Dakota State University students walking around campus

Preparation + opportunity = success

That's the DSU equation. We're a four-year university with nationally recognized programs, cutting-edge facilities, and the brightest thinkers. But we're also a tight-knit, inclusive community. Small class sizes mean hands-on training and individualized attention. All this with an affordable, public school price that's among the best values in the region.

Majors & Degrees

DSU students named National Cyber Scholars

June 28, 2023

Dakota State students go above and beyond to study cyber.

In addition to taking their cutting-edge academic courses, many take advantage of DSU’s encouraging environment to build on that foundation and participate in additional learning and scholarship opportunities.

While still in high school in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Gwendolyn Vongkasemsiri participated in the online CyberStart summer challenge program. It was open to high school Civil Air Patrol and Junior ROTC cadets.

“I got completely addicted and spent all my time on CyberStart for three months,” she said. She placed second out of all participating cadets nationwide, earned the title of National Cyber Scholar and a $2,000 scholarship.

The Cyber Foundations Academy came into being the next year after that, offering CyberStart America for high school students and Cyber FastTrack for college students.

Vongkasemsiri came to DSU in fall 2022 as a Cyber Operations and Network Security & Administration double major.

“I brought the program to DSU’s Capture the Flag Club because I love the CyberStart Game platform,” she said. “I think it is an amazing way to jump start learning in a gamified and fun way while earning extremely valuable scholarships.”

Several club members embraced the opportunity, and put in the extra time to earn recognition as National Cyber Scholars. Vongkasemsiri was named a Scholar with Honors, and Brandon Baker (a doctoral student in Cyber Defense from Milaca, Minn.), Jonny Derenge (a Cyber Operations major from Sioux Falls, S.D.), Jackson Heiberger, and Derek Manzella (a Cyber Operations major from Eagan, Minn.), were identified as cyber scholars.

Heiberger said, “the hands-on format was really engaging, even for topics I had already learned.” A Cyber Operations and Network Security and Administration double major from Beresford, S.D., he said it was also an excellent practical exercise.

“They don’t provide a briefing that tells you the exact skill you’ll use in the challenge, so you have to use what you learned from the environment to research the technique,” he said. “Because you aren’t told exactly what’s wrong or vulnerable in a specific scenario, it’s really applicable to the real world.”

He stated that those who complete the program receive a badge and certification, “which look great on a résumé,” but there are additional courses available which provide additional endorsements.

SANS Institute courses are offered to National Cyber Scholars as part of the Cyber Foundations Academy. These are highly valuable and make a great addition to a DSU cyber degree, Vongkasemsiri said. Upon completing the course, students can take a corresponding exam to earn the official Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC). She stated that both are well-known to employers, and the opportunity to get access to SANS courses for free is of great value as the courses and exams normally cost thousands of dollars.

“Adding GIAC certifications to a degree from a university so well-known for cybersecurity as DSU gives students quite the competitive edge in their job search,” she said.

“CyberStart and Cyber FastTrack programs are amazing opportunities to get a kickstart in your cyber coursework,” Heiberger said. His DSU coursework definitely prepared him for this program, yet he found it “reaffirming to see that the skills I’ve learned are skills other programs have identified as integral to the field.”

Vongkasemsiri also appreciates the foundation her DSU education provides.

“I am so grateful for the friendly environment DSU provides to students that enables us to grow, expand interests, and explore and research concepts we find intriguing. It is highly instrumental in why DSU students have continued success in cybersecurity competitions like Cyber Fast Track.”

Contact Us

Jane Utecht
Strategic Communications Coordinator
(605) 270-3816

Email Us