Setting up camp

By This article appears online at Mass High Tech By Patricia Resende

Junior biologists last week extracted DNA from kiwis similar to the way biologists get DNA from blood.


Those juniors were high school students from across the nation who took part in Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Strive camp, a one-week program geared toward encouraging Latino, African-American and Indian students to use technology.


WPI said it started the Strive program to foster enthusiasm in students who have an interest in math and science, and to increase its low percentage of minority engineering students.


Only 4 percent of WPI’s engineering students are of African-American, Indian or Latino backgrounds.


“Our strategic goal is 8 percent by 2010,” said Stephanie Blaisdell, director of diversity and women’s programs for WPI.


The Strive students, who came from Alabama, Oklahoma, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., to name a few, were from grades 9 through 12.


WPI also runs the Girls in Engineering, Math and Science (GEMS) program, a weeklong program that encourages high school girls to explore engineering and science, and Reinventing Engineering and Creating New Horizons (REACH), a program for girls in Massachusetts who have completed the sixth grade and would like to learn more about careers in engineering and technology.


Because reports and statistics show that interest in math and science must be initiated in middle schools, WPI has also launched the GEMS Jr. and Strive Jr. programs for that age group.


WPI’s programs are just a few of the dozens of camps taking place in the Bay State this year.


The University of Massachusetts-Lowell, in partnership with Lowell middle schools and the Parametric Technology Corp. (PTC) in Needham, have launched Design Camp to give students a chance to use computer software to design products.


Fifteen middle school students from Robinson and Wang Middle Schools spent the second week of July using computer-aided design software to create 3-D objects such as key chains and paddleball sets.


Design Camp targets students for whom English is a second language.


John Stuart, senior vice president of education and community relations at PTC, said the camp is a great opportunity to give students hands-on experience in technology.


“They could do soccer camp (or) football camp, and that’s great, but … the kids live in a 3-D world. For the first time (at Design Camp) they are designing and working in three dimensions. They are really using their thinking skills.”


PTC shares a similar goal to that of UMass-Lowell, which is to get students interested in technology.


“There is a shortage of technologists in the world,” Stuart said, “particularly engineers. The opportunity we see is if we can just get parallel (the number of) women and minorities in engineering with (the number of) men in engineering, then we solve a lot of engineering shortages.”


PTC and UMass-Lowell also target middle school students because “our research tells us that if we haven’t reached a minority or females by the 10th grade, we’ve lost them for life,” Stuart said.


“Middle school is when they form their opinions and respect people in their fields.”


The work of corporations to promote students’ enthusiasm for technology isn’t a new phenomenon.


IBM/Lotus Software hosted its fourth Exploring Interest in Technology and Engineering (EXITE) camp earlier this month. These camps take place in various international locations, and this year they include 750 girls worldwide.


EXCITE targets 12- and 13-year-old girls who are interested in math and science.


The Cambridge EXCITE camp recently had girls participating in several hands-on activities including dissecting computers, creating e-zines and using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream.


The Cambridge campers were from the Longfellow and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. elementary schools in Cambridge and the Boston Latin Academy in Boston.


While many tech camps are held at company locations and on college campuses, WiredWoods takes its campers to the forest.


WiredWoods is a summer program that was founded by Paul Deninger, chief executive of Broadview Holdings. It targets low-income middle school students in Boston and New York.


The camp, which is in its second year, takes place in July and August at the Cross Roads for Kids in Duxbury, a summer camp for inner-city children that spans 220 acres.


Nearly 100 students will stay at the three-week overnight camp. Campers, however, can choose to attend either one- or two-week computer sessions.


Students work hand-in-hand to design and develop group Web sites in the form of a digital scrapbook or art gallery to document their camp experiences.


While working on the scrapbook, campers learn digital photography, image editing, HTML and Web development.


“There are a lot of camps that focus on computers,” said Dana White, executive director of WiredWoods. “The differentiation for WiredWoods is we are a traditional summer camp.


“We are trying to attract the kids that would traditionally not go to a computer camp. We are trying to introduce (technology) in a new, fun environment.”

All of these programs aim to meet the demand for IT workers. According to Information Technology Association of America, 1.1 million jobs will be available in the next 12 months, which is an increase of 27 percent this year over 2001.