Camps use cool gadgetry to attract middle-schoolers to future tech careers.
Faced with dwindling enrollments in university computer science and IT programs, the Society for Information Management has taken a novel approach to engaging America’s youth in potential IT careers: It is partnering with public libraries and other organizations to create technology camps for teenagers.
The first such summer camp, which Chicago-based SIM organized three years ago with the Memphis Public Library, “connects SIM to the next generation of technology users,” says Terrice Thomas, who works at the Memphis Public Library & Information Center.
The weeklong Teen Tech Camps, which target 12-to-15-year-olds, give kids a chance to learn about BSOs — “big, shiny objects” such as iPhones, digital cameras and other gadgets — says John Oglesby, director of IT strategy at Memphis-based ACH Food Cos. and former president of the Memphis SIM chapter.
The gadget sessions, conducted by employees of SIM Memphis member companies, are intended to appeal to teen campers while teaching them how technology can be applied in a work environment. For instance, one instructor demonstrated how tablet PCs can be used in hospitals, “and that surprised some of the kids,” Thomas says.
The high-tech gadgets also benefit the library’s staffers, who are learning about emerging technologies and receiving training on the devices used at the camp, she says.
The Memphis camps, which have drawn 12 to 18 teenagers per session, require applicants to obtain a referral letter from a teacher and to write a short essay to gauge their interest in the program, according to John Lloyd, the business and sciences librarian.
The first session was so popular that “we’ve had kids try to sneak into the camp” each of the past two years, says Betty Anne Wilson, assistant director for library advancement.
This past summer, campers produced their own webcasts.
Officials from SIM’s Memphis chapter and the Memphis Public Library worked closely to develop the camp program. “One of the reasons it worked so well is that John [Oglesby] and I talked a lot about the missions of both organizations,” Wilson says. The library has “a lot of experience with teens and had done a lot of programs with them,” she adds.
SIM officials are so enthusiastic about the Memphis camp that they’re “trying to find ways to incorporate this into other SIM chapters,” says Stephen Pickett, chairman of the SIM Foundation and vice president and CIO at Penske Corp. in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
For instance, SIM has created a set of software templates from the Memphis project that other SIM chapters can use to develop their own Teen Tech Camps with libraries and other community organizations. The software, which includes a budget template, marketing timelines and permission forms, will be available for download from SIM’s home page in the near future, Pickett says.
SIM’s Philadelphia chapter has launched a similar program, starting with a school system and more recently partnering with a nonprofit organization, he says.
“We’re actively working on selling this” to other chapters, Pickett says. “We’re hoping to have 29 more [camps] up and running next year.”