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STEAM Summer Camps for Teens

It's the time of year when I start fretting about what I am going to do with my teenagers all summer. If I leave it to them, they will waste hours, days, even weeks watching TV and playing video games. When they were younger, I sent them to camp. But most camps are geared toward younger kids. My daughter Ava (14) is too young to get a job yet most of the camps she once liked are no longer open to her. Fortunately, I saw an opportunity in something she said recently.

“I want to work at Tumblr!” She announced, referring to the company behind the hip blogging tool she adores. Previously she had declared her future would be spent at Google. Or Microsoft. It isn't the job or company that appeals to her. She isn't ready to commit to either of those yet.  It’s the culture. “I want to work somewhere where everyone is six years old at heart!” She explained. I told her of an office I'd seen on a tour of the Googleplex (Google’s Silicon Valley campus) that reminded me of her room because of the stuffed toys strewn everywhere. And she’s heard tell of the Microsoft Seattle Campus, and other cool work/play environments. It looked to her as if, with the right job, she would never have to grow up.

It’s an awesome dream. If your job is also play, you'll never work a day in your life. I know she will need some serious STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) skills to work at these places. In fact, increasingly it looks as if she will need those skills to get work anyplace. So even if this dream evaporates like many of her previous childish aspirations (princess, jaguar, international spy), I still want her to have those skills.

Numbers that make me want my daughter to get STEAM skills:

  • Between 2010 and 2020, the U.S. will create some 120,000 new jobs annually requiring at least a bachelor's degree in computer science. But all of America’s colleges and universities put together will produce only 40,000 new bachelor's degrees in computer science every year. (Source: National Talent Strategy whitepaper)
  • Over 29,000 female students took an AP Computer Science (CS) exam in 2017, which is more than the entire AP CS exam participation in 2013. Source: Code.org

  • Among the nearly 105,000 U.S. students who took an AP CS exam in 2017, 27% were female. Though computer science has seen sustained growth year after year, the introduction of AP CS Principles in Fall 2016 was the largest College Board AP exam launch in history, and has skyrocketed participation in CS especially among female students and minorities. Source: Code.org 

  • Half of the highest paying jobs in America require you to know how to code. Source: Burning Glass Technologies

I like those odds for her - if she has strong STEAM skills. So I'm always on the lookout for ways to encourage, coax, wheedle, tempt, and manipulate her into getting excited about these subjects, especially since these are often thought of a "boy" or "geek" topics. So when Microsoft called and asked if I would help get word out on its DigiGirlz High Tech Camp for girls I thought, "Perfect!"

I sat down with Ava to peruse the Web site and ask her "professional" opinion about whether the camp looked like a fun thing for girls her age.

DigiGirlz High Tech Camp sessions are taught by women who work on cutting-edge tech at Microsoft so, along with some mad STEAM skills, Ava could pick up a mentor and role model who might remember her and help her get a job at Microsoft when she graduates from college down the road.

She had to think about it for a couple of days. Did she want this future vision enough to embrace her inner geek now? Would her friends think she was a dork for going to a technology camp? Was she willing to give up a few days of languorous summer idleness for the possibility of getting some STEAM skills and some new (possibly geeky) girlfriends?

“I want to go!” She announced two days later. Unfortunately, when we looked closer, we discovered she is too young to go to the camp near us this summer. So we put it in our plans for next summer.

We found one!  iD Tech Camps are weeklong summer tech programs where ages 7-17 engage in STEAM education on universities around the country.  She honed in one that would help her - one day - turn her love of photography and blogging on Tumblr into a lucrative career. And since this camp takes place on a college campus that she considers a "dream school," she will get a taste for college life there at the same time. Win! Win! I signed her up.

Now I have to figure out how to pay for it. But I'm feeling pretty good about my day. I just took care of two summer's worth of camp planning, helped my daughter take a big step toward her dreams, and wrote this blog post. How's your day going?

Resources for finding a STEAM Summer Camp for your Teen:

DigiGirlz, one of many programs under the Microsoft YouthSpark initiative, features hands-on experiences, technology tours and workshops to help high-school girls learn skills and have exposure to technology career opportunities. The sessions are taught by women at Microsoft who work on cutting-edge tech, opening the doors for mentorship and ongoing inspiration.

iD Tech Camps week long summer program engage ages 7-17 in STEAM education at over 150 prestigious universities in 27 states. These camps teach real skills on real tools: Creating apps for iPhone and Android, video games, web sites, digital movies, robots, 3D models and animation, 3D printing, photography, filmmaking and more. Students use industry products like Photoshop, Autodesk Maya, and much more. There are both day camps and sleepover camps where kids stay in college dorms.

Looking for more ways to get kids excited about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering Art & Math)? Find out how Ford is inspiring the next generation of problem solvers at Ford STEAM Experience.

Christina Tynan-Wood is a freelance tech writer living in the Pacific Northwest. You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com.