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Richardson Gift Supports Young Women's Interest in CS

3/14/2017 2:02:37 PM Laura Schmitt

A pioneer and entrepreneur in the CAD/CAM industry, Fontaine Richardson (PhD ’68) has generously supported the department’s Gems Computer Science Camp for Girls  for the past three years. Thanks to his annual $10,000 gifts, Gems has nearly doubled the number of participants each year, providing 450 middle- and high-school girls with a fun, interactive introduction to computer science and engineering since 2014.
Fontaine Richardson
Fontaine Richardson

Richardson has committed $50,000 to support Gems Camp. When asked about what happens next, he says with a twinkle in his eye: “Let’s wait and see.”

The girls participating in the free, weeklong camps have learned to program in Java Script, designed their own computer games and animations, and made computer-driven fashion accessories, among other activities. Last summer, the camp launched a two-week session for high school girls, who then helped CS staff and undergraduate instructors teach the middle school girls during their four sessions.

“It’s not a big gift, but the idea is to put as much energy behind programs that are working and keep them growing and successful because they’ll attract other support among alumni—among people whose daughters or granddaughters go to these schools so they can enjoy it and be energized about doing something in the science and engineering field,” said Richardson, who hopes Gems can ultimately increase the number of women earning CS degrees, which would help address the dearth of women in the high-tech workforce. 

Girls at Gems Camp, summer 2016 (Photo by Priten Vora)
Girls at Gems Camp, summer 2016 (Photo by Priten Vora)
An entrepreneur, Richardson co-founded Applicon in 1969. The firm was one of the earliest makers of electronic and mechanical CAD tools, which companies like General Motors, GE, Intel and Boeing used to redefine how millions of products were conceptualized, designed, and produced.  

“Gems is a wonderful outreach effort here in our community,” said Heather Zike, who manages the camp and oversees the U of I student instructors. “I recently had one of the high schoolers tell me she can't wait to be back and that Gems is what she looks forward to most this coming summer."

Note: an earlier story about Fontaine Richardson's support of Gems was published in Click! Magazine, 2015, volume I.