Posted on 22 Jan 2019 7:14 AM

Seven high school students from Orlando to St. Augustine to Pensacola sat together for lunch on the final day of the GenCyber Camp. Between bites of their catered Panera Bread lunch, the campers reflected on the highlights of the week-long introduction to cybersecurity fundamentals.

The campers rattled off a half-dozen activities and their interactions with the University of West Florida students, faculty and staff as positives about the combination camp.

“I don’t have any complaints. It was a great camp,” said Marcus Carola, a junior who traveled from Orlando to participate in the camp. “It was insightful and it was engaging too, so you didn’t lose focus. It was definitely worth the trip.”

The University of West Florida Center for Cybersecurity hosted the only two GenCyber camps in the state funded by the National Security Agency and National Science Foundation. High school students and middle and high school teachers learned about GenCyber First Principles, the Linux operating system, coding, password protection and defending against DDoS attacks, among other skills, through a series of hands-on activities. Campers tested their mental and physical prowess outside of the classroom in an escape room, scavenger hunt and DDoS attack simulation.

Pensacola High School junior Keenal Shah attended the first session. She echoed the sentiments of other campers, citing Capture The Flag, escaping the cryptography escape room and hearing career advice from cybersecurity professionals as her favorite camp moments.

“I wasn’t expecting an escape room,” Shah said. “That was really fun. I think all of the activities went really well.”

Stephanie Cassidy, special agent for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, John Corliss, Department of Homeland Security senior computer scientist, Russ Holloway, lead information security engineer for Navy Federal Threat and Vulnerability Management, Tom Skinner, a Pensacola department manager for Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, and Cyber Safe Workforce CEO Michelle Ward shared their expertise with participants at the first camp.

Corliss returned as a panelist for the second camp. FDLE Special Agent Supervisor Molly Akin Tom Ashe, Navy Federal Application Delivery manager, and Harry Huelsbeck, Northrop Grumman cyber information assurance manager, rounded out the panel.

Panelists advised students to prioritize earning a college degree, complete certificates and seek cybersecurity-oriented internships to elevate their resume in the eyes of employers. Corliss said, “internships are worth their weight in gold.”

A UWF alum, Corliss encouraged students to engage in research, develop the social skills to interact with co-workers and be eager to learn.

"You can graduate from a spectacular cybersecurity degree program like UWF — and I know it's spectacular because I did, but you'll never show up on the job site knowing everything," Corliss said.

NSA professionals shared their insights through the Day of Cyber, an online video that enables students to take a seat beside the NSA Cyber Threat Director and test drive a day in the life of six NSA cyber professionals.

Students and teachers learned separately in the morning but then paired up in the afternoon sessions. Teachers utilized their morning training to assist students with activities.

Teachers received a set of curricular materials and resources to integrate cybersecurity into their classes. They spent their final day of the camp presenting 10- to 15-minute lesson plans to their colleagues.

“The GenCyber teacher camp has empowered me with a greater understanding of cybersecurity principles,” said Angela Collins, Bellview Middle School computer fundamentals teacher. “This knowledge will help me better prepare students for future careers in information technology.”

Lead instructor Anthony Pinto, Dr. Brian Eddy, assistant professor in Computer Science, Pine Forest High School cybersecurity teacher Angela Irby, and UWF student assistants Caroline Krouse, Megan Morton and Thomas Thibaut mentored the campers.