Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Teen Programmers attended the Boot camp

The next "Angry Birds" just might come from the mind of a Seacoast student, thanks to the efforts of some local business leaders and a professor at Great Bay Community College.

The Train to Success Jumpstart Mobile Application Development Boot Camp was a glimmer in the eyes of several members of the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce just last month. In three weeks' time, they have taken the idea from a dream to a reality.

The boot camp is a summer program for Seacoast-area students entering Grades 9-11 in the fall. It is geared toward those who have an interest in learning about Web, computer, tablet and/or smartphone programming. It will provide participants with an opportunity to explore college-level subjects in classes at Great Bay Community College's computer lab. The classes will be led by college associate professor of computer technologies Meg Prescott. Radim Bartos, chairman of the computer science department at the University of New Hampshire, will mentor students during lab sessions.

Prescott will train students in the use of HTML 5, JavaScript and other programming languages in conjunction with PhoneGap, an open-source software tool that allows development of apps. She said the class will feature a combination of theory and hands-on learning.

"There's a balance. Both can integrate nicely together," she said. "The big challenge is reining them back. They want to go warp speed."

Lessons will be held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from June 25 through Aug. 10, and include both classroom and optional lab sessions. There is a cost associated with the course, but thanks to local business leaders, program and equipment fees have been reduced to $299. Full scholarships will be available to those who need them.

The Jumpstart program originated with a passionate discussion recently at a meeting of the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce's government affairs committee. Members such as City Councilor Jack Thorsen, former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, Mark Galvin of the N.H. Innovation Commercialization Center, Mark Sullivan of Seacoast Asset Management, Jay Levy of Measured Wealth Private Client Group and Dave Todaro of BID2WIN Software all were involved in a debate about the importance of technology training for young people.

"It ended up dominating the meeting because that's where the passion is," Marchand said.

Marchand, UNH's director of corporate relations, said that out of 400 available seats in UNH's computer engineering programs, only 200 are filled. Meanwhile, in his discussions with private sector leaders, he has found that all agree that science, math and technology training must be focal points at the kindergarten-Grade 12 levels.

"The private sector gets that. It's a long-term solution," Marchand said.

Early investment in promoting those subjects is the answer to a problem many technology industries continue to have: College graduates are not trained for fields where jobs are available. Marchand noted that one Seacoast-area business would hire immediately 65 to 70 software engineers if they were available.

According to data Levy provided, more people with at least some college experience are finding themselves unemployed. For the first time in history, a majority of jobless workers 25 and older have attended some college, the data suggest.

Galvin, whose organization recently held a Disruptivate! conference on encouraging innovation that disrupts the status quo, said the Jumpstart program does just that.

"It's shaking things up, really, in a positive way," Prescott said.

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