- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2009

Surrounded by computers, gadgets and video game consoles, dozens of girls gathered in groups to demonstrate their grasp of today’s technology. There was excitement and a buzz of productivity at Microsoft’s DigiGirlz High Tech Camp as the high schoolers collaborated with one another and proudly displayed the video games they designed.

For some Washington-area youngsters, summer is not just about hanging out at the local pool or watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Instead, it’s an opportunity to explore less familiar career paths through camps focused on science and technology.

More of these camps are making girls their target audience, as research shows girls tend to stray away from technology-related activities by the time they are teenagers.

The number of women earning undergraduate degrees in computer science has plunged nearly 50 percent since 1985, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. In 1985, women represented 37 percent of computer science undergraduate degree recipients. By 2008, women represented a mere 18 percent of computer and information sciences undergraduate degree recipients, representing a significant drop in degrees awarded.

A 2007 report by the same group revealed that women held more than half of professional positions in the overall U.S. work force but fewer than 22 percent of software engineering jobs.

Tweens in technology

Similar to the DigiGirlz High Tech Camp held in Washington last month, Digital Media Academy holds technology camps across the country, including a three-week stint this month at George Washington University for students ages 8 to 17 who are interested in learning more about opportunities in technology.

Margaret Lim, director of DMA’s youth programs, has witnessed a decline in interest among girls in technology as they mature. Many girls see it as a male-dominated industry, she said.

“It’s interesting that at younger ages, around 7 and 8, more girls are involved. … Developmentally they haven’t started asking, ‘Who’s doing what?’ and instead they’re just naturally curious,” Ms. Lim said.

“That’s why I think it’s important to encourage teachers and parents to get these girls engaged early on, because of the stigma attached to programming being a boys’ thing. But if [girls] get hooked early on, they grow in confidence and can bypass the social stigma that technology’s supposed to be a certain way,” she said.

At DMA’s “Adventures in Filmmaking” camp last week, Mikayla Sherman, a 12-year-old girl from Woodbridge, Va., teamed with Amanda Honeycutt, a 13-year-old from Burke, to produce a digital video called “Mixed-Up Match-Ups.”

“My dad wanted me to do a different camp, and I really like movies, so I thought it would be cool to see how they make them,” Mikayla said. “I really like the acting and the editing.”

“I really like being able to make my own movie. It takes a long time, but it’s probably worth it,” said Amanda, whose father works for The Washington Times. She will be helping to produce videos this fall in a studio at St. Leo the Great Catholic School in Fairfax.

“I wanted to get a head start,” she said. “I figured if I liked it I could maybe do it as a career.”

In a nearby DMA class, “Adventures in 2-D and 3-D Game Creation,” 13-year-old Harris Rothman of Friendship Heights was creating a video game called “Killer Miller” — in a room full of boys.

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