Camp Partnerships — Byte by Byte

Camp Snapshot

Boundary Waters Computer Camp

Ely, Minn.

Cost per session: $575

Ages: 10-16

Doom is the name of the game a lot of the kids who go to Boundary Waters Computer Camp in Ely, Minn., like to play. But partnership is really the name of the game that underlies the success of this small computer camp.

The partnership comes in many forms, from the symbiotic relationship the camp has with Vermilion College, where it holds its sessions, to the partnership between the camp and its kids and parents.

The camp began seven years ago with a partnership between two colleagues at Vermilion Community College in Ely, Paul Kess and Gary Knopp. Knopp has recently taken on a position with a tech company in Seattle, but his technical knowledge has laid an important foundation for the camp, and he still consults with Kess.

Fun & Games

Ely and the camp that resides in it is in a difficult logistical position for attracting campers to its locale. It sits on the edge of Minnesota’s wilderness, the Boundary Waters, and the closest airport is in Minneapolis, some four and a half hours away.

However, that’s one of its charms. Access to Boundary Waters and the camp’s canoe trips is just the thing a lot of parents of computer-focused kids want.

The trip is held on the weekend between the two one-week sessions, and Kess says that about 30 kids on average will go on the trip.

“We also take them on organized trips during the camp sessions, but you have to pry them away from the machines,” says Kess. “We’ll cut the classes short in the afternoon sometimes and take them somewhere. We won’t take all 60, but we’ll take 20 or 30 out to the lake, the International Wolf Center, hiking, and that kind of stuff.”

But these are computer kids, and a fairly high-octane computer learning session is what they get. Of course breaks are often composed of interactive and networked computer games, where fingers fly across the keyboard and hands quickly move to the mouse to avoid a temporary virtual nemesis.

“We’ll run six or eight specialty kinds of groups, like beginning to advanced website development, which will go all the way to animation, sound and video streaming,” says Kess. “Last year we had a professional come in who does interactive, virtual-reality websites for hotels where you’re able to move around in the site and click on nodes. We try to bring in some special topics.”

The camp also offers Photoshop, multi-media, animation and programming on the software side. Those who tend more toward wires and gadgets are given the opportunity to tear down and rebuild computer hardware.

“There are usually three or four students building their own machines,” says Kess. “The hardware working group is probably a dozen kids, and is generally limited to older kids. The first week we tear them apart and try to understand them, and during the second week we push it a little further and move on to actually building the computers. If you’re going to do hardware you have to stay both weeks.”

The classes tend to be more project-oriented, rather than a straight classroom-lecture learning environment; they learn by doing. They also experiment and beta test, to some degree, Vermilion College’s systems and computers, which works well for both the camp and the college.

Back To Business

“We’ve learned to count on the institutional resources of Vermilion College. It’s a small camp with support with from the college,” says Kess. “They were willing to help us out and they wanted the camp to succeed as well. Having an institutional sponsor was very important. It means we get access to dorms and the computer system.”

Kess says that the college is a good resource for staff, who are often looking for a break in the routine. For example, the college’s systems administrator teaches hardware.

In return, Kess says the camp tries to make it as beneficial as possible for the college. It’s an integral cog in the working partnership the two share.

“They could see the advantage of having national exposure for their college,” says Kess. “When the computer camp gets press we always recognize that it’s an association with Vermilion College, so that’s a benefit to them. For example, we’re also filling up empty college dorm space and we’re hiring people to feed us meals.”

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