AUSTIN, Texas -- In an apartment building near the University of Texas, 24 bubbly high school and junior high school girls chatter in a conference room-turned-computer lab.
They sit in front of the borrowed computers that line the walls, each meticulously printing her name and e-mail address on 15 business cards. Later, as a lesson in networking, they'll swap cards with female high-tech executives at dinner.
They're participating in a weeklong computer camp, sponsored by Ace.com and AllGirlPlanet.com, that's designed to help encourage girls, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to develop proficiency with computers. The program costs $860 a week, but scholarships are available.
The goal of the camp is to nudge girls toward the technology field.
"After coming here, I'm thinking about doing something in technology, since you use computers for everything now," said Melinda Hipolito, 13, from Del Valle, Texas.
In the new technology society, computer camps are an alternative to traditional summer fare - networking sessions have replaced campfires, and Web-design classes have replaced arts and crafts. The morning hikes have taken just that, but the girls can still exert their youthful energy in a midday kick-boxing session.
The attendees all have a different working knowledge of computers--there is no experience prerequisite--but all have had at least some exposure through their schools.
"I've only really used computers before for writing papers, going on the Internet and playing games," said Ariel Brown, 14, who lives in Austin and is home-schooled. "I've learned a lot here. I'd like to learn more about Microsoft Office, such as how to use Power Point."
"We wanted to help further girls in technology," said AllGirlPlanet spokeswoman Becky Holcomb. "We plan to keep in touch with these girls to see how they progress, and we encourage girls to return next year and help teach the newer girls."
In a sector that has been traditionally male-dominated, there is a growing push to get girls interested in technology at a younger age. It's often through programs such as Girlstart, Giga Gals and Women in Engineering camps. Women in Technology International, an organization for established women in technology, is a supporter of the computer camp.
But even people involved with the camps question the merits of girls-only clubs.
"Sometimes I think it might be better to reserve a certain number of spots for girls in the Ace co-ed camps rather than having a camp just for girls," said Giovanna Morrow, academic director of the UT AllGirlPlanet camp. "Because in the real world, these girls are going to have to interact with men, and you don't learn how to do that in an all-female environment."
But the girls did not seem to mind the lack of male counterparts. Most agreed that when they came, they just wanted to make friends and learn the ins and outs of technology.
And maybe flaunt it a little.
"I'm excited about going home and showing my brother how much I learned," said Amanda Tawater, 14, from Cedar Park High School. "I know more than him now." ********************************************* -- Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618) 453-4244 Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office) (618) 457-8903 (home) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org