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Majors & Degrees

Passion draws repeat GenCyber students

July 12, 2017

When it comes to GenCyber camps, you can’t have too much of a good thing.

Case in point is Haley Erickson of Rapid City, who is attending her third Dakota State University GenCyber summer camp in three years. The week-long camps feature hands-on learning sessions to educate and excite students who may be considering a career in technology, particularly cyber security.

“I really like the multiple options of things to do [at the camps],” Haley said. Besides core sessions in networking, programming and security, campers explore 42 electives on topics ranging from advanced soldering to wireless hacking to password cracking. 

“Every time I come [to camp] I hope to build knowledge,” she said, refreshing the lessons learned in previous years and learning new skills. Programming is a favorite of Haley’s because “I see it as a different form of art,” she said. The Rapid City Stevens High School junior is a musician who plays piano, saxophone and cello. She enjoys the creativity available with different programming languages, but “Python is my favorite.”

Haley plans to continue building her knowledge at the South Dakota School of Mines’ first-ever GenCyber camp later in July. Her mother, Julie Erickson, said GenCyber camps provide a supportive environment whether students are attending their first camp, or are repeat campers like Haley.

The state of South Dakota doesn’t have computer science standards so not all schools offer the same opportunities, she said. Whether a school has a strong computer science program, or is a small school with only basic technology classes, “I think it is huge to let kids get together with others who have the same interests.”

Julie knows the advantage of this camaraderie first-hand. She attended DSU’s teacher camp in June, and found that “the sharing of ideas and talking with other teachers and the networking was huge, almost more powerful than the classes,” she said.

As a learning specialist with Technology and Innovation in Education (TIE), Julie works with schools to implement technology learning programs for teachers. TIE, a teacher training service based in Rapid City, is a division of the cooperative public entity Black Hills Special Services Cooperative. “We have taught more than 500 elementary teachers, and we’re planning for more,” Julie said.

GenCyber funding agencies are planning more camps as well. The National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency funded eight prototype camps in 2014. This year, 131 camps are being offered in 39 states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. The agencies hope to fund 200 camps around the country by 2020. The goal of the camps is to develop a workforce to meet the nation’s need for cyber security professionals in government agencies, the military and private businesses. The supply of professionals is predicted to fall far short of demand, some estimates putting the deficit at 600,000.

Dakota State has hosted 1,600 teachers and students at GenCyber camps since the school was chosen as one of the eight prototype sites in 2014. DSU now hosts the nation’s largest residential camp for middle school girls, along with the teachers’ camp and two co-ed camps for high school students. Haley is among 205 students from 30 states attending DSU’s co-ed camp July 9-14: another 200 are slated to be on campus for the second co-ed camp beginning July 16. Students from across the nation attend the DSU camps because of its reputation, said Dr. Tom Halverson, associate professor in the College of Computing, namely its four designations as Centers of Academic Excellence. The camps are free to students.