The Drive to Pursue a Computer Science Degree Begins in 3rd Grade

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Computer Science pipeline being filled by some unconventional entities--like summer camps.

There is a big myth out there that you have to wait until college to learn about programming. And that when you do finally declare CS as your major, you are a nerd.

The top Computer Science institutions in the country are continuing to experience a steady boost in enrollment, fueled by prolonged economic uncertainty. The pipeline of pre-college organizations feeding the big tech schools--junior highs, high schools, and even summer camps—are seeing the same trends. iD Tech Camps, the largest youth technology camp in North America, recently launched an introductory programming course for kids ages 7, 8, and 9, and a new iPhone® Apps course for teens to complement its existing C++ and Java classes. The company also expanded its pre-college academy, dubbed the iD Programming Academy, to include a new location at MIT.

In an article from The New York Times, a survey quoted “The number of majors and pre-majors in American computer science programs was up 6.2 percent, according to the Taulbee Survey, an annual survey conducted by the Computing Research Association following trends in student enrollment.”

“We’re seeing amazing increases in enrollment,” said Eric Roberts, a computer scientist at Stanford University. “It’s not that people have forgotten about the offshoring of jobs, but our competition isn’t what it was. There are fewer places to go, and we don’t have Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns and Citibank to compete with.” He went on to add, “The ability to make a billion dollars by the time you are 30 years old is a huge motivation.”

Universities are not the only educational entities seeing a surge in interest in Computer Science. A surge is developing somewhere much less obvious—summer camps. Summer camps used to be about canoeing and archery. Now there are tech camps. “Five years ago, enrollment in our programming courses did not come close to the interest in our other courses like game design and digital video editing,” says Pete Ingram-Cauchi, president of iD Tech Camps, a summer camp dedicated to teaching technology to kids. “Programming is now our top offering—we’re seeing a 24% increase in enrollment over 2009.” The camp teaches young teens how to program in C++ and Java. Advanced students are even learning to develop their own iPhone® Apps.

Even the youngest campers ages 7, 8 and 9 get a taste for programming using MIT Lab’s software program called Scratch, which allows users to program their own games and animations, and then upload them to the web. There have been more than 500,000 projects shared on Scratch’s website. “Scratch teaches our kids some incredible fundamentals. But the most important thing is to keep the kids motivated, having fun” said Ingram-Cauchi.

“There is a big myth out there that you have to wait until college to learn about programming,” said Ingram-Cauchi. “And that when you do finally declare CS as your major, you are a nerd.” That seems to be old-school thinking. The fundamental shift is that students from the 3rd grade, right up to college, now see programming as cool and hip; the buzz surrounding Apple, Facebook, and Google are driving that point home.

The summer camp has also seen the transferrable advantages from camp to the classroom. Sue Cymbalski, the mother of one of the camp’s students, said of her son Andrew, “The instruction he received at the camp in one week was the equivalent to about half a year of his Java 1 class. We’re not waiting until college to have Andrew learn about programming.” Andrew, now in the 10th grade, attended iD Tech Camps C++/Java class at the University of Michigan last summer. iD Tech Camps offers technology courses at 60 locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.

An article from February 22 in Network World substantiated Ms. Cymbalski’s notion that programming and computer science might prove to be a wise long-term move for her son.

"I think the job market is what's driving the growth," said Professor Bruce Porter, Chair of the Department of Computer Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, which has seen its enrollment increase more than 5% this year. "The government has made it clear that computer science is a growth field, and I think that message is getting back to students and their parents."

About iD Tech Camps

iD Tech Camps is North America’s #1 provider of summer camps and computer science camps for kids and teens with programs at 60 elite universities in the USA and Canada. Locations include Stanford and MIT. Established in 1999 in Silicon Valley, the company is family-owned and operated. iD Tech Camps offers technology courses including 3D Video Game Design, 3D Game Modding, Maya®, Video Game Programming, Programming in C++ and Java, Programming iPhone® Apps, Robotics, Web Design, Flash® Animation, Graphic Arts, Digital Photography and Video Editing. The summer camps consist of weeklong day camps and sleep away camps, and multi-week teen academies. Courses are appropriate for beginner to advanced learners. The company teaches the latest technologies from Apple®, Adobe®, Microsoft®, Autodesk®, Sony®, Valve® and more.

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Karen Thurm Safran
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