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:
- The Maryland Cybersecurity Center partners with various groups, including the National Cryptologic Museum, to offer multiple programs for middle and high school girls.
- The Tandon School of Engineering at New York University has a long-running, girls-only camp called CS4CS. It started out as a GenCyber camp but has transitioned to an independently funded operation. Three weeks long and free, the camp presumes girls have no prior experience in the field, just interest and an ability to make it to campus.
- The Cybersecurity Research Lab at Brigham Young University runs a week-long program for high school girls, also free thanks to funding from Microsoft and Facebook.
Takes all kinds.
Cybersecurity camps come in many other flavors, as well.
- Stressing fundamental concepts and an introduction to cybersecurity principles, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Syracuse University make general appeals to potential campers.
- ·Workforce training is paramount at the US Cyber Challenge, Ferris State’s Business School-based camp, and NW Cyber Camp, which runs at four sites in Oregon. US Cyber Challenge even requires candidates to score well on an online test before applying for admittance. Also notable for a workforce focus is the NSF-funded Cyber Security Education Coalition, an eight-state effort with multiple academic, government, and industry stakeholders. Rose State College in Oklahoma, for example, is a coalition member, offering a camp for high school teachers and students.
- Some programs more directly point students to college studies in cybersecurity, like the National Student Leadership Conference partnership with American University and the one at Champlain College.
- A vocational focus characterizes the programs at Penn State, Berks, and Georgia Southern Center for Applied Cyber Education. Students already familiar with networking, operating systems, and coding will do best at camps like these.
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.