Blake Sutton, a junior at Spring Valley High School, recently spoke to 100 BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina employees about his experience with IT-oLogy. Not only did Blake have the courage to get up in front of the auditorium filled with adults, he also spoke about a topic that is hard for a lot of people to relate to and understand. However, this room of employees was in awe of Blake’s abilities and experiences.
Blake heard about IT-oLogy through his mom, BlueCross BlueShield of SC employee Tracey Sutton, as well as one of his teachers at Spring Valley High School. He joined other high school students in February for IT-oLogy’s annual Opportunity Day, where he learned about different programs and careers in information technology. Blake became a part of the Palmetto Island group that launched their virtual world in March.
Blake has always been interested in IT. He began playing video games at a young age, and eventually wanted to learn not just how to play the game, but also how the game was created. He wanted to know what goes into programming a video game, and how he could get involved. This past semester, while participating in Palmetto Island, Blake also took the Foundation to Animation course at Spring Valley. There, he learned about the programming used to create video games.
In March, a group of 25 high school students met at IT-oLogy with Clemson Professor Larry Hodges and three graduate students. Dr. Hodges introduced the students to Palmetto Island, a virtual world where they would spend the next six weeks working with avatars. Palmetto Island (PI) is a project developed at Clemson University to create an interactive, online informal learning environment for middle and high school students.
PI is designed to help students learn computing skills such as programming, three-dimensional modeling, avatar design and animation—all in the context of a virtual world that also provides opportunities for mentoring by Clemson computer science majors and professors, and by professionals working in the Information Technology (IT) industry. PI activities are conducted in-world, which means that students connect to PI from their home computer and interact with others on the island via user-controlled virtual characters known as Avatars. The goal of PI is to introduce high school and middle school students in South Carolina to computing skills, opportunities, and IT career options in order to increase the pipeline of future computer science majors.
As a part of PI participation, students received a Lenovo Thinkpad so they would be able to participate in the weekly sessions by logging in from home.
“If I never got the Lenovo Thinkpad, I would never be able to do Imprudence [the program used]. It was a really great opportunity to get the Thinkpad,” said Blake.
“People like me that are interested in having a career in IT can learn a lot of things you need to know to get a job,” Blake continued when talking about why he thinks others should get involved with IT-oLogy.
Blake’s mom, Tracey, agrees. Tracey has seen Blake grow and “develop an element of maturity and focus on what he’s doing in the future.”
“This experience has helped him really obtain more of an interest in what he will be doing when applying to different schools. He has been given exposure to terminology and IT in general. Palmetto Island has engaged him and it’s very exciting to him,” she said. “He is learning without knowing he is learning.”