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CyberCamp reaches out to girls

Profile image for By Jenna Duncan
By Jenna Duncan

High schoolers study online security during pilot program at TWU

A new camp is on the Texas Woman’s University campus this week, teaching local high school students about cybersecurity and how to protect a system online.

The Air Force Association is conducting its first AFA CyberCamp this week at TWU, and partnering with the school for the pilot program has attracted more females than ever before, said Brig. Gen. Bernie Skoch of the AFA.

This is the pilot program of CyberCamp, Skoch said. TWU professor Jian Zhang met Skoch at a workshop last year, and they decided to team up for AFA’s first summer camp. Zhang wanted to learn more about cybersecurity to bring back to her classroom, and Skoch wanted a smaller college campus that could hopefully promote female participation.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for us to get more students interested in this topic,” Zhang said. “He thought it was the perfect campus to hold a camp like this.”

The camp will be through the end of the week, with participants learning different aspects of cybersecurity. On Monday, students learned about the ethics of cybersecurity, and throughout the week they will work in computer simulations of networks with security breaches and weaknesses that they must detect and correct.

This is the first camp by AFA, though school representatives and Skoch say they hope there will be more next summer at TWU and other college campuses.

The organization conducts a national competition for cybersecurity defense, and roughly 17 percent of participants are female. For this camp, nearly half of the attendees are girls.

The national competition is what the group is known for, since thousands of high school students participate each year to work to defensively block hacking and other security violations to online networks. However, North Texas is underrepresented in the competitions, Skoch said.

“We would love to see more North Texas schools participate,” he said. “We’re very optimistic about Denton, and we’re even more optimistic about the entire state of Texas.”

With the camp, Don Edwards, chairman of TWU’s Mathematics and Computer Sciences Department, hopes to work with area high schools to encourage more participation in the competition.

“It’s pretty much a male-dominated competition up to this point, so our hope is to inspire some of the young ladies who are attending the camp,” he said. “The intent is to promote awareness of STEM careers and attract some people who might not otherwise get into it.”

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.