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STEM 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. She saw a photo online of Tumblr’s dog and game-friendly offices. 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 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, 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 gets STEM skills:

  • The U.S. this year will create some 120,000 new jobs 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. (Source: National Talent Strategy whitepaper)
  • In 2011, only 21,139 of 16 million students across the United States took the Computer Science AP test – or 0.13% of all AP tests taken that year. (Source: Computer Science Education Week)
  • Among the students who took the exam, only 19 percent were female.  This is the lowest percentage of any of the AP exams.  In comparison, 47 percent of the Calculus test takers were female. (Source: Computer Science Education Week)
  • 5 of the top 10 fastest growing jobs will be in a computer related field and 2 of the top 3 bachelors’ salaries are in computer science and engineering. (Source: Computer Science Education Week)

I like those odds for her - if she has strong STEM 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 summer 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 offer hands-on workshops that teach high-school girls to build websites, develop video games, edit digital video, create podcasts, and more. The sessions are taught by women who work on cutting-edge tech at Microsoft so, along with some mad STEM 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 week of languorous summer idleness for the possibility of getting some STEM 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 and I seized the moment and directed her to a listing of STEM camps put together by Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

We found one!  iD Tech Camps are weeklong summer tech programs where ages 7-17 engage in STEM 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 STEM Summer Camp for your Teen:

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) list of STEM camps: This summer, more than 100 camps across 26 states will offer 690 programs in video game design, development, programming, and related topics. The number of video game design programs offered at U.S. summer camps has more than doubled since 2012. The ESA assembled a list.

DigiGirlz, one of many programs under the Microsoft YouthSpark initiative, features hands-on workshops that teach high-school girls to build websites, develop video games, edit digital video, create podcasts, and more. 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 STEM education at over 60 prestigious universities in 26 states. These camps teach real skills on real tools: Creating apps for iPhone and Android, video games, web sites, digital movies, 3D models and animations, robots, and more. Students use industry products like Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, Autodesk Maya, Microsoft XNA Game Studio, and much more. There are both day camps and sleepover camps where kids stay in college dorms.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.” You can find her at

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