DSU preparing next generation of designers, developers with help of UCAP grant

Code Camp at Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, circa July 2014 | Photo by Danielle Poulsen, courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Trading in swimsuits and beach towels for hard drives and keyboards, a number of St. George area youth and Dixie State University students took advantage of the summer break and beat boredom by learning digital design, programming and information technology skills at DSU’s technology camps and Code School.

Offered for the first time this summer, Code School provides students in DSU’s Computer Information Technology program the opportunity to learn from professionals in the field as well as DSU professors and instructors.

“Code School is a 10-week intensive class in which the curriculum is based all around web technology, beginning to end,” said D.J. Holt, a DSU instructor and partner with tech company Rocketmade. “It prepares students relatively new to programming and design for starting internships in the software industry.”

By offering students the opportunity to earn up to 12 credit hours toward their degrees during the summer, Code School helps the CIT program prepare students for careers in the technology sector as soon as possible — a prospect that is especially appreciated by businesses looking for developers and designers in southern Utah.

“The private sector is heavily behind this,” said Eric Pedersen, dean of DSU’s School of Science and Technology. “They want more people in the workforce to meet the demand. They’re hungry.”

Fortunately for those businesses, Holt says, Code School is full of talented students.

“Students come from a variety of backgrounds and experience levels, but every student is really talented in one way or another — he or she may be really knowledgeable about technology, be business oriented, or have strong work ethic,” Holt said. “Everyone has a strength and it shines during the 10 weeks they participate in the school.”

Making this great learning opportunity even better for students, DSU’s Code School is free to attend, thanks to a $381,400 grant from the Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership, or UCAP, through the Department of Workforce Services. Stephen Lisonbee, Workforce Services economic service area director, said Code School was awarded the grant because it helps the department meet its mission to strengthen Utah’s economy by supporting the economic stability and quality of the state’s workforce.

With emphases in information technology, web and graphic design, and computer science, the CIT department is excelling at meeting this objective among others.

The CIT program has a nearly 100 percent placement rate, putting graduates in high-paying technology jobs,” Bart Stander, computer information technology department chairman, said. He added that DSU’s CIT program places most of its graduate in regional jobs. “St. George is home to a lot of local technology companies — far more than a city of this size deserves,” he said.

Striving to prepare the next generation of employees for careers in the ever-developing tech industry, DSU offered three different computer camps this summer to southern Utah’s younger residents. Participants learn everything from basic photography techniques to photo editing, programming, and graphic and web design skills. In addition, campers have the opportunity to design and publish web pages as well as experiment with computer hardware.

A quick conversation with enthusiastic campers reveals that the events are meeting their goal of getting young students interested in technology. Lexie, age 12, said she knew a little about computers and design thanks to her participation on the yearbook staff at school but learned more at camp.

“I thought it’d be interesting to come, so I was happy to do it,” she said, adding that she’s now considering a career in technology when she grows up.

“I liked all of it,” Lainee, a 10-year-old participant, said when asked what her favorite part of camp was. “I liked all of the fun activities, like making a game with the program Scratch,” she said with a giggle, explaining that her game involved a little bat attacking a cat.

Each of the three camps is geared toward meeting specific goals. Computer Camp, which is open to 8- to 18-year-olds, takes advantage of youths’ interest in technology.

“Around the time kids are 11 or 12, it’s obvious they’re part of the technical age,” said Danielle Poulsen, a DSU student majoring in CIT and the computer camp manager. “That’s when they pick up things in a snap. Intermediate teachers participated in parts of the camps, and the kids were picking up stuff with computers faster than the adults were.”

Rachel Ramsay, the mastermind behind “Girls Go Digital,” created the camp to help combat the shortage of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. As its name would suggest, Sixth Grade Camp strives to reach students in a particular age range.

“Research indicates that sixth grade is the pivotal age to reach students at. After doing these camps, I agree,” Poulsen said. “Younger kids have fun, but they don’t really grasp the concepts. The older students are harder to reach. Sixth-graders are really receptive. The sooner you can get them interested in technology, the better off they are.”

If Dixie State University’s computer camps seem like the perfect opportunity for the budding computer whiz in your life, it is not too late to take advantage of the fun and learning DSU’s computer camps offer. For the first time this year, DSU’s CIT program will offer afternoon camps in the fall. As the school year approaches, visit www.camps.dixie.edu for more information and registration for these sessions.

Submitted by: Dixie State University

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