Students click and create
Sunday, July 7, 2002
Computer camp at SHU focuses on Net, technology
By LINDA CONNER LAMBECK lclambeck@ctpost.com

Ryan Eick, 11, of Fairfield, is building intricate mazes and plotting ways to kill the bad guys.

"It's actually easier than I thought," said Eick, reluctant to take his eye off the computer screen where he is creating a new game to answer questions.

Such is the summer life of a future genetic scientist, who has a solid week to click and create at iD Tech Camps, a private, California-based computer camp being run at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.

Computer camps aren't new. National Computer Camps, www.NCCamp.com, an Orange, CT based program sharing the same Fairfield campus as the one Eick is at, has been around since the late 1970s when personal computers were a novelty and floppy disks were the way information traveled between hard drives.

In today's high-speed, digital age, however, in which PCs are nearly as common as TVs, and as likely to be used to create as communicate, computer camps are no longer havens for geeks and nerds who want to hide from the sun.

Officials for the American Camping Association say computer camps are one of the fastest growing summer activities.

ID Tech Camps, in existence for four years, will play host this summer to about 5,000 campers at 27 locations across the country, including Sacred Heart and the University of Connecticut, said Karen Thurm Safran, vice president of marketing for iD Tech Camps .

National Computer Camps, located in four states, will host about 1,000 campers, said director Michael Zabinski, Ph.D., a Fairfield University engineering professor.

Both run their programs in five to six single week intervals and offer students day and sleep- away options.

"Even in this economy, business is booming," said Safran. "I think it's because this is such a digital generation. Computers now are so accessible you really get a wide variety of kids who want to go to technology camp."

Most who spend a week building their own Web pages or creating digital movies in the air-conditioned confines of Sacred Heart's East Hall, will spend other weeks horseback riding, playing soccer or trying out for lead roles in theater camp. This week, however, was reserved for cyber space.

In Web Design and Graphics, Dipen Shah, a 22-year-old graduate student at the University of Connecticut, taught students a long list of computer commands that allowed them to create their own Web-pages.

"I was trying to do a Web page for myself at home and I wasn't really getting it," said Leila Jones, 16, of Guilford, who created a site on emergency medicine. She plans to use her new skills to help her school build a better Web site.

"What do I know now that I didn't know Monday? Everything about HTML," said Yesha Doshi, 12, of Orange, busy adding borders and links to a Boy Meets World fan club Web page she created.

"When I was their age, I had no idea what HTML was," said Shah of hypertext markup language, the basic tongue of the World Wide Web. "What they're learning are the basic concepts for programming. It's a lot of codes but once they get used to it, it all makes sense."

In Digital Video & Movie Production camp at Sacred Heart, meanwhile, three would-be filmmakers were three days into creating a five-minute live action movie from scratch. By Wednesday the script was written, the video shot and they were halfway through editing their footage.

"Everything's perfect except the cut between shots. You don't see the end of my running," said Derick Kitson, 13 of Easton, scrolling through frames of the digital image with his mouse.

"We can fix that," said Justin Fletchall, 13, leaning over his shoulder.

"Have I showed you how to use the razor blade yet," asked instructor Leah Dixon, pointing to an icon in the upper corner of the computer screen that will help them edit on-screen images.

In this class, everyone had time in front of and behind the camera and at the editing station, set up on the third floor of East Hall. By Friday, they will have added sound and have a completed "movie" using computer software many independent filmmakers now use.

"Every now and again, I step in to give technical suggestions or ideas about camera placement but 99 percent of what you see is all these guys," said Dixon, 29, a college student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, who discovered years ago a computer "is a great art tool."

In game-making, the most popular of the classes, 11 students are all working independently.

"There's all these rules you have to make for the game. Like 60 or 70 rules to make the game work right," said Alex Puleo, 14 of Fairfield, trying to create a "Super Mario 3." "I thought it would be easy. I was wrong."

"This guy just won't die when I want him to," said a frustrated Liam Cosgrove, 11, of Fairfield, who has kinks to work out in his unnamed game.

Using a special software, instructors Michele Jarvais, a University of Maine student, and Joni Halbi, a student at Rensselar Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., teach the class how to create trapdoors, insert sound effects and make their characters move.

They'd learn even more, Jarvais said, if they follow up this class with another on programming.

Across campus, at National Computer Camp, where there are 70 students between the ages of 8 and 18, Zabinski said it has never been hard to turn kids onto computers.

"The interest and motivation is pretty much the same," he said. What has changed since 1977 when we first started is the technology itself and the languages.

Only five years ago, Zabinski was teaching students a computer language called Pascal. The computer languages du jour are C++ and Java. Kids today also want to learn applications such as Flash, which is used to animate graphics for the internet.

"Not the type of thing they're going to teach you in school," said Zabinski, adding his camp's been around so long, most of his staff are ex-campers.

National Computer Camp has weeklong sessions through July at Sacred Heart University. For information call 203-396-6544 or visit www.NCCamp.com.

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