Becoming computer savvy Program teaching kids about computers seeks to expand

Published: Jun 21, 2006 1:00:00 AM
Media Contact: Amy Weaver,

Source: Opelika-Auburn News

Daniela Marghitu believes "it takes a village" to help children learn and succeed in life.

She started the Computer Literacy Academy for children of Auburn University employees last year to give area young people, ages 8-14, the opportunity to gain valuable computer knowledge and skills in a fun environment one month out of the summer.

Now Marghitu, the coordinator for computer science and software engineering at AU, wants the community's help to open the program to all area young people of that age. The class is currently housed in a computer lab in engineering shop building 1. If they had more students, Marghitu said they would need more space and more computers.

There is enough interest to expand within AU alone. Registration ended after just three days this year because she had 45 students sign up for 20 slots. Outside of the university, there is a need because not every student has access to a computer or access to computer instruction, she said.

Marghitu didn't have her first computer until she was 35, but made sure her own daughter started off much younger.

"If you teach them at an early age, the sky's the limit," she said.

With programs like Lego Mindstorms, Microsoft Office Front Page and Alice, 25 children are learning how to program robots, design Web pages and create 3-D animation.

The academy is run solely by volunteers, including 12 engineering graduate students and six undergrads who serve as instructors. The different programs allow all different ability levels to be met, Marghitu said. Some have special needs, while others are advanced.

"They have fun, but they don't realize they are doing hard work, that they are learning," she said. The Alice program, for instance, is used by first-year engineering students at AU.

Before Aaron Marsh, 10, joined the academy last year, he knew how to turn the computer on and play games. Now he's designing Web pages. He enjoyed it so much last year, he recruited three friends this year, including his 8-year-old sister Alyssa.

"I had so much fun, I thought they would have fun," he said. "I wanted to share the fun with them."

Nick Ruffin hasn't even had a chance to work with the other programs and yet the 7-year-old is pretty sure his future is in robotics. On Tuesday, he learned how to program one that would follow a flashlight and turn when it hit an object.

He said learning computers is important. It's helpful for science class in school and prepares you to "then take on more challenges in life," he added.

Bryson Stanley, 12, said his mother made him take the class, but he's not upset about it. His friends already think he's odd because of his fascination with computer programming, but now he can program a robot. None of his friends can do that. He thinks about being a mechanical engineer and computer programmer because it blends his two loves - cars and video games. Look for him to be a part of the AU class of 2016.

"It's not enough just to know how to read or write anymore," said Marghitu. "Any job, you are better off if you know computers."