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All girl, all tech

Nationwide program offers girls-only computer training

Alfred Armour, the camp's academic director and a senior at the University of Alabama, gives pointers to girls at the Atlanta camp  

July 11, 2000
Web posted at: 8:40 a.m. EDT (1240 GMT)

In this story:

'Big divider'

Camps 'absolutely essential'

Downward pointing arrow

ATLANTA (CNN) -- On this hot summer's day, more than 30 girls plug away at computers in a dormitory basement at Georgia Tech. An instructor stands at a whiteboard, going over computer programming commands. The girls, all wearing T-shirts with the logo "," look on attentively and type at their terminals.

With a little luck and hard work, an animated ball bounces across their screens. "I like this," said Jennipher Johnson, 18, a recent high school graduate who had few computer skills before this week. "Do you want to see my Web page?"

VideoCNN's Don Knapp takes a look at the all girls' camp at San Jose State University
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It is in computer labs like these that girls, most 13-17, are learning high-tech fundamentals at summer camps, getting first-hand knowledge on how to put those skills to use in the business world.

They design their own Web pages, hear from women in the technology sector and take classes titled "How to start your own company" and other similarly ambitious-sounding endeavors.They even get their own business cards.

"My personal goal is to build awareness of the underrepresentation of women in the science field," said Katrina Garnett, founder of CrossWorlds Software and the Garnett Foundation, which is sponsoring the girls' camp.

The Atlanta camp is part of AllGIRLplanet Computer Camps for Girls, an eight-city program designed to give 360 girls, most from low-income families, the opportunity to increase technology skills while enhancing their self-esteem. American Computer Experience, or ACE, a leading host of technology camps, administers the camps across the country. Of the 38 girls at the program here, all are minorities.

The camp has standards. Each girl must have a minimum 2.5 grade point average and complete a one-page essay explaining how her attendance in the camp will enhance her studies, college aspirations and -- according to the program's brochure -- her "life in general."

This is the first year the all-girls' camp has been held nationwide, with classes conducted at eight campuses from coast to coast. Besides Georgia Tech, other participants include the University of Texas, San Jose State University and the University of Minnesota.

The girls attend the camps for free, a stay that would normally cost about $895 per child.

The camps serve an important role in bridging the digital divide between girls and boys, and in raising awareness of opportunities in the tech field to low-income kids, teachers and students agree.

For those like Jennipher, the camp is already paying off.

"Before I came here, all I could do is basically type," she said. "Now I can actually, you know, download my own Web page. I know how to download pictures on a Web page. I know HTML (the computer language for Web pages). So I'm a little more confident in what I'm doing."

'Big divider'

girls campers working hard, honing computer skills  

A recent report by the American Association of University Women -- a foundation representing 150,000 college graduates that advocates education and equity for women and girls -- determined that most girls are turned off by technical careers. It blamed their lack of interest on how information technology is used, applied and taught in the nation's classrooms.

The study also found that females are severely underrepresented in the technology field.

Women account for about 20 percent of information technology professionals. Girls represent 17 percent of computer science "advanced placement" test takers in high school, and college-age women receive less than 28 percent of the computer science bachelor's degrees, according to the study.

Computer science, the report concluded, is the only field in which women's participation has decreased over time.

As technology continues to play an even more essential role in every day life, at home and at work, educators are facing the issue of how to motivate girls to go into the tech field.

"The young ladies are not pushed or steered in the direction of technology as much as the young men are," said Audrey Fuller, the director of the girls' camp in Atlanta who is also a schoolteacher at Jonesboro (Georgia) Middle School.

"I don't know if it's just that at that particular age -- junior high and high school -- (girls) are just not as much into the in-depthness of computers and taking them apart and that kind of thing, or if it's just that our society has somehow led us to believe that it's just a male-dominated area."

Jennipher said she definitely noticed the difference throughout her high school years.



"At my school, the girls usually knew how to type faster than the boys on computers, but they knew more about computers -- how to do things on the computer," she said. "It's a big divider in schools: what boys and girls can do."

The digital divide is even evident among ACE's coed computer camps at 80 locations worldwide. While the number of girls attending ACE camps has increased each year since they began in 1993, the percentage of girls at those camps has hovered around 10-15 percent.

One of the ways the girls' camp tries to keep its campers motivated is by having professional women talk to them about how to succeed in the tech industry.

"The classroom does not give them the overall picture," said Fuller. "You see it on the Internet, you see these people (say) 'Yes, you can make X amount of dollars.' But we need a human being to come in and say, 'I made $90,000 last year because I designed Web pages for other people.'"

Camps 'absolutely essential'

Lauren Hightower is a Web developer and co-founder of Spin Solutions, a Web page-designing company whose clients range from giants such as Cox Communications to smaller companies that need help with launching Web sites.

Initiatives like allGIRLplanet are "absolutely essential," said Hightower, who spoke to the camp attendees here.

"As we become more of an information age country, ... girls and women can't be left out of that," Hightower said. "It's really important for girls to see that women can do this."

Hightower said she has encountered few prejudices in the technology sector, but "there have been times when I've had to prove myself."

"Once you prove yourself, it's very fair," Hightower said.

Jennipher Johnson shows off her newly created Web page  

Moya Edwards, a 14-year-old from Marietta, Georgia, who hopes to become a criminal lawyer or psychiatrist -- "Whatever I do, I want to own my own practice" -- was fascinated to hear first-hand accounts of women succeeding in the technology sector.

"She was talking about how she owns her own business and she designs Web pages for companies. And I was thinking about that for myself," said Moya, who designed a Web page at camp that contains an "advice" area, "rant and rave" section and some of her favorite links.

Jennipher, whose Web site has a greeting message to her friends in Lithonia, Georgia, and pictures of heartthrob Justin of pop band 'N Sync, added: "It was really nice to see women earning so much money by themselves, and it shows you how far women have come and will be going in the future."

Asked how it makes her feel that this reporter doesn't know how to make a Web page, Jennipher smiled and said, "It makes me feel intelligent."

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April 3, 2000
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April 13, 2000
New bill would bring thousands of computers to youths
February 15, 2000
Michigan school opens doors for high-tech education
October 20, 1998

American Computer Experience (ACE)
American Association of University Women
Institute for Women In Trades, Technology & Science

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