More than 40 Richmond-area middle and high school students learned the importance of cybersecurity at the VCU College of Engineering’s GenCyber Cybersecurity Summer Bootcamp.
Led by computer science associate professors Irfan Ahmed, Ph.D., and Ahmet Sonmez, Ph.D., the program is a part of a nationwide initiative sponsored by the National Security Agency (NSA) and National Science Foundation (NSF). GenCyber’s goal is to raise cybersecurity awareness and introduce cybersecurity career opportunities to K-12 students from JROTC schools and underrepresented communities.
“With technology quickly advancing through the use of artificial intelligence and other tools, people who understand cybersecurity are more needed than ever,” said Ahmed. “VCU Engineering’s GenCyber program is designed to help us find and educate the security experts we’re going to need 10 or 20 years from now.”
Retired Colonel Carlton Day and eight undergraduate teaching assistants supported the five-day program. Students learned topics like social network privacy, online safety, HTML programming, Linux administration, Raspberry Pi device networking, basic hacking, defensive computer techniques and fundamental digital forensics. They also toured facilities like the College of Engineering Makerspace, VCU library, computer science labs and Ahmed’s own Security and Forensics Engineering (SAFE) Lab. The camp also included fun ice-breaker activities like collaborative drawing, pictionary with binary numbers, charades and other games.
A daily speaker series provided students with additional insight to the private-sector cybersecurity industry. Guest lecturers included Ashwini Vasudev, Capital One cyber director, and Sean Stalzer, Dominion Energy director of computer information systems for the cyber security branch.
“Seventy-five percent of this summer’s VCU GenCyber participants had no interest in pursuing careers in cybersecurity, but now intend to because of this bootcamp,” said Ahmed. “Blending hands-on learning with lessons shared by industry professionals has been a successful combination for this program.”
Camp participants came from a variety of backgrounds, including the African-American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and Native American communities. In addition to increasing the number of underrepresented minorities within the cybersecurity industry, VCU Engineering’s GenCyber program also aims to increase the number of women seeking cybersecurity careers.
“There were 24 female students participating in our summer bootcamp,” said Ahmed. “This is the kind of participation we want to grow, if they choose to embark on a cybersecurity career, they can inspire the next generation of students.”
Learn more about VCU Engineering’s GenCyber program at gencyber.vcu.edu.