July 03, 2007 | Myrna Anderson

Summer computer camps at Calvin College aim to get students involved in computer science at a young age.

A pair of upcoming camps at Calvin College will try to address a nationwide shortage of computer scientists, especially among women.

The Imaginary Worlds Camps at Calvin split the genders up. The boys camp, aimed at students in grades six to nine, takes place July 5-6 and July 9-13. The girls camp, also aimed at sudents in grades six to nine, takes place July 16-19 and July 23-26.

Both are intended to show students at a young age that computer science can be fun. And both are intended to address what Calvin professor Joel Adams says is an alarming shortage of computer scientists in the U.S.

A blossoming field

“There are more jobs now in computer science,” says Adams, “than during the dot com boom of 1999. But there are 50% fewer students in the field, nationwide.”

Among the biggest drop-off has been women. In 1985, says Adams, 38 percent of computer scientists were women. Now the figure is about 16 percent!

“It's an extraordinary drop,” says Adams, “and we need to get it fixed.”

ALICE in wonderland

The camps at Calvin are designed to show both boys and girls that computing is more than, as Adams says, nerds with pocket protectors. So Adams and his camp colleagues use a software called ALICE which allows students to create cool computer-animated movies (like Shrek or Toy Story but on a smaller scale says Adams).

“It's fun,” says Adams. “The kids have a blast. And they learn a lot. By the end of the camp they've had a good experience and maybe when they take a computer programming class in high school or college they'll be a little less intimidated and it will seem a little less alien.”

The boys camp is full, but there are still some openings in the girls camp. The cost for each camp is $275. The camps are part of the Academic Camps of Excellence (ACE), a partnership between the Summer Camps Program at Calvin College and the GT Resource Network.

ALICE software allows students to make computer animated movies

Joel Adams, professor of computer science

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