Girl power! US summer camp grooms tomorrow's techies

These 'technology goddesses' could be your future IT workforce.

It's 10 o'clock on a sunny April morning in Balboa Park. In a spacious Girl Scout cabin tucked away amid lush green palm trees, 20 girls ranging in age from 11 to 14, most wearing jeans and pigtails, are gearing up for today's camp activities. But there are no sit-upons or s'mores, potholders or paper crafts -- just 21 laptops, two color printers, 10 digital cameras, two scanners and a palpable abundance of preadolescent energy and creative enthusiasm.

Welcome to Technology Goddesses, a program of weekend and week-long technology camps that aims to keep young girls engaged in computing and technology, especially through those dicey middle-school years when girls' interest in computing begins to decline. Studies show that prior to fifth grade, boys and girls have a similar level of interest in computers. But after that, boys' interest increases and girls' interest begins to wane. The upshot is fewer female computer science graduates and fewer women in IT careers.

Cora Carmody is hoping that Technology Goddesses will help reverse that trend and make technology relevant -- even cool -- for this at-risk age and gender group, by teaching girls about digital design, Web site development, computer graphics and digital moviemaking, and by exposing them to women in technology-related careers.

Carmody, senior vice president for global IT at Jacobs Engineering Group, also considers the program a way to build the future IT workforce.

"Any one of these girls could be a CIO one day because they're starting now," she says.

Carmody founded the program in 2002 in the US and began working with the Girl Scouts in 2003, when she moved to work at Science Applications International. Since then, the program has logged more than 11,000 hours and reached more than 1,000 girls through 33 workshops, seven weekend programs, three week-long camps and eight field trips to places like Microsoft's Innovation Center, and Cox Communications' multimedia digital production studio at Petco Park, the home playing field of the San Diego Padres.

All of the programs take place in a "girl-friendly" learning environment.

"The patterns of learning are different for girls," says Carmody, who is the mother of three sons and a daughter and the leader of a Girl Scout troop.

"Girls are much more social. They like working together in teams. They're also much more impressionable by role models. And their role models tend to be older girls, not adults. An older girl is the best technology mentor for a younger girl," she says.

Technology Goddesses and Girl Scouts made a perfect pairing, especially since one of the Girl Scouts' mottoes is "As you learn, teach someone else." Also, as of sixth grade, every Interest Project, or IP, for which Girl Scouts earn a badge includes a career component, as well as skills, technology and service components.

"Through Technology Goddesses, the girls learn to use technology and gain life skills and develop critical-thinking skills," says Jo Dee Jacob, CEO of Girl Scouts, San Diego-Imperial Council "They educate themselves and others."

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Julia King

Computerworld
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