Girls dig computer science at Dig 'n It Camp

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Gigi Williams, 10, receives guidance from University of Idaho Moscow computer science professor Terry Soule at the Dig' n IT Girls' Coding Camp at the U of I Harbor Center in Coeur d'Alene.

COEUR d'ALENE — For 13-year-old Taylor Roberts, having an understanding of computer science means more than landing a lucrative career when she grows up.

It means changing her loved ones' lives for the better.

"My little brother and sister are both autistic," Taylor said Thursday morning. "I might be able to make a program that would help them learn faster and speak clearer."

Taylor, of Coeur d'Alene, was one of 27 young women who participated in the University of Idaho Coeur d'Alene's 2016 Dig 'n IT Girls Coding Camp, where campers spent four days working in teams to explore coding and Scratch programming. Scratch allows users to program interactive stories, games and animations and share their creations online.

"It's really fun. I never thought I would learn so much in four days," said Braidyn Teague, 10, of Spokane. "We learned how to make animals move and bounce off the page and make it look like they're intersecting but they're bouncing off each other."

This was the fourth year for the Dig 'n It Girls Coding Camp, which focuses on middle-school-aged girls to introduce them to computer science or reignite a passion for technology they once had.

"Young girls tend to be really excited and then toward middle school, they lose that excitement, so really, we’re just trying to maintain it," said U of I faculty member and camp instructor Terry Soule. "I think part of it there’s an impression that computer science is a lot of sitting by yourself at a desk in a dark room doing math. That's not really true at all, especially any more.

"Now it's a lot of teamwork," he continued. "The projects they're doing here incorporate a lot of art and music and those sorts of skills. It's much more of a creative activity."

Taylor said she realizes girls are the minority when it comes to tech jobs, but she's not intimidated.

"I think it’s cool because apparently, I’ve looked it up, and almost 75 percent of all technology and coders in the world are all guys," she said. "Having more women getting out there to do coding and technology and make new advancements is really cool. It’s like the first female astronaut in space."

Camp and intern coordinator Stacy Hinz said the Dig 'n It Camp provides a boost for the campers and dispels the mystery of computer science.

"They’re gaining that confidence this week in camp so when they're doing activities in school, they’re already going to have some of that general knowledge," Hinz said. "Our hope is that they're excited about coding so they're more apt to take some of those technology electives in school."

Hinz said aside from the campers learning valuable skills, the interns who help out have experienced success in the real world. An intern from the first year went on to work at Kootenai Health and is now a student at U of I. The first year's campers are about juniors and seniors now, Hinz said, but she's looking forward to seeing how their Dig 'n It experience helped them in school and beyond.

Soule, who has instructed the free camp all four years, said he is always amazed by the campers' creativity. They showed off their projects to parents and community members during an open house and showcase Thursday afternoon.

"Knowing that we’ve got a whole bunch of kids who will pretty soon hopefully be coming to the university and they’re full of new ideas of things I've never seen before or hadn’t thought about is really exciting to me," Soule said.

Taylor Roberts, 13, left, and Sophia Ocker, 12, use the Scratch computer program to create videos using computer coding at the Dig' in IT Girls Coding Camp on Thursday at the University of Idaho Harbor Center in Coeur d'Alene. In the camp's fourth year, 27 middle school girls learned basic coding techniques.

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