by Meridith Levinson

SIM-Sponsored Summer Camp Teaches Kids about Technology

Jul 13, 20077 mins

Teen Tech Camp is one of a number of programs sponsored by professional technology organizations whose goal is get kids excited about careers in IT.

This week, the Memphis Public Library and Information Center is holding its third annual Teen Tech Camp for students ages 12 to 15. Sponsored by the Society for Information Management’s SIM Foundation, Teen Tech Camp is designed to get kids excited about technology—and careers in technology—by teaching them how to produce podcasts and webcasts and by exposing them to adults working in the technology field.

Teen Tech Camp is one of a number of programs sponsored by professional technology organizations whose goal is to teach K-12 students about technology and careers in IT. Other initiatives include the Computing Technology Industry Association’s (CompTIA) Creating Futures Program, which is geared toward inner-city kids as well as veterans and individuals with disabilities, and Technology Goddesses, which pairs adolescent girls interested in technology with younger girls who are just discovering it. Organizations like SIM and CompTIA see these programs as a way to reverse declining enrollments in college computer science programs and ultimately increase the pipeline of qualified IT professionals. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the percent of college freshmen planning to pursue computer science degrees decreased since 2001 from 3.7 percent to 1.1 percent.

“There’s a growing concern that kids are not as interested in IT as they once were,” says Bob Keefe, senior VP and CIO of Mueller Water Products and president elect of SIM. “There’s a perception that IT people are more scientific in nature, more analytical in nature, and that IT is not as cool as other professions. This Teen Tech Week summer camp lets kids see the cool side of information technology. It’s not all about programming and database design.”

Subhed: Not Your Traditional Summer Camp

Students who participate in the program must be accepted (a teacher and their parents have to recommend the teenagers, and each has to answer a few short essay questions). During the five-day program, which runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., they work on a multimedia project. In the program’s first year, students created a website for Teen Tech Camp. The second year they produced webcast commercials for the library, all of which have been posted to YouTube. (One is embedded below.) This year, they’re filming and editing their own short documentaries.

Molly Wilkens-Reed, a 14-year-old home schooler who wants to be a pediatrician, concert violinist or dance instructor some day, is making a movie about Irish step dancing. Her video, which includes footage she captured of a friend demonstrating the technique, talks about the elaborate costumes and the music. She says she’s attending Tech Camp because her mom wants her to improve her computer skills. She doesn’t have a computer at home but says she comes to the library often to use its PCs.

The subject of Taylor Wilson’s documentary is jazz music. The 12-year-old student at the Central Day School in Memphis’s Collierville neighborhood counts Boney James and Andre Ward among her favorite musicians. Wilson is at Tech Camp because she loves technology. “It reminds me how the world has progressed,” she says. “Back in older times, people didn’t have computers and electricity and radio and TV. It makes me feel like I’ve had a chance to experience something.”

Over the course of the week, Wilkens-Reed, Wilson, and the 16 other boys and girls enrolled in this year’s program have learned how to write a script, storyboard a video, some basic elements of graphic design, how to use props, how to sync audio with their video and how to edit their videos using Microsoft’s Movie Maker software. Staff from the library’s information services department and in-house radio and TV studios teach the kids the basics.

“Locally, you can pay up to $450 a week for a camp like this,” says Betty Ann Wilson, assistant director for library advancement at the public library. “We provide access to kids who would never have access to this.” Kids attend Teen Tech Camp for free; the SIM Foundation foots the bill.

Each day begins with an ice-breaker so that the students, who hail from different schools across the metropolitan area, can get to know each other. The ice-breaker is followed by a show-and-tell session featuring a local SIM member showing off some cool new technology. On Monday, a representative from Memphis’s Semmes-Murphey Neurologic and Spine Institute demonstrated biometric authentication technology and a tablet PC doctors use for taking notes. On Wednesday, the campers learned about Garage Band, Apple’s software that lets users combine different sounds and instruments to make their own songs. “That was pretty cool,” says Wilkens-Reed.

On Friday, the kids present their videos to the library administrators and to SIM’s board members. The library’s Wilson says the presentations give kids the opportunity to practice public speaking and talk with technology professionals about their jobs. The library administrators and SIM board members judge the campers’ videos for their creativity and use of technology. Some kids receive awards for their videos. Everyone leaves with a Teen Tech Camp t-shirt and a webcam.

From Camp to Careers

Since the first students to go through Teen Tech Camp haven’t graduated high school yet, it’s hard to determine the program’s effectiveness in achieving its mission to get more kids interested in technology careers. John Oglesby, the director of IT strategy at ACH Food Companies and SIM member who helped start the Teen Tech Camp program in Memphis, says he hopes to follow up with the Tech Camp alumni once they’re in college to find out what they’re studying.

Based on the number of kids who apply to participate in Teen Tech Camp, the program appears to be a success. “So far, the response has been multiple times what we’ve been able to accept in terms of enrollment,” says SIM’s Keefe.

To keep up with demand, SIM is trying to get other chapters to partner with their local municipalities and set up more Teen Tech Camps. The Memphis SIM chapter and public library created a toolkit that other chapters can use to quickly and easily start program. The toolkit describes the program, the students to which it’s geared, the application process, and provides copies of applications, press materials and other documentation. The city of Philadelphia now offers a Teen Tech Camp program, which is in its second year. Keefe is trying to start one in Atlanta.

One thing that is certain is that campers relish their week at Tech Camp.

“I love it,” says 12-year-old Wilson.

Though the program hasn’t converted her to a career in IT, she realizes that she’ll use a lot of different technology if she becomes a doctor. She says the show-and-tell session earlier in the week gave her a sense of what kinds of computers she may be using in the medical field in the future. In the meantime, she’s eager to apply what she learned at Teen Tech Camp at home: She wants to make more movies—about African culture and slavery—using her home computer.

In the process of learning about new technologies and making their videos, the campers learn another valuable lesson, says the library’s Wilson—about their self-worth. “The program builds their self-esteem,” she says. “It shows them they have unique gifts and talents to share that are valued and worth nurturing.””