Big response to computer event for girls spurs plans for '96

March 27, 1995|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer

An event aimed at increasing girls' interest in computers has drawn an overwhelming response from Howard County parents who want their daughters to learn about the technology.

With 200 girls signed up for Saturday's "Computermania '95," the main sponsors of the event -- Howard County schools and an Ellicott City computer consulting company -- already are making plans to duplicate and expand the pilot program next year.

"We want to dispel the myth that computer people are nerds," said Shirley D. Collier, president of Paragon Computer Services Inc. of Ellicott City. "For some reason girls aren't getting that message, particularly once they hit puberty and start deferring to boys in areas such as math, science and computers.

"Before they reach that self-conscious age, we're trying to instill in them excitement about computers and technology," Ms. Collier said.

The half-day program at Wilde Lake High School at River Hill will demonstrate the importance of computers in a variety of fields to Howard County fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. Among the careers to be featured in hands-on exhibits are journalism, aerospace engineering, interior design, medicine and commercial art.

High school girls will talk about their experiences with computers and how they wished they had begun learning about the technology when they were younger.

Although boys were not prohibited from registering, organizers sought to attract girls through both the marketing of the program and the speakers, said Shelley Johnson, a supervisor in the school system's Office of Educational Technologies.

Some boys have signed up.

"For me, when I look at the computer science classes, I see that the female population is somewhat underrepresented," Ms. Johnson said. For example, more than 80 percent of the students in the computer programming classes at Wilde Lake are boys.

"If we target the girls at a younger age . . . such as in the elementary and middle schools before they make career choices, we can be successful in getting more of them interested in computers," Ms. Johnson said.

Ms. Collier cited numerous recent studies showing that girls tend to be less interested in computers than boys. Computer games such as NBA Jam and Mortal Kombat attract boys to computers, but few games are marketed exclusively to girls, she said.

"In subtle ways we discourage girls who have potential in computers. Or, if girls are struggling with computers or math, the teachers often say, 'That's because she's a girl,' " Ms. Collier said.

The higher-than-expected number of girls interested in Saturday's program has prompted the school system to consider similar events next year at other schools throughout the county, Ms. Johnson said.

This event is for students in elementary and middle schools that feed Wilde Lake High.

Ms. Collier said she may try to organize after-school computer clubs targeted at girls, too. But she said that, if the effort is to be expanded successfully, schools need more computer-literate volunteers.

Other groups outside Howard County, such as the Baltimore County school system and the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, also have sought information from the event's organizers on how to set up their own programs to interest girls in computers.

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