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High schoolers gain cybersecurity skills in virtual USF CyberCamp

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Screenshot of USF CyberCamp participants on MS Teams

Welcoming more than 50 participants this year, the University of South Florida (USF) CyberCamp enables high schoolers to learn about cybersecurity principles and take on cyber challenges while engaging with industry leaders in the Tampa Bay community.

For one week each summer, high students participating in USF CyberCamp get a first-hand look at what it’s like to be a cybersecurity professional.

After completing cyber activities, chatting with industry experts and exploring career opportunities, participants quickly learn that the rapidly growing field is not for individuals who prefer to work independently, says Nathan Fisk, PhD, an assistant professor of Cybersecurity Education at USF and the camp’s director.

“Cybersecurity isn’t something anyone does alone,” Fisk said. “We show students that there’s a community out there and those real professionals draw upon that community to help each other find solutions to really difficult challenges.”

The camp, held virtually this year, was created in 2016 to welcome high school students from diverse backgrounds into the field to learn about basic cybersecurity principles. Throughout the camp, participants also have opportunities to connect with like-minded campers, learn alongside mentors and network with cybersecurity professionals from across the state of Florida.

“What we’re really trying to do is create a connection with high school students—we’re looking to foster that passion and interest in cybersecurity,” Fisk said. “Learning about cybersecurity is powerful, it’s exciting and it’s fun. Trying to find ways to bring students to that is what the camp is all about.”

This summer, campers connected with industry experts like Paul Vitchock, a supervisory special agent for the FBI in Tampa and Larry Whiteside Jr., the co-founder and president of the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals (ICMCP).

While learning together virtually, participants connected through Slack, an online messaging workspace commonly used in the tech industry. They used online collaboration tools to complete challenges highlighting a range of cybersecurity techniques from network forensics to online threat assessment.

For high school sophomore Laurel Charron, a first-time participant in the program, having spent a part of her summer learning at USF CyberCamp helped her to explore her interests in computers and coding.

“There have been so many exciting challenges, entertaining conversations, activities and presentations that have taught me a ton in a short amount of time,” Charron said. “I’ve always had an affinity for learning, and it’s even more addicting when the style of teaching involves complex problems and teachers who are ready and willing to help.”

Gabriel Edwards, a high school sophomore in Riverview, Florida, shared about the projects he most enjoyed completing during the camp.

“My all-time favorite projects so far are the OWASP Juice Shop, planning attacks like the SQL Injection and identifying fake targets by researching social media,” Edwards said. “I enjoyed the ‘getting my hands dirty’ aspect, really delving in and actually using tools.”

While USF CyberCamp is only a week-long program, the impact it has on the high school participants is ongoing.

Since the camp’s conclusion, participants have maintained communication with each other and have created cyber challenges on their own. For others, like Edwards, they have decided on a career path they want to pursue after earning their diploma and moving on to college.

“I’ve always taken a shine to computers, whether it’s my robots or my handful of Raspberry PI’s, and applying a practical purpose,” Edwards said. “I will most definitely pursue a career in cybersecurity. My goal is to make it into the FBI.”


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