Fairfield University offers National Computer Camps for children ages 8 through 18


Image: Computer CampsIn the late 1970s, computers were best known for their lumbering size and difficult negotiations. Few businesses owned one, and fewer people still, had one in the home. But Michael Zabinski, Ph.D., was convinced that personal computers would some day be ubiquitous in America's homes and offices. So, Dr. Zabinski, a physics and engineering professor at Fairfield University, founded National Computer Camps (NCC) in 1977 to prepare America's young people for a world with computers.

America's original computer camp, today NCC attracts as many as 70 campers per week and 1,000 per year in locations in Fairfield, Conn., Pittsburgh, Pa., Cleveland, Ohio and Atlanta, Ga. The program has served more than 25,000 youth thus far. This year, several weekly sessions of the popular program will be held on the Fairfield University campus. The camps teach children to write programs, create graphic videos, take computers apart, use the Internet, create a home page, and author educational computer games. New this year campers can prepare for the A+ hardware certification. A+ is one of the most respected entry-level IT certificates.

The first National Computer Camp was held in a junior high school classroom in Orange, Conn., where Dr. Zabinski resides. Campers ranging in age from about 10 to 14 years were introduced to Wang computers and were taught the computer language BASIC. Today, the camps are usually held at colleges or universities, where campers can stay overnight in dormitory rooms.

Of course, the complexity of the programs has only increased with time. A recent group of campers wrote a program to play the game Connect Four against the computer, Dr. Zabinski said.

For Daniel Perelman, NCC has been a summer must for seven years. The 15-year-old Amity Regional High School student has learned loads about computers, including a variety of different languages, such as BASIC, C and Java.

"It's a very good way to learn," said Perelman, who may someday translate his interest in programming into a career.

He would not be alone.

"There are 13, 14, 15-year olds that are so knowledgeable that if they were more mature, they could go out in the workforce and earn as much as college graduates," Dr. Zabinski said. However, while some of the campers are very advanced, a good 25 percent are beginners, whose only familiarity with computers is from tinkering around with them at home, he noted.

Participants spend a minimum of five hours learning about computers each day. An optional sports program (soccer, basketball, swimming, tennis) is also available in the afternoon. It's not unusual for participants to come back to the camp summer after summer for years, Dr. Zabinski said. "There's a lot to learn," he said. "You never overlap, the curriculum is continuous."

NCC campers often go on to become instructors in the program. Such was the case for Michael Capriotti, a mathematics teacher at New Canaan High School who also teaches at the camps during the summer. Capriotti, a graduate of Fairfield University, attended NCC for two or three years when he was in middle school.

"If you want to learn anything about a computer, this is the place to learn it," Capriotti, a resident of Fairfield, said of the camps.

Capriotti learned how to program with computer languages BASIC and Assembler, saving his work on large floppy disks.

Fifteen years later, he teaches campers to program using C++ and Java, today's much richer programming languages, on much faster machines with much larger capacities.

NCC offers young people more than just computer training, Dr. Zabinski said. It provides them with an environment to meet peers with an equal interest in computers. "These kids are really into computers," he said.

Students may sign up for one or more weeks of camp; sessions run from June 27 to July 30 in overnight ($825/week) or day ($695/week) program format. Registration is underway now. For more information, check out NCC's website at http://www.nccamp.com, e-mail info@nccamp.com or call (203) 795-9667.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on April 6, 2004

Vol. 36, No. 228