Teen tech camp targets future IT workers

Faced with dwindling enrollments in university computer science and IT programs, the Society for Information Management has taken a novel approach toward engaging America’s youth in potential IT careers: They’re 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, is an approach that “connects SIM to the next generation of technology users,” said Terrice Thomas, who works at the Memphis Public Library & Information Center. Thomas spoke about the endeavor with other officials at SIM’s annual SIMposium conference here this week.

The weeklong Teen Tech Camps in Memphis, which are targeted at 12-to-15-year-olds, spotlight the use of “BSOs” — or big shiny objects such as iPhones, digital cameras and other gadgets that campers can learn about and use, said John Oglesby, director of IT strategy at Memphis-based ACH Food Companies Inc. and former president of the Memphis SIM chapter.

The gadget sessions, conducted by employees of SIM Memphis member companies, 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 said.

The tech gadgets are also useful to the library’s staff. In addition to bringing library staffers up to date on emerging technologies, employees receive training on the devices and technologies used at the camp, Thomas said.

The Memphis camps, which have drawn 12 to 18 teenagers per session, require applicants to obtain a referral letter from one of their teachers and to write a short essay to gauge their interest in the program, said John Lloyd, the library’s business and sciences librarian. The first session was so popular that “we’ve had kids try to sneak into the camp” for each of the past two years, said 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 from SIM] and I talked a lot about the missions of both organizations,” Wilson said. The library has “a lot of experience with teens and had done a lot of programs with them,” she added.

SIM officials are so enthusiastic about the Memphis camp that they’re “trying to find ways to incorporate this into other SIM chapters,” said 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, is being put together and will be available for download from SIM’s home page in the near future, Pickett said.

SIM’s Philadelphia chapter has launched a similar program, starting with a school system. The chapter has more recently partnered with a nonprofit organization, Pickett said. “We’re actively working on selling this” to other chapters, he said. “We’re hoping to have 29 more [camps] up and running next year.”

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