UM Computer Science Tech Camp introduces Montana high school students to possibilities of CS degree, campus life

University of Montana tech camp attendees spent three days on UM’s campus, earning about different applications of a computer science degree and getting a taste of campus life. Drone Photo by the Autonomous Aerial Systems Office at UM. Photos courtesy of UM Computer Science.

By Katy Spence

For three days in July, the University of Montana Computer Science Department hosted 45 high school students from around the state for an overnight Tech Camp on the Missoula campus.

Computer Science Professor Trish Duce said this overnight camp was the first of its kind for UM, allowing students from Box Elder, Whitefish, Kalispell, Helena, and Missoula to experience a taste of campus life and explore different aspects of what a computer science degree can prepare them for.

Campers were able to choose between three different education tracks, which include classes about mobile app and game development, programming, web design, and hardware. Duce said the different tracks were meant to expose students to a variety of possibilities within a lucrative tech degree.

“It’s one of the most satisfying careers, and you have a chance to make a lot of money in this field,” Duce said. “There so many different ways you can connect it to whatever you’re passionate about.”

One tech track allowed students to rebuild a disassembled computer, while another introduced students to computational biology.

Tech camp attendees got a taste of summer life in Missoula through a rafting trip and a hike up the M trail.

When they weren’t in classrooms, students had the opportunity to partake in some of UM’s summer activities, including visits to the game room and planetarium, and a hike up the M trail. But Duce said the hit of camp was an afternoon rafting trip.

It was during the rafting trip that Duce noticed some of her students begin to come out of their shells, including a young woman from the Bitterroot.

“I could tell she had a shy personality,” Duce said. “But after a couple of sessions, she was asking questions and definitely catching on.”

Duce said she wouldn’t be surprised if this young woman decided to study computer science or technology when she enrolls in college in 2022.

Tech camps like this are aimed to help students get exposed to technology studies earlier, which can help improve enrollment at universities and encourage more young women to pursue STEM degrees. Duce said 38 percent of attendees at this summer’s camp were women.

With four times as many open tech jobs as computer science degrees being awarded, Duce said one issue may be that many high school students and their parents have an inaccurate perception of what computer science is and don’t consider pursuing that degree.

“I don’t think parents or students know what it is,” Duce said. “I don’t think they know all the great opportunities in it right now.”

Students graduating with a computer science degree can enter a variety of fields, including fast-growing AgriTech, FinTech, and HealthTech industries as well as more traditional software and IT companies.

When she first started working at UM, Duce’s position was funded by a grant from the Gianforte Foundation with the expectation that she would host summer tech camps. Since that time, Duce has raised $6,000 by partnering with local businesses to help provide scholarships for students to attend. But Duce said there’s an opportunity for more community involvement to help the camps grow and reach more students.

With a limited amount of computers and instructors, Duce sees the opportunity for local tech companies to donate time or resources, such as computers, to help more students attend the camps.

“I just want to do as many things as I can to give kids a chance to know what it is so they don’t pass up opportunities,” Duce said.

If you’d like to know how you can help, you can contact Trish Duce at DucePA@mso.umt.edu


About the Author: Katy Spence is the Communications Director for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. She worked previously with the Missoula Current and Treesource, and has an Environmental Journalism Master’s Degree from the University of Montana.

About the Publisher: Launched in 2014, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance is an association of 350 high tech and manufacturing companies and affiliates creating high-paying jobs in Montana. For more information visit MTHighTech.org.

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