The Future Starts Now

06/17/2015 01:35 am ET | Updated Jun 16, 2016


The future is being shaped at this very moment. An idea today is the technology in our hands tomorrow. The future starts now.

The University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering is leading the way by offering a free computer science camp to local LA kids in third through ninth grade. The camp is offered to a demographic that is underrepresented in both higher education and tech fields, with a real emphasis on girls.

Everyone knows that the earlier you learn a language the better and the language of the future is code. Programming languages have a quick turnover, so what they learn this summer may not be exactly what they need when applying for college or their first career job, but it's a foundation they will carry with them for a lifetime. Just like sports, when learned at a young age, it gives one the confidence to pick up any other sport later on in life.​ Languages share that characteristic.​

Today, Computer Science touches every aspect of life; email, apps, testing, games, networks, operating systems, Facebook, Instagram, robotics and much more. These kids grew up with this technology and are the first generation of true "digital natives." However, they will need to know more than just how to use a computer or download the latest app as they move forward looking for internships, jobs, and careers.

The kids that understand technology at a deeper level than usability will open up opportunities their parents never dreamed of. The camp will help train their young agile minds to think logically and organize results. They will build a foundation for creative thinking that will allow them to be innovative in the pursuit of those results. Not only will this serve the kids well in personal future endeavors, but we are also building the next generation of tech entrepreneurs and problem solvers that will carry our country forward as well.

These kids are being offered an experience that will serve as a foundation for a lifetime of learning and opportunities. Applications for the camp were off the chart and the wait list has already spilled over into next summer. Having an opportunity to learn, work hard, and better yourself is what this great country is all about. Every university should listen to the call to provide access to cutting edge tech education to kids from challenged circumstances and it should be free. Actually, it has to be free if we truly want opportunity for all, not just the kids whose parents can pay a few thousand dollars to attend summer coding camps.​

The excitement of an 8-year-old going to a sparkling, high energy, university campus is a remarkable sight. Some of the kids in attendance have never thought of college as an option, some didn't believe they'd ever have access to cutting edge technology, and some of the girls thought tech was only for the boys. This camp smashes all of those preconceived notions and helps open doors for all in attendance.

The USC camp staff is all PhD students from Viterbi, with eight female camp coaches and one male. Over the course of the week, these PHD students become role models and mentors for these kids and generate excitement in a field they didn't realize was open to them - computer science. Not only are these kids learning and building a lifelong foundation, they are having fun in the process. After all, that's what summer is all about, isn't it?

A partnership between the Institute for Education and the USC Computer Science department has enabled the camps to be completely free for all attendees.

A PhD student walks the kids through a coding session.

Brandon Kline, an IFE Fellow, works with kids at the camp.