A third-story computer lab in the University of Idaho's Janssen Engineering Building was strangely silent Wednesday morning, an unusual phenomenon any day, but particularly so as it was occupied by more than a dozen teenagers.

In hushed tones the students from various high schools in Washington and Idaho tossed out an occasional word or question, but remained focused on the computer code they generated and what it did to the animated circles bouncing on their screens.

The UI's first GenCyber Summer Camp may not have inspired shouts of excitement, but it delivered a different sort of fun and games.

This was not just any summer camp.

"The GenCyber program is a national program funded by the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation," said Daniel Conte De Leon, assistant professor of computer science at the UI. "The goal is to get kids interested in computing and STEM careers."

Conte De Leon said the U.S. government currently has 50,000-100,000 jobs open in computing and cybersecurity.

"Computing and cybersecurity are the areas they expect to grow the most," he said." We need to graduate more students and in order to do that we need to have more kids decide that they want to do this. The main purpose of the camp is to show that this is something that is interesting and is fun and you can do for a career and you will get a really good job."

Dave Howard, a 16-year-old Moscow High School student, said the free, week-long camp has so far exceeded his expectations.

"I'm actually really loving it," Howard said. "At first I was kind of a skeptic because I'm usually more hands on but I'm really glad I did this."

Howard's screen was alight with color-changing circles like those in the rest of the classroom, but his also included conjoined circles and clusters of circles.

"I don't know how I did that," he said. "We're having fun creating games and playing them and we have two excellent teachers."

Conte De Leon said there is more to the game than the creation of animated shapes through computer code.

"The balls move randomly and when they click on them they change color. We are going to expand that into a game where these objects that are moving on the screen become packets of messages and they have malicious messages and benign messages and they have to destroy the malicious messages," he said. "That's the cyber security theme."

Shubhra Tewari, 17, of Sammamish, Wash., said she discovered the camp through a friend and was interested enough to travel the nearly 300 miles to attend.

"I took AP computer science in school this year and I really enjoyed it and I just wanted to recap what I learned in school and further what I already knew," she said.

The Eastside Catholic School student said she was not disappointed.

"I think it's really cool," she said. "A lot of things are similar to what I learned in school but a lot of it is different and more creative ... and it's more oriented to games and making it more exciting and I enjoy that."

That is what Conte De Leon and his crew like to hear, as they will be applying for a grant to continue the camp next year.

Shanon Quinn can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to squinn@dnews.com.

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