COOKEVILLE – When Vanessa Farris was a student at Tennessee Tech in the mid 80s, there weren’t many computers on campus much less a knowledge of cybersecurity.
Thirty years later, the 1988 Tech graduate was learning all about cybersecurity during the recent Gen-Cyber Combination Camp. Farris, who is the Gear Up coordinator for Overton County Schools, is one of several teachers, counselors, middle and high school students being educated and trained on cybersecurity.
“It’s a fast-growing field and an up-and-coming field. I didn’t know a lot about it so I wanted to learn more to be able to share with the students,” said Farris. “Things have changed a lot in my lifetime. It’s a very different world and we have to prepare our kids for that.”
The Gen-Cyber Combination Camp incorporates basic cybersecurity concepts through hands-on exercises and games involving technology like the Rasberry Pi as well as opportunities for collaboration and group work.
“It’s always a fun week,” said Eric Brown, assistant director of Tech’s Cybersecurity Education, Research and Outreach Center. “It’s an opportunity to introduce cyber to these students and show them all the things cyber can be. It’s education and law enforcement and communications. There are a lot of moving pieces and we want to show these students as many facets there are to cybersecurity.”
Students are learning the importance of cybersecurity with a rigorious schedule of activities, lectures and presentations from 7:45 a.m. until 5 p.m. each day. The goals of the camp are to increase cybersecurity awareness and interest while helping all students understand correct and safe online behavior.
“I actually started doing programming my freshman year of high school and I became interested in cybersecurity,” said Ryan Kaviani, a rising senior at Langley High School in Langley, Virginia. “I think that this camp has really opened my eyes. I thought cybersecurity was just putting up a firewall, but I know there is a lot more to it now.”
Many of the 38 students, as well as the six teachers and six counselors, had little or no knowledge of cybersecurity before attending the camp. For some students, the camp will help them decide whether or not to look at cybersecurity more seriously.
“I want to see if I want to follow this career path or something else,” said Hannah Cowan, a rising freshman at Upperman High School in Baxter. “I am interested in cybersecurity. I had a coding class last year and really enjoyed it.”
The activities and camp curriculum have been designed by students and staff of Tech’s computer science department and CEROC. Some of those students have been mentors during the camp.
“I really love helping out these kids,” said Colton Risner, a junior computer science major. “I like to see that spark in their eyes when they solve some sort of problem or fix something. It’s rewarding to see them light up.”
The camp is also designed to empower teachers with training and resources to teach cybersecurity and empower guidance counselors with resources to serve as ambassadors for cybersecurity.
“A big portion of my job is to help students from the eighth grade through the 12th grade figure out what they want to do and what they want to major in when they go to college,” said Farris. “I personally didn’t know a lot about cybersecurity but I want to know enough to be able to share with the students about their future.”
The Gen-Cyber Combination Camp is part of a nationwide program by the National Security Agency and supported by the National Science Foundation.