Tech Camp Preps Students for IT Opportunities

A student works on a robotics project at Tech Camp.

Roosevelt student Rabsa Naseer works on a robotics project during Tech Camp.

Rabsa Naseer will be a junior in the fall at Roosevelt High School/Central Academy. The summer before she entered 8th grade she was, by her own description, “very shy and quiet.” We’ll take her word for that, hard as it now seems to believe.

That summer Rabsa was invited to the first Tech Camp, a weeklong joint venture between Des Moines Public Schools and volunteers from the local private sector IT community designed to provide an intense and advanced but fun STEM opportunity to groups that are traditionally under-represented in technology careers.

“We saw a gap,” is how Ben Lors put it. Lors is the President of Tech Journey, the nonprofit organization that staffs Tech Camp, and an IT Project Manager at John Deere. “The IT career fields looked heavily male and white to us.” Lors has three daughters of his own and wants them to feel like they have the option of following in their dad’s footsteps if they so choose someday.

Which is exactly what Rabsa is well on her way to doing as she winds up her fourth summer of Tech Camp this week at Central Campus. Her father is a computer programmer and Rabsa is an outgoing, confident chip off the old block who, besides Tech Camp, has been working 20+ hours per week this summer as a paid intern at QCI, a local tech consulting firm. She has her eye on a career in IT and is already working in the field. Thanks, she says, to Tech Camp – in more ways than one.

“Besides the tech emphasis I have really gained a lot of social skills,” she said Friday morning while helping her team put the finishing touches on a robotic printing device they would demonstrate later named “Dra’ Vinci.” She’s also been networking. Lors is the one who put her in touch with QCI where she is the only teen on her programming team.

“One day of the week we always have local IT professionals come in for some IT career coaching,” Lors said. “This year we had guests from Kaplan University and an IT recruiter from Principal Financial.”

Students are identified each year from the 7th grade Prep Academy at Central Campus. On the first day of their first camp they receive a laptop that is theirs to keep. And they get to come back for years two, three and four.

“I can only think of one student in four years who decided not to come back just because it wasn’t for him,” said Steve Loew, a DMPS Gifted & Talented Consultant at East High who coordinates student selection and transportation for Tech Camp. Other than Loew and the raw student material, the district’s primary contribution to Tech Camp is donation of the facilities at Central Campus for a campground. Lors and more than 50 private sector volunteers do the rest.

First year campers get their feet wet with audio and video editing. Years two and three proceed to concepts like robotics and 3D gaming and camp seniors are free to pursue independent study projects. This year’s batch, the first cohort to graduate, has come so far that their complimentary laptops can’t keep up with them.

“They were trying to work with a program called Amazon Lumberyard earlier this week,” said Lors “and we discovered that their laptops, which are very nice but not necessarily state-of-the-art, weren’t up to it.”

Not to worry. At the culminating ceremony for campers’ friends and families on Friday afternoon in the library and commons at Central Campus, plenty of projects were on display that duly impressed the visitors.

And when all four classes gathered for a group photo the assorted shades of skin looked good with the green camp t-shirts (designed and printed, it should be noted, by Central Campus students). So did the almost equal mix of boys and girls.

To learn more click here to visit the Tech Journey web site.

Video of Tech Camp – DMPS-TV News

Photos from Tech Camp

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