Des Moines nonprofit begins journey with students at tech camp

From tiny colorful frogs printed by a 3D printer and a collection of 30-second videos to creating their own computer games with Scratch, students at Tech Journey's inaugural Tech Camp had a jam-packed three days. Hosted by the Des Moines-based non-profit, the free camp offered a range of different technology-focused activities for area middle schoolers

On Thursday, 22 eighth graders shared what they built during the three-day inaugural Tech Camp.

From tiny, colorful frogs printed by a 3D printer and a collection of 30-second videos to creating their own computer games with Scratch, students at Tech Journey‘s inaugural Tech Camp had a jam-packed three days. 

Hosted by the Des Moines-based nonprofit, the free camp offered a range of different technology-focused activities for area middle schoolers who otherwise may not have had the opportunity. On Thursday afternoon the group shared what they accomplished at a “student show and tell” for parents, friends and members of the community.

“The idea is we’re not just doing one camp and walking away,” Tech Journey co-founder Tony Kioko (left) told Silicon Prairie News. “We’re figuring out how to engage these kids and making this process a continuing journey.”

But what these 12- and 13-year-olds lacked in experience, they made up for in ambition. Dave Kessler, the nonprofit’s other co-founder, shared a moment from the camp that particularly impressed him: during lunch on the second day of the camp one of the Tech Camp staffers jokingly told students they could keep working if they wanted. So they did––every single one of the campers brought their food, left the social setting of the lunch room and headed back to their computers to continue building. 

Tech Camp participant Ashley Therkelsen, who attends Weeks Middle School in Des Moines, had never designed a computer game before. Now her mom says that she’s working on other games at home for her younger brother and sister.  

“Going deep into hands-on technology awareness with underprivileged, talented and gifted middle school students creates awareness not just with the lucky students who get to attend the camp, but it spreads it to their friends and family,” said Principal Financial Group senior vice president Gary Scholten (right).

Scholten, who has been an informal adviser for the group, also noted that Tech Journey plans to continue its relationship with these students through high school.

Held at Des Moines’ Central Campus from July 16 through July 18, the organization’s first event was born out of a desire to get kids more engaged with technology and see it as a viable career option. And sure enough, on Thursday when Scholten asked the group of students who, after attending the camp, would be considering a career in technology, 22 hands popped into the air. 

“We continue this journey,” Kioko told students Thursday. “We’ll continue to be passionate about investing in these young people.”

And thanks to the generosity of Principal Financial Group, that journey will be a little bit easier. Kioko announced Thursday that thanks to a donation from Principal, all of the campers will get to keep the laptops they used this week to continue building and learning throughout high school. 

“In spite of impossible odds for some of them and their families, they’ve been here every day earning their A’s,” said Debra Mishak, supervisor of Des Moines Public Schools’ gifted and talented program. 


Students who attended Tech Camp 2013 will continue their relationship with Tech Journey into high school. 

Kioko first had the idea for a summer technology camp after he and his wife struggled to find engaging day-time activities for their children. After attending last year’s Thinc Iowa, Kioko, who works full-time as a senior IT application analyst at Principal, says he was inspired to discover how to harness an entrepreneurial spirit while working for a large company.

“In the process I got inspired by all of the speakers and I started thinking, ‘I can do this too,'” he said. 

Shortly after he was introduced to Kessler over lunch, the concept of Tech Journey was born. Now with a full board of directors and a dedicated team of volunteers, the nonprofit has established a strong partnership with Des Moines Public Schools and Central Campus in particular.

“Most people associate entrepreneurs only with startup companies, but the Principal employees involved in Tech Journey are good examples of entrepreneurs within our corporate environment,” Scholten said. 

With the first Tech Camp behind them, organizers are already looking toward Tech Camp 2014, which will be formerly announced on October 31. 

For more coverage and a look inside Tech Camp 2013, take a look at #TechCamp2013 on Twitter. 


Credits: Event photo by Megan Bannister. Tony Kioko photo from LinkedIn. Gary Scholten photo courtesy of Principal Financial Group. Group photo from


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