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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Girls watch a demonstration in a 3-D printing class put on by Geek Squad Academy at the Discovery Gateway Children's Museum in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. The two-day camp puts kids through five different classes: 3-D imaging, film and script, digital music, digital responsibility and robotics.
Utah tech camps: Where the girls aren’t
Technology » As women lag in tech fields, educators hope girls learn programming skills for future careers.
First Published Jul 23 2014 11:27 am • Last Updated Jul 27 2014 03:33 pm

A clunky LEGO robot slowly rolled along a path outlined with two strips of blue tape. Seconds later, Arissa Cooper and her teammates spotted a programming mistake and snatched it up.

"It was a little mind-racking when you had to change it, fix it," she said. "We just thought it through, like, do we need [to make it turn at] a 40-degree angle or something else?"

At a glance


It’s not too late

The Graphics and Robotic Exploration with Amazing Technology (GREAT) camps at the University of Utah have a few classes left in beginning and advanced Scratch, a computer programming language. The classes start Monday. There’s also a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) course the same week, teaching students about the techniques of robotics to prepare them for the annual FLL competition.

More information is available from Dave Johnson at 801-585-1726.

The University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering department has one game design class beginning Aug. 4 with slots still open. Students ages 14 to 16 spend a week learning to program video games. The program is designed so that each student walks away with his or her own game.

Youth Education at the U. also offers tech camps in August; learn more at https://continue.utah.edu/youth.

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Arissa, 11, was attending her third Geek Squad Academy, a summer camp put on by Best Buy and Junior Achievement of Utah. It aims to help students become confident in their ability to learn about technology, a goal shared by organizers of similar Utah summer programs, educators and policy makers who see computer programming skills as crucial for future careers — especially for girls, as women lag in lucrative tech fields.

Similarly, among the Utah campers building robots, designing video games and experimenting with 3-D printers, boys continue to outnumber girls.

Where are their sisters? » David Johnson runs the GREAT — Graphics and Robotics Exploration with Amazing Technology — summer camp at the University of Utah for kids who want to learn about programming.

This year about 600 students enrolled — and about 18 percent are girls.

It’s strange, he said, because girls have unique skills and perform well.

"It’s almost always the girls camp that does the best; they’re more competitive," he said. "They’re a little better at staying on task and persevering."

As he helped judge First LEGO League competition at the U. this year, he said, he found the best teams included girls or were exclusively girls.

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But he said he doesn’t see the parents of boys encouraging their daughters to participate.

"I know these boys have sisters. It doesn’t seem to cross the parents’ minds to send the girls to the camps as well," he said. "It’s really unfair to be eliminating a large portion of the population from trying [technology] out."

He’s unsure what other reasons may limit girls’ interest.

"Something is keeping them away," he said, "and the ones that are here are having fun."

‘So underrepresented’ » The U.’s video game design program is considered one of the best in the country. The summer game design camp for ages 11 to 13 drew the largest enrollment, with 42 kids — and just two were girls.

Jake Muehle, a recent graduate of the master’s program in the Entertainment Arts and Engineering department, is helping teach sessions for middle school and high school students this summer.

"The girls are typically really bright and motivated," he said. "Because of their age, they’re more mature so they do a lot less goofing around than boys, who a lot of the time are there to kind of mess around."

The game design session for ages 14 to 16 had 35 students, with four girls. A computer graphics camp for high school students drew 28 teens, including nine girls.

The consumer base for video games is about evenly split between male and female players, Muehle said, but women represent less than 10 percent of the video gaming workforce . "This consumer population is so underrepresented in the industry," he said.

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