Generating New Cyber TalentTACC debuts two cybersecurity summer camps with funding from GenCyberby: Damian HopkinsPublished: Aug. 30, 2023 Feature StoryMultimediashare this: TACC's Education & Outreach team hosted two new cybersecurity camps this summer. GenCyber@TACC introduced students to cybersecurity concepts; GenCyber@TACC Level UP focused on more advanced cybersecurity topics. Cybersecurity education is an important life skill. In a world more digitally connected than ever, students must learn the risks and the responsibilities of technology and how to protect themselves and their online data.In 2023, the Education & Outreach (E&O) team at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) hosted two new cybersecurity camps — GenCyber@TACC and GenCyber@TACC Level UP. GenCyber@TACC introduced students to cybersecurity concepts and how to improve their online safety habits, while GenCyber@TACC Level UP focused on more advanced cybersecurity students looking to explore cyber challenges and apply critical thinking to cybersecurity ethical principles, IT policies, and governance. “Since so much of cybersecurity involves relationships, we included several team-building activities. As camp progressed, you could see campers transformed into well-educated digital citizens.” The new cybersecurity camps were made possible by funding from the GenCyber Program through a $283,000 grant. As part of the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation, GenCyber seeks to ignite and sustain cybersecurity interest at the secondary level to build a competent, diverse, and adaptable cybersecurity workforce pipeline.E&O Senior Training Coordinator Edgar Garza led the curriculum and educational activities for both camps. Garza’s lessons emphasized the importance of protecting online information and ethical online behavior. In cybersecurity vernacular, “unethical hackers” or “threat actors” are criminals who break into computer networks with malicious intent; and “ethical hackers” exploit computer systems or networks — with permission — to identify security flaws and recommend improvements. GenCyber@TACC campers pose for a selfie after hearing from TACC Cybersecurity Education Specialist Nikki Hendricks (right). Hendricks taught lessons on the dangers of cybersecurity threats and malware. “Since so much of cybersecurity involves relationships, we included several team-building activities like geocaching landmarks at UT Austin, so students could build better relationships,” Garza said. Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt using GPS devices to find objects. “Cyber Defenders: Securing the Digital Realm is an icebreaker game where students take turns answering questions within their group, encouraging them to share personal experiences, thoughts, or any cybersecurity-related stories they might have encountered.”“As camp progressed, you could see campers transformed into well-educated digital citizens in a span of just five days.” “Attending a camp like this one may seem intimidating, but it’s a lot of fun. I learned about Python and discovered tools on how to build a better resume.” William Brown-Lewis of Harker Heights High School. In addition to cybersecurity lessons, GenCyber@TACC campers also learned about STEM career pathways and job readiness skills like tips on interviewing and how to improve a resume. As a bonus, they received professional headshots to add to their LinkedIn pages.William Brown-Lewis of Harker Heights High School in Killeen attended Level UP.“Attending a camp like this one may seem intimidating, but it’s a lot of fun,” Brown-Lewis said. “I learned about Python and discovered tools on how to build a better resume.”Said Julianna Hernandez of Austin Achieve High School: “GenCyber@TACC introduced me to important topics related to careers in technology. My time at camp helped me discover what I want in a tech career and what to expect.”Campers also heard from college admissions workers like Jennifer Cantu, an undergraduate admissions counselor from The University of Texas at San Antonio. Cantu sees herself as a support system for historically underrepresented students seeking higher education.“Applying for college can be overwhelming for first-generation students and students of color,” Cantu said. “No matter where you come from, everyone who wants to attend college deserves a chance to do so.”Nikki Hendricks served as instructional support staff for the GenCyber camps. Hendricks taught lessons on hydroelectric dams and how an insider threat and malware could sabotage this resource. Students analyzed evidence to discover the responsible parties for the incident and why the dam was sabotaged. “GenCyber@TACC introduced me to important topics related to careers in technology. My time at camp helped me discover what I want in a tech career and what to expect.” Julianna Hernandez of Austin Achieve High School. “Participating in a scenario allows students to understand the importance of cybersecurity in the real world,” Hendricks said. “The White House recently published their strategy on cybersecurity education, stressing the importance of underrepresented Americans being introduced to cybersecurity careers and the importance of foundational cyber skills —that’s what GenCyber@TACC was all about!”Of the more than 500 students who applied, 59 students attended the two camps; 42% were girls, and 42% were first-generation college aspirants (children of parents who do not hold college degrees). Approximately 76% were students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch at their schools.Alvin Moreno of KIPP Oak Cliff Academy in Dallas plans on attending UT Austin and studying Software Engineering.“We toured Google’s Austin offices — I learned that approximately 750,000 cybersecurity jobs are available,” Moreno said. “I’m from a lower-income area of Dallas, and without this camp, I wouldn’t have been informed of the career opportunities available in cybersecurity.”Alanis Vega of Northside School of Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship (NSITE) in San Antonio added: “Online safety is a bigger deal than most people realize. We learned that some issues solved by the Department of Homeland Security don’t stem from an attack from another country but from a system or user error in America.”Cesar Sepulveda is a previous TACC camper and current UT Austin senior who works at Activision. Sepulveda addressed topics like video game design and informed campers that STEM education is one of the keys to unlocking such opportunities.“Being a TACC camper opened my eyes to a world of possibilities in STEM, which led to working at Activision,” said Sepulveda, a Mexican American Studies major. “By attending TACC camps, you not only get to meet cool people, but the E&O team stays in contact with you and works to help you achieve your dreams.” “Some students are the main source of online information for their families because they must translate for their parents. The cybersecurity information students learned at camp will not only protect them, but also their families.” E&O Program Manager Dawn Hunter’s hope for every GenCyber@TACC camper was that at least one aspect of their online behavior changed for the better, whether that’s creating stronger passwords or protecting their parents from spam emails.“Students excel when they feel empowered and accepted,” Hunter said. “Some students are the main source of online information for their families because they must translate for their parents. The cybersecurity information students learned at camp will not only protect them, but also their families.”E&O Director Rosalia Gomez concluded: “From camper recruitment to program design and curriculum, TACC did a phenomenal job with these camps! Students learned new concepts from TACC experts, and our E&O team is committed to staying engaged with campers and their families throughout the year. We want the next generation of innovators to understand how computing impacts everyday life.”Learn more about TACC summer camps.