Nearly 150 girls from around the Lowcountry came to the College of Charleston on Friday to learn about Lego robots, digital music and 3-D printing at Geek Squad Academy.
The two-day program, sponsored by Best Buy and Junior Girls' Day Out, teaches girls about emerging technology and computer science.
Getting young girls interested in technology is vital, said Kathy L. Jackson, Junior Girls' Day Out founder and senior program coordinator. In 2011, about 34 percent of computer system analysts were female, compared with a workforce that was about 47 percent female. Google recently released data showing only 17 percent of its 46,170 employees worldwide are female, and only 18 percent of the undergraduate degrees in computer science conferred in 2010 were earned by women.
"There's a shortage of females in the technology industry," Jackson said. "We want them not only to be exposed to (technology) but to pursue it."
About half of Best Buy's Geek Squad Academy camps are exclusively for girls, according to Megan McCollom, a Geek Squad field lieutenant who travels the country organizing the two-day camps. McCollom studied computer science in college and was often one of the only women in her class, which she said could sometimes be "intimidating." Geek Squad Academy can serve as a springboard to launch more girls into technology at an early age, she said.
"We're helping set these girls up for the future," McCollom said. "This gives them a head start." On Friday morning, girls learned how to program a robot to follow a track based on laser sensors. A few doors down in C of C's Maybank Hall, another group learned the basics of 3-D animation and printing. Janay Bivens, 13, enjoyed the chance to immediately apply what she learned.
"In school, you're just sitting there listening," Bivens said. "Here, you can actually do it."
The opportunity to work with these emerging technologies can help spark an interest in the industry, according to C of C computer science senior instructor Christine Moore.
"They're introduced to basic technology at an early age, but by looking at emerging technology, it gives them a look at what is on the horizon," Moore said.
The girls at Geek Squad Academy worked with more familiar technology in addition to relatively new innovations, such as 3-D printing. There were sessions focused on making digital films and music, instructing in accessible programs, such as Apple's GarageBand.
While most children are introduced to basic technology like smartphones and tablets an early age, it is "mostly as consumers," according to Moore. Interactive learning is important in getting kids excited about technology, she said.
"It's very important to help make them comfortable with technology. It makes them want to produce technology instead of just using it," Moore said. "Hands-on learning puts them right into the center of it."
Reach Amanda Coyne at 937-5592 or on Twitter at @AmandaCCoyne.