Summer Program Aims To Help Bridge Technology’s Gender Gap




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Susan Kurtz has noticed an troubling trend over the years.

Kurtz, director of Rochester Institute of Technology’s Kids on Campus summer program, says that the cutting-edge, technology based camp for children in grades 5-12 has been dominated by young males.

Of the 180 students who participated in last year’s program, only 16 were females. Only 14 girls enrolled the previous year.

This isn’t just a problem at Kids On Campus, however. Women are scarce in the fields of math, science and technology as a whole. Statistics released by the American Association of University Women report that women make up only roughly 20 percent of information technology professionals and that computer science is the only field in which women’s participation has actually decreased over time.

“Why are women underrepresented? Many people believe it has to do with culture,” says RIT President Albert Simone. “Too often, women are told that they do not like math and science, and they are not good at math and science.”

Kurtz decided to do something about it.

“Girls have a great deal to offer in science, math and technology,” Kurtz says. “We offer workshops in game design, claymation, graphics and animation that are just as appealing to girls as they are to boys. Kids are able to develop their own themes and projects based on their own interests. More than 60 percent of girls who register for our workshops return to our program the following year to take on new projects.”

Simone believes the program is on the right track.

“Teachers, counselors and parents must emphasize to women that they are welcome and can be just as successful as men in these disciplines,” he says.

This year, Kurtz has altered the program’s marketing, primarily its Web site, www.kidsoncampus.rit.edu, to appeal to young females and their mothers. The site features the work of its past female students, consisting primarily of bright colors, in the hopes of demonstrating that the world of video games and computer animation doesn’t necessarily have to be dominated by dungeons, dragons and other traditional male favorites.

So far, the strategy seems to be working.

Female registration is off to a fast-start. With more than a month remaining until the program’s first session begins July 5, 26 girls have already registered for the program—way ahead of the pace that has been set in any other year of the program’s 23-year history.

“We’re very pleased with the success we’ve had thus far, and there is still plenty of room for more students—both girls and boys, alike,” Kurtz says.

Kids On Campus offers students hands-on learning opportunities with computers, math, science and other technology. Different workshops are available for 5-6 graders, 7-9 graders and 10-12 graders, and all of them offer exciting, kid-friendly activities—including the opportunity to create their own video game, website or graphic design images.

Two repeating sessions are offered during July. Each session is two-weeks long and runs from 9 a.m,–3 p.m., daily, Monday through Friday. An extended day option is available from 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Students choose one area to focus on during the two-week session. Enthusiastic instructors, who are a mix of RIT faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and professionals from the Greater Rochester community, lead the innovative sessions.