Engaging the Next Generation in Cybersecurity

As the recent election season proved, cybersecurity is a constantly evolving, high-priority field that demands an experienced and qualified workforce full of innovative, critical thinkers—and job opportunities abound.

In an effort to create cybersecurity education opportunities for K-12 Orange County students, a team of current and former Cypress students mentored nearly 90 middle and high school students since last April to compete in the CyberPatriots National Youth Cyber Defense Competition.

Six teams advanced to the semi-final rounds of the cybersecurity contest hosted by the non-profit Air Force Association, putting their knowledge to the test in this fourth round of competition against teams across the country Saturday, Feb. 4.

Eunice Lee, an eighth grader from Lexington High School, said of being mentored by Cypress students, “I think I’m more of a person that learns better one on one, personally, and I think having that mentoring, mentorship, really helped me understand what we were doing.”

Eunice is a member of a Lexington team that advanced to the semis.

Lee’s team member, Charlize Panganiban, also a Lexington eighth grader, said she’s learned valuable general and technical skills as part of the program, like teamwork and identifying system vulnerabilities.

She added, “I definitely think this is one of my career options, and I’m just happy that CyberPatriots has opened that door for me.”

Cypress College is a member of the SoCal Cybersecurity Community College Consortium, a collaborative effort between seven community colleges striving to create pathways to success in cybersecurity for K-12 students in Orange County. Schools train and mentor students from area middle and high schools to compete in CyberPatriots.

The competition tasks teams with finding and fixing vulnerabilities in provided simulated operating systems over a six-hour period. Teams are awarded points for fixing vulnerabilities and answering questions about the process; they lose points for making systems less secure.

If the semi-final teams advance, they will compete at Nationals in Baltimore, MD in April.

Student competitors, Cypress mentors, program advisor Dr. Ben Izadi, a Cypress CIS professor, and others in the community were celebrated and recognized at the College’s first awards ceremony for the program on Friday, Feb. 3.

Two Anaheim Union High School District Board of Trustee members, Randle Trejo and Brian O’Neal, and two participating school principals, Amber Houston from Lexington Junior High School and Ricardo Lois from Fedde Junior High School, were in attendance.

The John F. Kennedy High School team placed first in the high school Gold Tier category, beating out 650 other high schools across the nation in the state round of competition. Gold Tier teams do not advance to nationals.

One team from Fedde, a middle school team from Whitney High School, and three teams from Lexington were also recognized for advancing to the semi-finals.

Jasper Chen, a spring ’16 graduate with an A.S. in computer programming, has been volunteering as a mentor since last April.

“I think the program is a good experience, mainly just to teach kids, open up the field to them,” he said. “It’s good to make them understand that there is this field. When I was younger, I didn’t pay attention to the field at all.”

Program advisor Izadi added, “What we’re trying to emphasize here is teamwork, being able to do critical thinking, troubleshooting, working together, and getting excited early on in any information technology. Anything above that as they move up, perform, and do better, is just icing on the cake.”