AUGUSTA — Mesmerized high school students watched, some capturing the action with their cellphones, as a small blue drone glided through the hallway, occasionally flipping in the air.

The drone, also called an unmanned aerial vehicle, was no more than six inches across, but it captured the attention of students at the state’s annual technology night for high schoolers Thursday.

“Bring $25,” Micah Thomas, a sophomore at Hall-Dale High School, told his mother on the phone, futilely hoping to buy the drone. “You will not regret it. It’s an investment.”

Sparking students’ interests is the goal of the Maine Office of Information Technology’s annual Tech Night. Around 50 students attended this year’s event where they saw technology demonstrations by various state departments and representatives from colleges and other outside groups talking about opportunities in information technology fields. Following the technology fair, students worked in teams to build projects for a challenge.

Schools with students at the fair included Capital Area Technical Center, Hall-Dale High School, Maranacook High School, Monmouth Academy, Waterville High School and Winslow High School.

Jim Smith, chief information officer for the state, said he started a similar technology fair at Unum, an insurance company with an office in Portland, several years ago after hearing from a high school principal that students didn’t know much about the field of information technology. He said that even though there are a lot of interesting things going on in the industry in the state, students aren’t seeing it.

“We sort of give them a taste of it and an understanding that there are great careers, there are interesting careers, there are fun careers out there,” Smith said.

A goal of the event is to get more students interested in and thinking about careers in information technology while they’re still in high school, he said.

The Maine Office of Information Technology, a bureau of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, also has selfish reasons for getting more students interested in information technology fields. About 25 percent of the state’s IT workforce will be eligible to retire in the next couple of years, Smith said.

In an effort to train more young people for careers in IT, the Office of Information Technology started an intern program two years ago. So far, it has seen more than 22 students go through the program, and about 75 percent of them went on to full-time jobs with the state after the internship, said Kelly Samson-Rickert, director of workforce development. The rest of the students found jobs in IT elsewhere, she said.

In Maine, computer and mathematical jobs are an occupation group with one of the highest projected job growth rates. The number of jobs in computer and mathematical fields in the state is expected to grow nearly 9 percent between 2012 and 2022, the occupation group with the fourth highest projected growth rate, according to the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information.

The technology nights have been successful in spurring interest in careers in IT, said Samson-Rickert. From survey results of past participants, around 10 percent weren’t thinking of going to college before the event, but afterward, they said they were considering getting a career in information technology, she said.

“It’s just really exciting to hear they’re thinking beyond high school,” she said.

Chris Florek, a sophomore at Maranacook Community High School who attended the event, said he doesn’t know what he’ll do after high school, but he could see himself doing something related to technology as a career. He said he’s always been interested in technology, and it seems like it’s “taking over the world these days.”

“If I can get a step ahead at this point, that will help me further along in life,” he said.

Florek, 15, made the drone booth one of his first stops at the technology fair. He used a computer simulator program to fly a drone, but he was impressed with the flying skills of the drone’s owner, Christopher DeRaps, a computer programmer for the state.

“He makes it look so easy,” Florek said.

It was the second year DeRaps, who called drones a hobby, presented his collection at the technology fair.

“Kids really seem to gravitate toward them,” he said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig


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