This is so cool. Randy Pausch, Professor of Carnegie Mellon University started The Alice Project at Carnegie Mellon University to help teen girls learn to program. All in a 3D programming environment so teens can learn how to create animation to tell a story or play an interactive game while learning introductory computing.
You can download versions for middle school and high school/college levels here. Upcoming characters will be from The Sims 2.
Edited to add: If you want to get the inspiration of a lifetime, check out Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture. It’s 76 minutes and worth every minute. His book, based on his lecture, was released yesterday, The Last Lecture: A Love Story for Your Life.
Edited to add: Thank you, NPR News: The Bryant Park Project for linking to this post, here and here. I am honored.