September 25, 2016

Kromer reaches for the stars

Webster University student Zach Kromer has an obsession with space that began at three years old. His obsession, coupled with his interest in web design, led him to a paid internship for the United Launch Alliance (ULA) in Denver, Colorado this summer for ten weeks.

Zach Kromer and his twin brother Nick Kromer were three years old when their grandfather took them to the back patio, where a telescope stood. Their grandfather showed them the stars and, according to Zach Kromer, inspired their fascination with space.

ULA is a company that launches Atlas and Delta launch vehicles. The vehicle’s functions include monitoring weather, telecommunications and national security satellites, to deep space and interplanetary exploration missions.

Zach Kromer became fascinated with space at a young age. He sees the internship at ULA as "the middle finger" to his bullies. MARY THAIER / The Journal

Zach Kromer became fascinated with space at a young age. He sees the internship at ULA as “the middle finger” to his bullies. MARY THAIER / The Journal

ULA works with the Department of Defense and other space exploration companies such as National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). ULA has had several successful launches and is planning another this month. Zach Kromer saw the opportunity to apply for a web design internship at the company and took advantage of it.

When Zach Kromer found out he got the internship he was at his job at the Walgreens Photo Lab. He went to the back room to check his phone and listened to a voicemail message ULA left him.

Zach Kromer then called his parents and acted as though he didn’t get the internship but eventually let his parents in on the news.

“[When] my parents [found out], they were extremely excited but then the next thing was money,” Zach Kromer said.

The ULA internship will have Zach Kromer making $17 an hour plus living expenses. But the flight to Denver and housing is all on the Kromer family, until Zach Kromer’s first check comes in.

The Kromer family needs to come up with the funds to get Zach Kromer to Denver and the funds to cover the first two weeks of his housing expenses. Dawn Kromer, Zach and Nick Kromer’s mother, does not want their lack of funds to hold back her son.

MARY THAIER / The Journal

MARY THAIER / The Journal

“There is nothing he could do that would make me more proud,” Dawn Kromer said. “Life throws you curve balls. When he told us about this, we decided that no matter what it takes he will get there. . . We need to save every cent that we can. I will sell my kidney if I need to.”

Zach and Nick Kromer were born with Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s Syndrome is a high functioning form of autism and causes difficulty in social interaction. As a result, the two boys were bullied throughout their grade school years.

“I couldn’t walk the hallways without being called names,” Zach Kromer said. “I was very depressed at the time. So basically this [internship] is just a middle finger to those [bullies] I went to school with.”

During his senior year in high school, Zach Kromer went home after school in tears due to the amount of bullying.

Zach and Nick Kromer knew that they wanted to go to a school where they could feel accepted. They found that acceptance in Webster, going to school with their childhood friend Mary Thaier.

Thaier met the two boys in preschool and has been in the same school as them since. Thaier said the two were constantly bullied for being different.

“The bullying that Zach and Nick got in school was awful.” Thaier said, “I mean, the bullying never stopped. They were just tormented. I remember talking to my mom about it in second grade, and she just told me that you have to go out of your way to be nice to kids that are bullied because they’re the kids that need friends the most. Ever since then I kind of took both of them under my wing.”

MARY THAIER / The Journal

MARY THAIER / The Journal

Zach Kromer kept working towards his dream of working in a space industry job. Nick Kromer said that, throughout their lives, people would tell them they would not get far in life because of their disability. Now, Zach Kromer is 20 years old, and headed toward a job he is passionate about.

“I’m really happy for him,” Nick Kromer said. “Working for NASA or any space company is his dream job and the fact that he gets to do it this early in his life, without any degrees just starting out as an internship is amazing.”

Zach Kromer will be living on his own for the first time in Denver. He said he is excited for the opportunities ahead and looks forward to the summer. His mother is not quite ready for him to leave, however.

“I am terrified beyond terrified,” Dawn Kromer said. “It’s an interesting emotion to have when your son realizes his lifelong dream and all you want to do is cheer and be excited, but also I’m terrified beyond belief. But just like anything else, we are going to figure it out.”

Zach Kromer is looking forward to the end of the semester, when he leaves for Denver May 27.

“I have my dream opportunity provided to me,” Zach Kromer said. “[I want to] learn more about web design and I just want to be introduced to all of this. It’s a whole new world and I’m ready to be part of it.”

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