NEWARK , August 19, 1999 - The six visitors looked and acted like any other group of teenage boys on a tour, full of wonder, energy and enthusiasm for all they saw and heard. They admired the skyline of New York and the many other sites in and around New Jersey Institute of Technology's (NJIT) campus.
But when they entered NJIT's Center for Multimedia Research with its row upon row of advanced computers, their faces lit up in smiles. They listened intently as Center Project Manager Samuel Shiffman and other speakers discussed such topics as the aesthetics and marketing of web design, and the latest in new programming languages.
Then at the invitation of Shiffman, they headed straight for the Center's rows of advanced computers, sat down and began doing what they know how to do better than most teenagers or adults - use a computer.
The six teenagers from across the nation ranging in age from 15 to 18--Lei Gong, Jordan Boyd-Graber, Timothy Roff, Chris Tessone, Raphael Aizan Sasayama, and Ramy El-Menshawy--earned a trip to NJIT and the metropolitan area as the winners of a national web design contest sponsored by the National Consortium of Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science and Technology.
The Consortium, consisting of 61 secondary schools from around the nation, sponsored the program to encourage imaginative computer uses among their already computer-wise student bodies. Notes Consortium Board of Director member Michael T. Roche, "All of these kids are bright, or they wouldn't be in the schools they attend. With events like this web page contest, we hope to motivate them to use their talents to the fullest."
NJIT's Center for Multimedia Research has as its basic mission to bring the latest in high technology to the citizens of New Jersey, according to Project Manager Shiffman: "We've made an investment in state-of-the-art-equipment to invite both educators and for profit companies in the state to come in and learn what the future holds."
NJIT was a "natural" host for the event, said Roche. "We wanted to bring them to a university that is known for its computing-intensive education. NJIT was the obvious choice."
The teenagers have already demonstrated remarkable computer skills. Typical is Lei Gong, a lanky 18-year-old from Greenbelt, Md., who plans to major in Computer Programming at a university this fall.
Lei, who was a member of his high school swimming team, is currently writing a computer program for a NASA project that uses powerful sensors in an airplane flying at 27,000 ft. to analyze moisture in soil. Notes Lei, "It's great. I'm working with NASA, and getting paid for doing something I enjoy - programming."
Lei got interested in computers through his father, a computer programmer at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington D.C. "At first I just played games, but after a few years, I was doing some word processing in DOS and Windows."
Then a friend asked him to help design a web page: "Before I knew it, I was better at it than he was," says Lei. He eventually helped design a sophisticated web page that was garnering 1,000 hits a day.
Gong landed the NASA job through an internship at his school, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Greenbelt, which is "next door" to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
Of his two specialties -- computer programming and web page design -- "Programming is the future," he says.
Another computer whiz is 17-year-old Jordan Boyd-Graber of Monticello, Ark., a junior at the Arkansas School for Math and Science in Hot Springs. The soft-spoken teenager credits his baby sitter for teaching him Basic programming. "I was in the fifth grade and he was a graduate student," he recalls.
Jordan, who plays intramural soccer among other sports, is interested in developing programming that will allow individuals to use computers simply by talking to them, "…talking to computers in natural language just the way they do it in 'Star Trek'," he says.
That's why he plans to take an unusual double major in college: linguistics and computer programming. "I hope to one day develop linguistic algorithms for natural language," notes Jordan.
Then there's Timothy Roff, a wiry 15-year-old from Neptune City, N.J., who has already taught computer programming at Comp Ed Summer Camp in Newton, Mass. "I'm going to be a counselor in training next summer," he notes.
Roff , who is also on the basketball and swimming teams at High Technology High School, Lincroft, N.J., became interested in computers at age 5, when his parents bought an Apple computer and he began using it to play games. "It didn't even have a hard drive," he recalls. "Programs had to be loaded on."
Since then however, Timothy has moved on to developing his own games with an eye toward marketing them. "I'm working on one now, a 'first person' shooter game with what I think is a very well-developed script."
He's developing the game with about 20 other teenagers he met through the Internet and has never talked to in person " …with the exception of two. We all like games, and we all play them," he says. "If we like it, we figure others will."
Yahoo! Internet Life magazine recently ranked NJIT as America's "most wired" public university for the second consecutive year, and has ranked it one of the top six "most wired" campuses among both public and private universities for the three years the survey has been taken.
NJIT is one of only four universities (the others are MIT, Rensselaer and Indiana University) that have consistently ranked among the top 10 in the Yahoo! survey.
NJIT is a public research university enrolling nearly 8,200 bachelor's, master's and doctoral students in 76 degree programs through its five colleges: Newark College of Engineering, School of Architecture, College of Science and Liberal Arts, the School of Management and the Albert Dorman Honors College. Research initiatives include manufacturing, microelectronics, multimedia, transportation, computer science, solar astrophysics, environmental engineering and science, and architecture and building science.