By Jemma Young, Content Contributor
It’s fair to assume that topics of transportation, engineering, infrastructure, energy, business, and science are not generally associated with the priorities and interests of thirteen-year-olds.
Making spitballs and blowing bubbles in chocolate milk are usually higher on the list.
Meet Joe Willis
However, Springbank Middle School’s grade seven student, Joe Willis is not your average thirteen-year-old.
Joe has already accomplished many noteworthy feats, including winning first place at this year’s Calgary Youth Science Fair for his project Decarbonize Alberta.
He is also making a name for himself in Calgary’s ‘makers community.’ A community that is known for their quirky creativity, impressive ingenuity, and straight up smarts.
Having “gone through a few hundred mentors”, Joe recognizes the value of getting involved in extracurricular activities and working with others from various backgrounds.
Not your average youngster
In addition to playing baseball and hockey in his “very rare spare time”, Joe is a:
- Member of Protospace, Beakerhead and the Western Canadian Robotics Society
- Apprentice tour guide at the Canadian Museum of Making
- Youth ambassador for the western region of the Canadian Space Society
- Corporal with the 952 WestJet Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron.
He has also been busy presenting his science fair research to academics and members of the business community.
“Chances to show and share are fun. The feedback I get is just amazing, and many people will have more ideas on how to build. I have learned so much from the people I meet, they are brilliant and I build on these experiences,” says Joe.
Joe’s father, Dan Willis, explains his son’s creativity and love for building:
“Joe has wanted to be an engineer since people were surprised that a kid his age even knew what that means.”
Surprisingly, neither of Joe’s parents come from an engineering or related professional background. They do not attribute their influence to Joe’s love for innovation.
“I often joke that my kids are like our cats, feral. I never pretend to know better than them, just listen to them, let them chose who they want to be,” Dan laughs.
In addition to providing moral support (and a living room workshop), Joe’s parents also provide financial support when necessary.
It’s not cheap or particularly easy supporting a child who is involved in so many activities.
Dan admits to spending thousands on Joe’s “so-called toys” but emphasizes that “… it has translated into a dollar per hour of quiet independent play time. So money well spent.”
Well aware of how costly some of the tools and materials he uses are, Joe notes that, “Most of the things I make are open-source. So, the majority of the parts are just things you would have laying around your house.”
Some of Joe’s upcoming projects include a 3D printer made of hockey sticks (to be called “The Canadian”) and an aluminum car that will jump off a ramp through a hydrogen balloon, which will then light on fire and land on a giant pile of bubble wrap.
When asked if he could work on any project, realistic or not, Joe said, “I would maybe like to engineer a spaceship for a space colony. That would be awesome.”
According to Joe, his future also involves working in nuclear engineering. After he gets his PhD, of course. No big deal, right?
For many people, ambition and passion like this isn’t developed, or discovered, until much later in life–if at all. In Joe’s case, however, he is a kid with undeniable drive, deep curiosity and an innate fervor for creating and innovating.
His advice to others interested in this world is simple, yet mature:
“Try everything. Go anywhere you can. Build anything and everything you can. It doesn’t matter if it seems too small or unworthy of your attention, just try it for the experience.”
Jemma Young is a Communications graduate from Carleton University with a passion for storytelling, social media and sports.
Do you know of an innovator in the Calgary Region? Are you somebody who creates unique solutions to everyday problems? Let us know!