SPRINGDALE -- About 40 girls attending the five-day Girl IT Up summer camp on computer programming at Springdale High School have spent the week tinkering with code and hearing from women in the field.
"There are plenty of smart, talented women that have chosen a career in information technology," said Jennifer Ford, an information technology manager for J.B. Hunt in Lowell who shared her experiences at the camp Wednesday, along with five other women from the company.
The camp began Monday and ends today.
The girls, who are entering the sixth through ninth grades, so far have learned to work with Alice, a software program created at Carnegie Mellon University that teaches computer programming with animation, and Scratch, a project from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab designed to teach children coding skills.
They used Java to program a robotic finch.
"You had to use code to tell it where to go," said 12-year-old Clarissa Ortiz. "It was really hard."
On Wednesday, the girls learned from Ford that computer programming affects nearly every industry, including fitness, retail and transportation. Jobs in programming require not only skills in math and science but also creativity for solving problems and improving processes.
J.B. Hunt employs 450 workers in the information technology department, Ford said.
Nationwide, about 25 percent of the 9 million people working in 13 computer-related occupations are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Women received 12.9 percent of the bachelor's degrees awarded in computer science in 2011-12, according to results of an annual survey by the Computing Research Association.
The industry is expected to have 1 million more jobs than computer science students by 2020, according to Code.org.
Mindy Cole has been a systems analyst for J.B. Hunt for nearly 17 years. She took courses at Arkansas Tech University in accounting and information technology, but earned her degree in accounting. Her first experience writing computer code was in a programming class in college.
Cole was hired after college by a company that needed an accountant but also wanted a programmer. She enjoyed writing code in her career, but switched to working on systems because she enjoys the design process and coming up with solutions.
"What about this system doesn't do what you want it to do?" Cole said.
Lori McPherson, 26, began college undecided about a major, she told the girls.
"When I was in middle school and high school, I wasn't interested in IT at all," she said. "I didn't like it."
She thought computers were boring, she said. Her junior year, she developed an interest in business and avoided information technology. She eventually decided to give information technology another try and changed her mind.
"You can never learn everything there is to know," she said. "I figured out that is what I was passionate about."
She got her first job at Dillard's corporate office in Little Rock as a programmer analyst. She began her job at J.B. Hunt a little more than two years ago.
She enjoys putting together pieces of code like a puzzle to use with applications that meet business needs.
Springdale High School students Kaitlin McKenzie, Kaele Summers and Anna Holleman won awards through the National Center for Women and Information Technology that made them eligible to apply for a grant to put on the camp.
McKenzie and Summers, both 18, graduated in May. Holleman will be a senior this fall. The girls were classmates in the school's Information Technology Academy.
McKenzie had an interest in the computer industry but had doubts about whether she would be good at it or if it would be too hard, she said. She was intimidated when she heard boys talking about taking apart computers or coding.
Her doubts subsided after she attended an information technology conference last year and met women who had succeeded in the field, she said.
"I felt this overwhelming blast of confidence," she said. "I need to let other girls feel that."
Lauren Burgin, 12, learned from the J.B. Hunt women that the computer field isn't just for 'geeks,' she said. She was interested in hearing from a project manager, Amber Montoya, who explained her role in organizing what people do and setting up time limits.
"I feel anybody could be in it," Lauren said.
State Desk on 06/26/2015