad program if he chooses to use it, and anticipated receiving some scholarship money through Worthington High School’s Dollars for Scholars program.
Johnson began his education at Prairie Elementary, where he was enrolled from kindergarten through the fourth grade. At the start of fifth grade, his parents decided on homeschooling. His mom, Jackie, was his teacher.
“I was homeschooled from fifth grade through seventh grade,” Johnson said, noting his younger brother, Brit, now a freshman, was homeschooled from kindergarten through fourth grade.
“The homeschooling gave me a good core of critical thinking - of being dedicated and getting things done,” Johnson shared. “Mom managed, but she let me control how much I wanted to accomplish each day. I had a good sense of getting my work done on time.”
In conjunction with his homeschooling, Johnson joined the band program in District 518 as a fifth-grader, so he still had interaction with the classmates he’d grown up with at Prairie. When he rejoined his class as an eighth-grader, he already had an established group of friends.
“With Worthington High School, getting that sense of being able to work with friends and others on projects gave me that sense of collaboration,” Johnson said. “That’s a major part of the job world - being able to get stuff done in groups and work together.”
With his interest in all things mechanical, Johnson said he took every class he could fit into his schedule that John Singler taught. The courses included computer-aided design, engineering and woodworking.
“Honestly, all of my teachers have been really supportive,” he said.
During independent study through school this year, Johnson is working toward earning his pilot’s license. Currently in ground school, he is taking a class from his dad in in-flight training with hopes of earning his pilot’s license this summer.
Outside of the traditional classroom setting, Johnson has been involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. Beginning with his fifth-grade introduction to band, Johnson has continued with the program as a trombone player, and was section lead this year. As a senior, he joined Business Professionals of America and competed at the state level on the parliamentary procedure team.
Johnson also competed in speech from 10th through 12th grade in the category of discussion.
“You are judged based on how well you communicate and how well you develop solutions,” he said. “Going out into the real world is going to be a lot of collaborating to find solutions. I thought that would be a very applicable speech category and it gave me a lot of useful skills.”
From his freshman through senior years, Johnson propelled to the A team with the district’s Knowledge Bowl, and competed at the state level in both his junior and senior years.
Mixed in with his education, he’s taken some trips with the band, and last summer joined high school social studies teacher Patrick Mahoney and seven fellow students on a two-week trip through Germany, France, Spain and Monaco. They toured castles, visited a Nazi concentration camp at Dachau and stopped at numerous other historic sites.
In his spare time, he enjoys hanging out with friends and doing computer-related things like writing programs and playing video games.
“I’ve worked with artificial intelligence to develop a game that will play by itself, and I made one that is able to recognize whether a tweet is a negative or positive tweet,” he said.
After college, Johnson plans to also get his master’s degree. His dream job is to work for a start-up such as SpaceX, Blue Origin or Tesla - “something that’s real innovating and coming up with high tech; the newest stuff,” he said.