Fast-forward to today. You'll meet a National Merit Scholar ready to attend the University of Texas at Dallas majoring in electrical engineering. A YouTuber with nearly 16,000 subscribers. An 18-year-old who begins an internship with a Texas-based industrial technology company before even receiving his high school diploma later this month.
And yes, we're still talking about one person.
But First, Get To Know Levi
Janssen is like any other teenager. He enjoys spending time with friends, being outdoors, biking, running, and playing with dogs. But when he's not doing those things, you'd likely find Janssen working on projects and experiments at home or in Valley's manufacturing lab.
In his bedroom, Janssen has a six-foot whiteboard and an eight-foot workbench that includes all of his electronics equipment and a 3-D printer. He also uses his dad's shop in the garage where more tools are available.
"When you talk to him and when he’s brainstorming things, there’s no limit on what he thinks is possible," Adam Janssen, Levi's father, said of his son. "Pick any kind of concept, and he'll say, 'Yeah, but that’s what we do or know today. There’s so much potential.' He’s self-taught himself so much that I think when he gets in an environment where he's surrounded by people who think the way he does, I think things will just expand exponentially for him."
His mother, Shahna Janssen — who works for West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) as the Community Education director, knew Levi had a promising future ahead ever since he was a little boy.
"We've kind of prepared ourselves that it would likely take him away from us and that it probably wasn't in Iowa, just given where his interests were," she said. "He's been very authentic to who he is and someone who at such a young age really knows who he is and where he's going."
An example is how Janssen contemplated if Valley’s honors program was the right fit for him. Instead, he opted to do a scholars project for engineering technology.
"He was a kid that seemed like he should be in the honors program. He knew that as a freshman, and he chose the pathway that was the best for him," Shahna Janssen explained. "At Valley, there are lots of pathways for kids. He was pretty clear about what would not get him to his end goal and what would, and stuck with it all the way through."
Janssen's YouTube channel started as a resource for consistent documentation of his projects. Filming his work also allowed Janssen to do so in a creative and engaging way.
"If I were to compare myself to other people, I'm barely a drop in the bucket, which is to be expected with everything on the Internet," he said. "It feels good to be able to help people understand these things and to entertain people, but at the end of the day, what I'm really wanting to do is entertain myself and satisfy my own need to learn.
The mountaintop experience certainly comes a lot more from 'I made this thing and it actually works' than 'I made this video and people are actually watching it.'"
Staples is founder and CEO of Fathom5, an Austin, Texas-based industrial technology company that delivers ecologically mindful and security-first solutions to bring about Industry 4.0 (or the Fourth Industrial Revolution), which is the idea of merging manufacturing and information systems.
"Industry 4.0 is really about taking a smart system and putting them in places that make a positive difference for the planet and for the safety and reliability of water, food, and electrical power systems," Staples said.
Don't fret. Janssen plans to join his 663 classmates for Valley’s commencement ceremony set for noon Sunday, May 30, at Valley Stadium. But the future is coming fast and furious for this young adult.
Is he nervous?
"I don’t know," Janssen said. "Part of me thinks that I should be nervous, and that maybe I'm not nervous because I just haven't really thought about it, so maybe that’s the case? Where'd the time go? It was not long ago when this opportunity was three months away — that felt like a week ago that this opportunity was three months away. And now it's basically here."