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Collegiate partnerships inspire cyber careers

August 16, 2018

After five years of hosting dynamic cyber camps for students of all ages, it would be easy to sit back and enjoy the accolades.

That’s not what the faculty at Dakota State University chose to do.

“Now we take the ‘show on the road,’” said Dr. Mike Ham, assistant professor in the Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences. Faculty from DSU have partnered with colleagues in North Dakota, Florida, and Hawaii to host cyber camps this summer.

“DSU’s name is very well recognized as a cyber leader,” said Ham, “but it’s important not to hold on to our own accomplishments. Our main point is to get cyber knowledge into the hands of students to build a workforce.”

That’s the whole concept behind the camps, called GenCyber programs, said Dr. Kyle Cronin, assistant professor in the Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences. “The goal is to get another group of young students interested in cyber, to let them test the waters to see if it’s a good career fit.”

Rob Honomichl, instructor in the Beacom College, said “We can show them that instead of just being a fun hobby, there are interesting careers they may not know exist. This can change their perception of security fields.” 

For the North Dakota camp, DSU partnered with North Dakota State University to host that state’s first ever GenCyber camp. Grants from the National Security Agency and National Science Foundation provide the week-long camps, free of charge to the students.

“The Fargo GenCyber camp provided an exceptional opportunity for North Dakota high school students to learn about computing and cybersecurity,” said Dr. Jeremy Straub, associate director of the NDSU Institute for Cyber Security Education and Research. “We at the North Dakota State University are extremely pleased to have partnered with faculty and students from Dakota State University to offer this program this summer.” Other NDSU faculty participating were Simone Ludwig and Pratap Kotala. Faculty from DSU who assisted with the camp included Cronin, Ham, alumni Tyler Flaagan and Shawn Zwach, and two students, Evan Bolt and Zach Hoiberg.

There were 53 high school students at NDSU’s camp, which featured core courses in the morning, and security, networking, programming, and electives in the afternoon. Students returned home in the evenings. They received positive feedback and will likely try a second camp next summer, Ham added.

Two weeks after the NDSU camp, Cronin, Honomichl, Zwack and Flaagan flew to Hawaii to sponsor a camp at Leilehua High School Complex on the island of O’ahu. They hosted about 30 students and 10 teachers.

Hosting student camps in Hawaii make sense, said Cronin, as the state is home to the second largest NSA headquarters. Hawaii’s camp was also non-residential, for high school students.

“We were able to work with a great group of new students and break down the boundaries that exist within the cybersecurity realm,” Cronin said. “The location wasn’t bad, either.”

At the end of July, 14 girls from South Dakota traveled to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. The young women had the opportunity to explore digital forensics, programming, cryptography and many other technology concepts at the two-day Rocket Girls CyberSpace camp. Drs. Ashley Podhradsky and Pam Rowland helped organize the camp as an outreach through the DSU program CybHER.

“Taking the CybHER at DSU on the road to the Kennedy Space Center helped South Dakota girls learn about cyber space at a world-renowned location,” said Podhradsky. “Introducing the girls to the chief information security officer of the Kennedy Space Center helped them understand what professionals do in our field.”

In 2017, Podhradsky served as a mentor to faculty at the South Dakota School of Mines to start a girls’ high school camp, which held their second camp this June in Rapid City.