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HAMMOND | About 30 middle school students from Hammond, East Chicago and Calumet Township had an opportunity to be exposed to the STEM-related disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math while simultaneously getting a taste of college life at Purdue University Calumet.

Purdue Calumet is hosting Project Excel, a two-week academic enrichment program that runs through Friday. The program features project-based learning activities, classroom experiences, speakers, field trips and campus life.

On Monday, educators from Shodor, a national resource for computational science education located in Durham, N.C., were on campus to work with students on computer programming activities. The students had an opportunity to design and develop their own scalable computer game.

David Webb, an associate professor of math education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was one of the Shodor representatives, who told students the project would get them "excited about computers" like never before.

In the next few years, Shodor representatives said, there will be 1.4 million computer jobs and only about 400,000 people to fill them. They said computers are everywhere no matter where one works and lives. In addition, working with computers builds critical thinking and increases problem-solving skills.

Shodor staff Alexandra Solender and Rachel Leeman-Munk created a fairy tale story, teaching students how math and logic are behind computer programming.

"You can use those basic ideas to create science and simulation," Solender said.

Throughout the two-week program, middle school students also learn about mechanical engineering, basic electricity, mechanics, digital electronics and computer design.

Diana Underwood, head of Purdue Calumet's Center for Mathematics Teaching and Learning, said the program's goal is to bring scalable gaming design to Northwest Indiana.

"Purdue Calumet will be a regional training site for scalable computing games. Kids as young as fourth grade can learn this. We want to get local teachers interested," she said.

Paul Vela, who will be a Lake Ridge eighth-grader this fall, said he had never done any programming before but he found it interesting.

"It doesn't seem hard," the 13-year-old said. "I want to be an entrepreneur when I grow up. I want to be my own boss."

Darea Warner, 12, who will be a seventh-grader at East Chicago Urban Enterprise Academy, thought the program was educational.

"This is interesting, but I'm planning to major in criminal justice and law enforcement," she said.

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.