Science summer camps aim to create new technology developers
Many students know how to use technology, but that is not enough in today’s world.
“We want to create technology developers, not just technology users,” said Dr. Jeff Gray, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Alabama and director of the Alabama Computer Science Summer Camps.
The annual summer camps, hosted by the university’s Department of Computer Science, are open to rising high school sophomores through seniors, as well as middle school students. Each week-long camp focuses on a different area, using both instruction and hands-on projects to engage the students.
Over the past few weeks, students from 12 states, Hong Kong and Beijing learned not only how to program with Java, a computer programming language, but also how to apply that knowledge to real-world projects. Middle school students created video games and movies, while high school students designed smartphone apps and battled it out sumo-style with Lego robots.
The biggest benefit of learning computer science is not a greater understanding of technology, but the ability to solve problems and think analytically, said Amber Wagner, a camp staffer and UA student working on her doctorate in computer science, with a focus on human-computer interaction and model-driven engineering.
“Computer science has really taught me how to think and analyze problems in a logical fashion,” Wagner said. “By teaching students at a young age, they usually score higher in math or other science fields, because they learn how to think through the situation.”
If the students were to take away only one thing from the camps, Gray hoped it would be a better understanding of career options.
“Most people think computer scientists just sit behind a (computer) screen all day and that’s not true,” he said. “Wherever there’s a need for automation, that’s where computer scientists are usually found, whether it’s turning on a television and playing video games to driving a car.”
Ninety percent of employees at Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon.com are computer scientists, and computer science had the highest number of job offers per major, with 2.8 job offers per graduate in 2011, Gray said. The average starting salary was $64,200 in 2011, he added.
But more than the salary and job opportunities, computer science is the one major where students can make the greatest impact at an early age, Gray said.
“The things these young people are building really make an impact on the world,” he said.
That is what inspires 17-year-old Carey MacDonald, a senior at John I. Leonard High School in Florida. With a dream of first becoming a software consultant and then a software developer, she is fascinated with computer programming and has enjoyed learning how and why programming works. She plans to expand her knowledge so she can create bigger and better things in the future.
“It’d be cool to work for Microsoft or IBM,” MacDonald said. “But the ultimate goal is to make the world a better place with computer programs and software.”
For more information about the summer camps, visit http://outreach.cs.ua.edu/camps/.