What does a room full of 12 to 18 year olds at Nashville State Community College all have in common? On this particular Wednesday in July, it was an intense focus on the computers in front of them.
When we visited, eleven students were participating in the TN Code Academy, a five-day summer intensive course aimed at teaching middle and high school students how to create with code. And TN Code Academy does this by introducing the campers to the basics of programming through games and web applications. In other words, it’s fun!
“Since we are a program of one of the nine Launch TN accelerators, we deal with entrepreneurs on a daily basis and a primary need in today’s world are programmers and developers,” Sammy Lowdermilk, Director of the TN Code Academy said. “They are few and far between, especially in the rural areas of Tennessee so we decided to figure out a way to address that and we started TN Code Academy.”
For Lowdermilk, it’s a fairly simple formula: get kids interested in coding and programming at an early age, hopefully encouraging the next generation of students to pursue a career in computer science.
“I like to think we’re aggressively addressing and changing the workforce and entrepreneurial landscape in Tennessee,” Lowdermilk said. “I think we’re just getting them a little younger than your typical workforce adult programs.”
Throughout the week of camp, TN Code Academy brings in professional developers to interact with the students about their job and the computer science industry. At the end of the week, the camp hosts a “Demo Day” for parents and family members where students can show off the website or game they’ve been designing all week.
“A majority of the kids that attend want to be here,” Lowdermilk explained. “It’s not something pushed on them by their parents. It’s something they’re genuinely interested in and by the end of the week, they can be proud of the things they’ve created. The feedback is definitely overwhelmingly positive.”
Lowdermilk added, “Most kids, fortunately, see it as fun, but I don’t think they fully realize the skillset they’re developing when they’re creating games and web sites.”
For seventh grader Andrew Pelham, TN Code Academy is a chance to hang out with other kids who enjoy computer programming and work on a skill set that he doesn’t get much practice with at school.
“Being here and being able to do HTML is really nice for me, because I get to experience some more stuff,” Pelham said. “I’m hoping I can major in computer science or computer coding.”
Inara Abernathy was working on two web sites, one about herself and one about the dangers of sharks.
“It’s cool to know how to do it,” she said. “It’s fun, because it’ll help me in the future.”
Even though TN Code Academy is based out of the Biz Foundry in Cookeville, one of Launch Tennessee’s nine statewide accelerators, the camp is everywhere.
“We’re from Memphis to the Tri Cities,” Lowdermilk said. “We’re essentially a mobile unit. We can go anywhere and host camps and workshops. As far as I know, we’re the only program like this in the entire U.S.”
Lowdermilk added, “Tennessee is probably far above many of the other states around them. We get emails from Idaho, Boston, Atlanta, from all over the U.S. asking us to replicate what we’re doing here in Tennessee and other places.”
Lowedermilk hopes the camp continues to debunk the idea that math and science are boring.
“In today’s world, kids grow up with a screen in front of them constantly, whether it’s a computer a smart phone, or a TV, so they interact with a screen for a majority of their life,” Lowdermilk said. “For kids or students to realize that they can modify and change what is on that screen is very eye-opening for them and it’s necessary in today’s world.”
Pelham is already thinking about a future career in Silicon Valley, “I think if you could do that job, it would be great, sitting there doing HTML, java scripting, working for Google, even.”
“We want the kids to come out with a mindset of not necessarily that they can go get a job, but that they can go create a job. I can create my own path,” Lowdermilk said.
Even though TN Code Academy is geared toward middle and high school students right now, Lowdermilk says they are getting so much interest from adults that they are expanding their reach in the fall of 2014 and will begin offering night classes and Saturday workshops.
For more information on TN Code Academy, visit tncodeacademy.com.