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Juliet Sime rejected computer programming for years.

She put off the course, required for her math degree, until her junior year at Westminster College. It seemed as unsexy as a spreadsheet lesson.

But after day one, when it was already too late to change majors, she was smitten with coding.

"I loved it," the Park City native said from campus where she is helping run a math and science camp for eighth-grade girls. "I really wish someone would've sent me to camp like this or sat me down and said, 'Hey, maybe you should try this.' "

Sime can't afford to go to graduate school right now for a full degree but still hopes to land a job in the field. In the end, computer science may be the one that got away.

In an effort to inject coding earlier in kids' lives, organizers of tech-minded camps like Sime's are going even further: enticing girls by excluding the boys.

A University of Utah girls-only engineering camp starts this week. Another is underway at Dixie State University in St. George. Still more are offered by nonprofits and private businesses.

Proponents say the need for them is glaring. Nationally, as the number of women in science and math careers has risen, the proportion in computer science has dropped.

"It's one of the few areas where the trend is going the wrong way," said Helen Hu, Westminster professor of computer programming.

The dearth is also apparent at more basic levels: in college classrooms and in summer programs for tech-minded youngsters.

"When they're open to all students," Hu said, "the girls are not showing up."

The University of Utah is no exception to a trend that confounds feminists and scientists alike. Out of about 651 kids enrolled in the university's GREAT coding camp this summer, about 146 — about 22 percent — are girls.

"We're at the sad state where every one we can manage is still a victory," said director Dave Johnson.

He pleaded in emails for parents, friends and neighbors to enroll their girls, but only a few signed up.

The problem may start at home. Some parents send their sons to camp to build Lego robots and digital pingpong games, but say they didn't think to enroll their daughters, Johnson said. Boys tend to dominate group projects and larger discussions. Young women balk at programs where they know they'll be outnumbered.

In middle school, it's pretty simple why many girls stray from science, said Tarra Maddox, an eighth-grader at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education.

"Most girls don't decide to do it because they think they'll get made fun of," said Maddox, who still is dedicated to becoming a physicist.

Emma Ashton, an eighth-grader from Kaysville, noted she often sees test tubes and beakers in lab kits for boys. Versions for girls, she said, focus on lip gloss.

"It all starts from a young age," Ashton said.

Still, the glitzy approach is worthwhile if it attracts more girls to science, said Sidharth Oberoi, chief academic officer of Zaniac, which operates camps and after-school tech programs in Salt Lake City.

To that end, Oberoi's nonprofit is planning a tech-heavy fashion-design course. Leaving boys out of the equation gives the girls a chance to build a network, he added, and learn in smaller groups from female role models.

"We believe that it creates a positive work environment," Oberoi said, "and that they are less distracted."

Critics say the short-term benefits of segregating kids according to gender might not be worth it.

"I'm reluctant to suck all the girls out of my camps," said Johnson, the U. computer science professor who runs the GREAT programs. "The boys would be all distorted too — they wouldn't have any sense that girls are part of this field."

Lynn Langit, a former Microsoft employee who now runs the California-based nonprofit Teaching Kids Programming, agreed.

More diverse working groups, even among children, Langit said, mean "we're going to have solutions to things that are more useful than Snapchat."

The long-term fix, she says, is to create computer programming classes in schools ­ — a push that is sputtering in Utah and around the country for several reasons. Computer science graduates dismiss teaching jobs because they can make two to three times as much as a programmer. Schools, for their part, hesitate to offer first-time programming classes, unsure students will bite.

An introductory computer science course Hu brought to Utah will be in 100 Utah schools this fall, but it's only a first step. In the meantime, Hu believes, she and her counterparts must appeal to young women as a "stopgap measure."

In co-ed camps, the gender lopsidedness is "kind of hard for the girls," said Jizelle Jurquina, a GREAT camp counselor for fourth through sixth grades. "They feel a little bit awkward."

In her own introductory computer science courses at the U., the junior estimates she was one of about five women, compared to 70 men.

"I did feel like I stuck out," said Jurquina, who likes to develop witty word games but has not landed on any one future career. Still, she said, "there's something kind of empowering about it, I guess. Not many girls choose this major. It's nice that I'm one."

Nationally, researchers are studying whether women pursue math and science careers for different reasons than their male counterparts.

High school boys often clinch higher math scores, spurring them to study related areas, according to a study from the University of Pittsburgh released in February.

"That wasn't the whole picture, though," said Jessica Degol, a co-author of the study that considered tracking students from middle school to their mid-30s.

Female students were more likely to prioritize "altruistic" lines of work, believing science and math don't align with those goals. The insight could help elementary schools, universities and extracurricular programs better teach science and math as a way to create change, Degol said.

A few girls in the Westminster program said their reasons for coding were less complicated.

Salt Lake City eighth-grader Saydi Vandyke wants to put her programming experience to work when she's a coroner. She likes coding, she said, because it's fun.

"I'm interested in exploring," Vandyke said," and seeing what I'm capable of doing."

Twitter: @anniebknox