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Program Design, Development, and Quality

In Spring Time, Kids’ Thoughts Turn to … Cybersecurity Summer Camp?


 It’s not quite as big as Opening Day for Major League Baseball, but early spring is the time for one of the biggest events in cybersecurity summer camp season: The opening of registration for GenCyber camps, free education and awareness camps in cybersecurity for K-12 students and teachers.

 The National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency jointly run the GenCyber program, which features summer camps held at university campuses across the country. 2019 will be the sixth year of the program, a period that has seen growth from eight sites to over 150. The announcement came last year on April 28, and the release of funding for 2019 camps is due imminently.

Cybersecurity summer camps have proliferated beyond just GenCyber in the last few years, and we are surely still at the beginning of the growth curve. Even now, the roster of camps runs the gamut of learning goals, experience levels, cost, and timing.

As with any summer camp decision, the path to the right camp starts with a child’s genuine interest in the topic, takes in questions of proximity and cost, and ends, with any luck, in a program that has space at the right time. In a field like cybersecurity, where the pathways into a career are so varied, summer camp can serve the needs and interests of college-bound and work-bound high school students alike.

An essay recounting reflections and accomplishments related to cybersecurity can nicely fill out a STEM-oriented college application packet. Success in a cybersecurity camp can also launch a more vocationally focused student on a journey towards certification or an associate’s degree in the field and almost-sure, gainful employment.

Camps exist to serve all these interests, and they have become widespread enough that most people are likely to live close enough to universities or training academies to find an option that suits. A bonus feature of cybersecurity camps can often be the low cost; acute workforce needs in the field mean government and industry funding is often available to make camps nearly or actually free, especially for students with some demonstrated experience or aptitude.

Comprehensive camp programs

As noted, GenCyber is the granddaddy of cybersecurity camps. The program offers comprehensive, learner-appropriate training in cybersecurity to all K-12 levels as well as teachers. Offered at college campuses, it aims to increase the numbers of students considering cybersecurity studies, to teach campers about online safety, and to improve teaching methods for delivering cybersecurity content. Oh, and it’s free, thanks to the government funding noted above.

Other examples of comprehensive camps operate at places as varied as Northern Virginia Community College, the Hawaii Office of Homeland Security, and Capitol Technology University.

Gender divide a focus

Many GenCyber camps focus also on redressing the gender imbalance in cybersecurity. The data on women in the field varies a lot, according to how surveys count jobs “in” the field and when responses were collected. The worldwide range is 11 to 20 percent. One trend seems to be a general increase, welcome not least because diversity is a strategic asset in developing cybersecurity solutions. Attacks come, by definition, from people who see the world differently from those of us who do not engage in cybercrime. Stacking the ranks of cybersecurity professionals with as many different perspectives as possible is a hedge against attacks we did not see coming our way.

Besides the GenCyber options, many other girls-only camps are in operation. Examples include:

Takes all kinds.

Cybersecurity camps come in many other flavors, as well.

This collection of cybersecurity camps illustrates, rather than exhausts, the opportunities available to interested students. From beginners, to the minimally aware, to the already-hacking, the universe of cybersecurity camps has something for all students. And increasingly, that something is likely to be nearby and affordable. Google will lead you quickly to opportunities in your area.

For breakfast, I had eggs, bacon, and hot tea. 

Photos: GenCyber, courtesy of GenCyber. BYU summer camp attendees, courtesy of Cybersecurity at BYU.

Author: @ericiversen

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