Alumnus Finds Magical Career
In a petite gym tucked inside Petersham Center Elementary School, about 100 students sit rapt, their eyes and ears anxiously awaiting Jason Kallio's '91 next move.
With a flick of the wrist, Kallio sets into motion a circular, lollipop-looking board. When the spinning stops, Kallio asks, "How does my head look?"
Watch video of Kallio's performance
Squeals, squeaks and guffaws, chased with bouts of laughter, fill the room as the students tell Kallio his head looks "tiny."
He quickly sends the magic wheel in the opposite direction, asks the same question, prompts the same frenetic sounds of youngsters laughing, and in an instant, the kids are hooked. The first day of school quickly became a magical one for the students.
For Kallio, owner of Say It With Magic, it was another opportunity to use his engaging personality to teach kids about serious topics—in this case it was bullying. A self-described "edutainer" who uses entertainment to educate, Kallio received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from WPI before working as a technical salesman for five years at The Torrington Company, now Timken U.S. Corp., in Brookfield, Wis. He also was a regional sales manager for six years at Lutco Inc., in Worcester.
"I lived near a magic shop in Wisconsin," Kallio says. "One Saturday I was putzing around and went into the shop. I bought a few items and soon it became a hobby.
"Then I changed jobs and moved, and my hobby continued to grow. Soon my hobby was able to support itself and it was making money."
In 2000 Kallio became an entrepreneur.
The father of two who lives in Sutton, Mass., is among a distinct group of WPI alumni who are using their engineering degrees in non-traditional ways, but who credit their WPI education in their career path.
Innovation, entrepreneurship, and, more importantly, putting theory into practice, are hallmarks of the university's curriculum, and tools that Kallio says have helped him build his business. He credits his IQP on a solar-powered battery charger with giving him essential entrepreneurship skills.
Of the relationship between magic and engineering, Kallio says the two are linked by thought processes.
"What I loved about my education at WPI is the idea that 'We are going to give you core concepts that you will now apply,'" he says. "The same thought process holds true for the creation of any speaking engagement or even magic ... it's a function of being able to communicate to people."
Kallio's WPI connection is much stronger than even he knew.
Although Say It With Magic does not teach science or math, it does expose kids to a wide range of experiences to help them stretch their imaginations. In a similar vein, WPI's K-12 programs are designed to offer a primary and secondary school students a wide range of pre-engineering and research experiences. The program places special emphasis on introducing girls and youths from underrepresented minority communities to the creative possibilities in science and engineering.
Kallio says it is not a stretch to see other ways that his engineering degree has helped in his magic career.
With a big dose of help from his father, an engineer with various patents, the two have designed magic tricks using computer-aided design (CAD) and have had those products manufactured.
"I even use my engineering skills when I create balloon animals!" Kallio jokes.
But this alum was serious when it came to talking about the value of his WPI education.
"When you get to tell someone you graduated from WPI, you have instant credibility," Kallio says. "I chose WPI because I knew that it was respected, and I love math and science. I knew that I could fulfill my needs there."
In addition to his work in schools, Kallio uses his educational entertainment to help companies grow their businesses. He applies his skills as an on-the-floor trade show lead generator.
"My technical, sales and marketing background allows me to talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk no matter what company I represent on the trade show floor," Kallio says.
For Kallio, WPI represented an opportunity to indulge his love of math and science and to cultivate his entrepreneurial spirit.