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Tech Journey introduces its fifth class to computer programming at Tech Camp

Tech Journey Tech Camp

Attention to detail matters.

And the incoming Des Moines Roosevelt freshman Julianna Punelli realized how critical it was when she was computer programming at Tech Camp this week.

She pressed the space bar one extra time when she should have hit the tab bar.

“When we were doing HTML there was one little mistake, it looked fine, nobody could figure it out,” Punelli, 14, explains. “It looked just like a tab, you had no idea and it took forever to figure out. It’s that specific.”

Punelli was one of nearly 90 kids participating in the fifth annual Tech Camp hosted by the Des Moines-based nonprofit Tech Journey that started in 2013. The camp started Tuesday and finishes today at the Central Campus of the Des Moines School District.

Tech Journey works to expose underserved students in Des Moines to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers and skills.

On Thursday, Punelli—an incoming freshman at Des Moines Roosevelt High School—and the rest of the campers in their second year worked with robotics after spending Tuesday and Wednesday coding. The day starts around

“It’s like a whole different language,” Punelli says.

Robert Nishimwe and Nadine Veasley went to the first Tech Camp five summers ago and now will be seniors at Des Moines North and Des Moines Roosevelt, respectively.

They kept coming back because they kept learning something new.

“I liked seeing what they had planned for us and what they want to experiment on us with,” Veasley, 17, says. “The first year we did Scratch and made this little cat talk. And that was cool but I wanted to see what else I could do.”

Tech Journey Tech Camp
Second year campers at Tech Camp work with robotics Thursday. Camp is hosted in classrooms at the Des Moines School District Central Campus.

Veasley said they’ve made a robotic arm and games in 3-D.

Nishimwe says him and Nadine aren’t the most adept at computer coding but being comfortable doing it is going to help in the future.

“Just knowing the basics,” Nishimwe, 17, says. “You learn something new every single day.”

Kim Spasaro works for a small company that analyzes data analytics and volunteered to teach two days at Tech Camp. She was teaching first-year campers and used an online program called Code Academy that allows each student to work at their own pace.

Later in the day on Thursday the kids were going to learn to create a webpage.

“In the tech industry, you don’t need higher education or lots of money, it’s a really good way for people to pull themselves up from their bootstraps,” Spasaro. “Learn this and break out of their social class.”

MORE Tech Journey Coverage

Tech Camp exposes computer programming to underserved Des Moines youth 

Tech Journey introduces its fifth class to computer programming at Tech Camp | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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