Brooke Wilson skipped time at the pool and cruising on her bicycle to spend part of her summer riding city buses.
The 17-year-old Rohnert Park resident was one of about four dozen kids from the Bay Area selected this year for an internship program sponsored by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that gave high-schoolers an opportunity to work for local transit, planning and public works agencies.
Her job was to update Petaluma’s transit database, Wilson said. She set out to track every bus stop in the city that had a bench, shelter and sign. Although it wasn’t a cushy job, she never complained about sitting on a bus all day.
“I got to meet random, fun people,” said Wilson, who is a senior at Technology High School, a magnet school that boasts the county’s top academic scores.
Wilson said she also spent time this summer working at the city’s Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility, where she went out with employees on restaurant grease-trap inspections. She said they used a device called a “Sludge Judge” to measure the build-up in the traps, a task aimed at preventing grease from entering the city’s wastewater system.
“I got a lot of hands-on,” she said.
The program allowed her to explore different career possibilities. But she discovered she didn’t want to be a transportation engineer. Nor did she want to drive buses or inspect grease traps for a living. She’d prefer to clean teeth.
After completing her internship with the city, she started volunteering for a dentist. Her mind is now set on becoming a dental hygienist.
She has spent four days a week at Dr. Von Chan’s office in Petaluma, watching dental hygienists scale and polish teeth, Wilson said. She’s also helped clean and prepare the rooms for patients and stuff dental floss and toothbrushes into “goody” bags.
Wilson thought about becoming a dentist — but only for a brief moment.
“I watched the dentist put a crown on,” she said. “That’s when I learned I didn’t want to be a dentist.”
Wilson, who likes to draw and has sold sketches for $5 to $15 apiece to earn money for dental school, said she gets satisfaction from cleaning and likes working with her hands.
She hopes to get into the dental-hygiene program at Santa Rosa Junior College after she graduates from high school. She said she’ll be taking an English class this fall at the college to cross off some prerequisites and prepare for the dental-hygiene program.
Chan said Wilson is one of the youngest people to intern at her office. It’s unusual to find teens like Wilson who are confident, motivated and focused on their career aspirations, added Chan, who decided she wanted to be a dentist when she was in junior high.
“She’s very determined,” Chan said. “She knows what she wants to do.”
But she hasn’t always been confident.
Wilson, who has played volleyball and competed in swimming and diving for years, said she struggled with her self-esteem after some classmates bullied her in eighth- and ninth-grade.
“I didn’t like how I looked and how I felt,” she said.
But she overcame it, she said, with the help of her mother, Diane Wilson, who often reminded her that “hurt people hurt people.”