There's an AppCamp for that: Teens learn hands on at new UNT camps

Claudia Taylor

Dozens of students ages 13-17 got a chance to learn app-programming basics hands on during the UNT Department of Computer Science and Engineering’s inaugural Android AppCamp, held this summer in addition to the department’s popular RoboCamp and Xbox Game Camp.

Thanks to grant funding from the Texas Workforce Commission and the National Convergence Technology Center, most students were able to attend free of charge.

Four weeklong AppCamps were offered — two at UNT’s Discovery Park, one at Collin College and one at Cisco in Richardson. A total of 10 camps — some co-ed and some gender specific — were held this year.

Cisco employees and UNT engineering alumni Chris Pearce (’90) and Larry Michalewicz (’90) lent their time and talents to the students’ learning experience during the camp at Cisco’s office. Michalewicz says the experience exceeded his expectations.

“They were working on an app within 30 minutes of arriving at camp,” Michalewicz says. “It was, ‘Welcome to camp – let’s get started.’ And that’s really impressive.”

UNT’s RoboCamp program has honed tech-savvy students’ robotics, engineering and computer science skills since it began in 2005. Jeremy Bennett, a high school student who attended the AppCamp at Cisco, calls the experience “inspiring.”

“The staff members were always very kind, eager and excited to help us learn, and it was fun being in a professional work environment,” he says. “I appreciate that I was granted a scholarship, and I hope that the program can continue granting those to others as well.”

AppCamps were led by Joan King, a UNT computer science and engineering doctoral student, and Gaith Albadarin, a teaching fellow and Ph.D. student in the same department. Students learned basic skills using App Inventor on the Android platform. They were then given free time throughout the week to build their own apps. King and her fellow facilitators judged the apps for graphics, functionality and usefulness.

“It takes a lot of initiative for these kids to decide on and then implement ideas,” King says. “We ended up with some pretty amazing apps.”

David Keathly, a senior lecturer in the UNT department of computer science and engineering, started the RoboCamp program with associate professor Robert Akl nearly 10 years ago. Together they develop new and innovative camps each year that are both challenging for students who already have engineering and technology skills and instructional for those who don’t.

Keathly says the RoboCamps bring engineering and technology to the next generation in a way that makes a lasting impact.

“We’re exposing students to science and math at a hands-on level,” he says. “When students are in high school, they don’t see how math matters. Here they see how these topics matter and how they can be applied in a fun way.”


Above, UNT computer science and engineering doctoral student Joan King gives students at the Cisco-hosted AppCamp some pointers.