Jack Bruening is just 19 but he’s got a plan.

This week he started taking classes at St. Louis Community College. After two years there, he’s going to transfer to the University of Missouri in St. Louis, earn a degree in history. Then, graduate school.

The plan from there: become a park ranger and eventually work at the Washington Monument. “Look for me there in six years,” he says.

On this Friday night, he’s manning the welcome desk at Gateway Arch National Park for Explore St. Louis, the city’s tourism board. They couldn’t find a bigger booster of the city. Just a few of the things we learn in the first three minutes:

  • St. Louis is so homey with great neighborhoods.
  • It’s a big city with a small-town feel.
  • The city’s food scene is amazing. “Have you ever heard of toasted ravioli?”

His eyes are on the future. He nods to the park ranger sitting next to him at the desk with reverence.

“When you don that uniform you are protecting this nation — not as a law enforcement officer — but you’re explaining why these sites that belong to all of us really matter,” he says. “We’re here to tell the story.”

He graduated from high school in Belleville, Ill., a year ago, and then spent a year giving tours on the tram that takes visitors to the top of the Gateway Arch. Why start his career plan with community college?

“It’s cheaper,” he says, “and I think it’s easier to make connections.”

We took Jack’s recommendation for dinner: Sugar Fire BBQ. “The best sides in the world.”

The Back-To-School Road Trip
Over eight days we’re driving from Minneapolis to New Orleans, talking about college with Americans along the way. Follow us on Twitter: @opencampusmedia.