Communications company AT&T is doing its part to bring more young women into the IT fold with Camp Infinity, a summer program devoted to promoting technology as a career. The firm formerly known as Ma Bell will host approximately 80 Chicago-area girls between the ages of 15 and 17 during two weeklong sessions at the end of this month and the beginning of August.
Camp Infinity, which is in its fourth year, will be held at the campuses of Loyola University in downtown Chicago and the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill. The program is free for all participants, but they have to be sponsored by local officials to be admitted. “They come together for a week, and as a team, build a personal Web site using open-source software,” said Jill Billhorn, vice president of AT&T’s sales center in Chicago. “In this team, everyone has a different place and has different expertise, although they don’t necessarily come with that. They work as a team to put this together in a culmination of presentations at the end of the week. It actually has an element of marketing in it—they’re actually putting together a Web site that they would use to market a product or service.”
The camp also will include visits from female IT leaders at top companies like Allstate, McDonald’s and Hyatt Hotels, who will serve as professional mentors. “We are bringing in several high-level female executives,” said Katie Hutchinson, director of public policy and public relations at AT&T, who added that Billhorn would be among the mentors at Camp Infinity. “They’re taking some time out of their day to come in and talk to the girls about how they got where they are today: what their education path was, what their career path was and what they do in their current jobs. Then they’re going to have a Q&A session with the girls, so they can bounce some questions and ideas off of them. It’s showing these girls real-life examples of women who have done it to give them the idea that they can do it too.”
Programs like Camp Infinity are necessary to promote IT to women because, much like a “Battlestar: Galactica” fan convention (held at the Burbank Airport Hilton this year), it just isn’t receiving a great deal of female attention. “It’s actually gotten less popular (among women) since I started in this business,” Billhorn said. “I wish I could put my finger on why that’s decreased in the past few years. We sponsor programs for women at an early age because maybe if we get to them in their formative high school years, before they decide on a career, they’ll get a little more comfortable with what technology is. I think people tend to believe that you have to be extremely technical to be in this business. It really isn’t like that at all. It’s really a matter of being good at putting puzzle pieces together. That’s really what a network is.”
“We’re excited to be able to do this,” Hutchinson said. “We’ve gotten a great response from young girls who are interested in the camps. We really hope that we can make an impact on these young girls’ lives and persuade them to pursue careers in technology-related fields. It’s important, and we’re really excited to be a part of it.”