Valdosta Daily Times

July 29, 2012

The Evolution of a Teen Tech Trend

Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Tumblr founder David Karp is in his 20s. Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook while in his late teens at Harvard. At one time, the number one iPhone app was created by a 14-year-old. Sean Parker was still in high school when he founded Napster. Larry Page and Sergey Brinn created Google while students at Stanford in 1996. Are you noticing a trend?

Big-time players in almost every major technological venture since the invention of the Internet have struck gold even before they were old enough to drink or rent a car. The industry related to technology and engineering is one of the most successful and well-paying job  markets in the world. So why aren’t people flocking to it?

“Right now, many of the high schools in our area do not have computer science,” said Dr. Krishnendu Roy, a Valdosta State University assistant professor of computer science and director of the university’s Computing Adventures camp. “Students aren’t given an opportunity to explore.”

Computing Adventures started three years ago. Roy’s goal was to attract students to industries such as engineering and computer science. While these camps are beneficial for VSU which would love to have students in such fields, it is also attractive to corporations such as Google.

“Google gave us a grant,” said Roy.

The CS4HS (Computer Science for High School) is a Google-sponsored initiative to promote computer science and computational thinking in high school and middle school curriculum. With a grant from Google’s Education Group, universities develop two- to three-day workshops for local high school and middle school CS teachers. These workshops incorporate informational talks by industry leaders, and discussions on new and emerging CS curriculum at the high school and middle school level.

For the past two years, Roy was only able to utilize students to help run his camp which meant he could only reach about 20 kids. With the Google grant, Roy was able to attract area school teachers to learn the technology, help with the camp and later implement the technology in the classrooms and integrate it throughout their schools and school system.

“This year, we actually have teachers involved in this effort,” said Roy. “We have several middle school and high school teachers working with us.”

The camp kicked off on July 16 and ran through July 20 for 16 middle school students. From July 23-27, the camp worked with 12 high school students. The teachers involved in the high school section were Curt Johnson from Pine Grove Middle School, Aqila Blankumsee from Valdosta High School (who also worked with the middle schoolers) and Cammie Lund from Cook High School.

“They are trying to encourage students to get into computer science,” said Johnson.

Johnson recalled a speech from state superintendent Dr. John Barge in which he stated there are more than 5,000 vacant jobs in the metro Atlanta area dealing directly with computer science and technology.

“The kids are just not aware of the possibilities,” said Blankumsee.

Lund said the state is pushing Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) and this is just an extension of that interest.

“This also fits into that puzzle piece,” said Lund.

Lund added that Google supports this initiative because there is a large demand for employees in this field.

“If there wasn’t a need, they wouldn’t support it,” said Lund.

While the camp could potentially be producing some of the greatest minds of a generation, there is no shortage of fun.

“They are building Lego robots,” said Roy. “They program the robots to do cool things.”

For camper Reed Valdez, a Cook High School rising senior, the Lego robots sealed the deal for him.

Reed attended the camp last year and had so much fun that he decided to return. Reed also has ambitions regarding science and technology.

“I first want to go to school to be a mechanical engineer,” said Reed. “I may go back for something else, probably animated design.”

Reed said the camp opened his eyes to opportunities and new fields.

“It got me into animated design,” said Reed. “I also never knew that the Lego things existed until this camp.”

One of the more popular camp activities is providing students the knowledge and tools to build their own apps. “They are creating their own Android apps,” said Roy. Apps ranging from musical instruments to games have been created.

“They have to come up with their own app idea and pitch it to us,” said Roy.

This camp is about building interest in the field through fun.

“They need to have something which they are excited about,” said Roy. “We want them to have fun and, at the same time, learn new things.”

The function of the camp itself is already attractive to young students. One of the main software programs used in the camp is called App Inventor. It’s a program that Google and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created jointly.

“The goal was to have software that was fairly simple ... which we could use to attract young students into computer science,” said Roy.

Roy said there is such a need for good scientists. Computer science and other technological endeavors are the only fields that do not discriminate against young adults or students with no experience.

“If you’re in computer science, no matter what age you are, you can be successful,” said Roy. “Young people have the good ideas and the drive. These jobs are readily available. One of the things is we just don’t have enough computer scientists to fill the jobs.”

Aside from targeting young students, the industry seeks more women.

“He’s trying to increase female involvement,” said Johnson.

The high school camp had one girl participate. Danielle Warren, a Berrien High School rising ninth grader, is a returning camper.

The app building interested her in the camp. “I thought that making apps was really cool,” said Warren.

In 2011, the freshmen admission for females at the Georgia Institute of Technology was only 38 percent. Georgia Tech and MIT alike actively work to recruit women. Being a girl good at math and science is like having bonus points on the SATs.

Roy’s goal, as well as the teachers, is to integrate computer science and technology into the local school systems.

“We want to be a leader in the community,” said Roy. “I’m really happy we’ve been able to do this for three years now.”

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