Fourteen-year-old Thea Hall learned an important lesson while attending an IBM-sponsored technology camp in Atlanta. “You can’t put limits on yourself because you never know what kind of opportunities are out there for you to explore.”

Starting this week, more than 1,000 girls like Thea will be participating in one of IBM’s camps called Exploring Interests in Technology and Engineering, or EXITE for short.  The week-long program offers middle school girls the opportunity to explore technology and work collaboratively on math and science projects.
“We know that once girls get to middle school they are less likely to take the math and science courses that will enable them to pursue engineering and technical degrees when they go to college,” says Janet Perna, general manager, Data Management Solutions, Software Group. 

“Our goal with the EXITE camps is to introduce the girls to women who are making important contributions in technology and engineering and to let them know that the industry is looking forward to a new generation of women who will lend us their expertise.”

The camps will be held at 37 locations around the world including Almere, Netherlands; Dublin, Ireland; Bangkok, Thailand; Caracas, Venezuela and Pune, India.  IBM will also host EXITE camps for young people with disabilities in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Yamato, Japan.

Between May and October 2004, girls at more than 15 IBM facilities in the U.S. and nearly two dozen in Canada, Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia Pacific will have the opportunity to build hand-powered flashlights and fire extinguishers, direct and produce their own movies using digital equipment, explore weather-related technology and conduct forensic experiments as part of the EXITE curriculum. 

These activities, coupled with the enthusiasm and inspiration provided by the camp coordinators, program presenters and volunteers, are designed to encourage the girls’ interest in mathematics and science and give them a first-hand look at the wealth of career opportunities technology can provide.

“It was at the EXITE camp that I learned how cool science could be,” said Katie Dreeland who attended an EXITE camp in Tucson last year. “You couldn’t help but learn something from the activities we did, and I really enjoyed talking to the counselors, many of whom were experts in their fields. At my high school, I’m taking all honors classes including science. I’m a big fan of genetics and I’m looking at science as a career.”

More than 3,000 girls have participated in EXITE camps around the world since it was launched in 1999 as an extension of IBM’s commitment to reach out to groups that are under-represented in the technical workforce and to train and recruit individuals from those constituencies for technical careers. 

Nearly 2,000 IBMers, female and male, will participate in the EXITE camps as volunteers – developing, coordinating and overseeing such activities as web-page design, computer chip design, laser optics, animation, robotics, and working with computer hardware and software. They will also introduce the girls to a variety of IBM technologies including, an award-winning web site designed to make learning science more fun for kids.

In addition, many of the volunteers will serve as e-mentors, corresponding with participants during the school year via email, providing tutoring and encouraging the students to further pursue their interests in math, science and technology.

EXITE camp participants are nominated by counselors and teachers at middle schools that have an established relationship with IBM through such community outreach programs as Reinventing Education or IBM Mentorplace.

Hall, who just completed her freshman year at North Atlanta High School, admits that, prior to attending the EXITE program, she had little or no interest in science or technology. “Now, computer science is probably the career field in which I’m most interested,” she said. “And when I tell people that I see myself doing something with computers or animation, they look really surprised. I like seeing their reaction.  I like knowing that I’m open to all sorts of possibilities.”