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Network World - When Moira Hardek was a Geek Squad technician in Chicago nearly a decade ago, she wasn't thinking about launching a summer camp for kids. But she did notice that a majority of customers who sought in-home tech services were woman, and she was the only female Geek Squad agent making house calls in Chicago at the time.
"I brought it up at Best Buy, when I started coming up to the corporate offices, and they said, 'you're right, go recruit.' I thought it'd be great, but then I couldn't find women."
The recruiting predicament led Hardek to the conclusion that women need to get interested in technology at a much younger age. "This is the physical manifestation of all that," she says of the Geek Squad Summer Academy.
Now in its sixth year, the technology boot camp has grown from a one-day, one-city camp to a nationwide program that's set to host nearly 10,000 students in more than 20 states this summer. It was an all-girls camp the first year, but now it's open to girls and boys, and Geek Squad partners with different nonprofit organizations - including Girl Scouts of America and Boys & Girls Clubs of America - to plan camps around the country.
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Partners of the Geek Squad Summer Academy share a goal of making technology accessible to a more diverse audience. "Technology is great, but what happens if more of our innovators are women? Or come from economically disadvantaged areas?" says Hardek, who's senior manager of Geek Squad Academy. "The tech field as a whole definitely needs a different point of view, it needs new innovators, and it needs its innovators to look different from the innovators we've seen in the past."
To put on the camps, Hardek works year-round with a core team of six people who create content and plan the logistics of each venue. During the summer months, she adds another 10 to 12 field employees who travel with the team and help run the camps. In addition, at each camp location, Best Buy and Geek Squad employees join in and volunteer their time to work with the kids.
"At every camp we bring on instructors and helpers -- usually about 40 Best Buy employees per camp -- who are local employees and get to work with kids and people from their own communities," Hardek says.
The curriculum is geared for kids ages 10 to 16 who are familiar with but not proficient in technology. "They're intimidated by technology. They use it, but they don't understand it. That's the market that we're looking for," Hardek says.
Best Buy supplies state-of-the-art gear for the campers. "That's really the key. It has to be extremely hands-on and interactive for kids to learn," Hardek says. "There's nothing that we talk about at the camp that you're not going to actually physically do while you're at the camp. We don't just talk about the components of a computer; you're going to build one."
Classes cover fun topics such as creating digital photography, videos and music, plus fundamental tech subjects such as network connectivity. Every class has a troubleshooting component, Hardek says. To keep things interesting, instructors add fun twists -- like turning a PC-building challenge into a relay race.