BYU Girls’ Cybersecurity Camp helps develop computer skills, career goals

Girls’ Cybersecurity Summer Camp 2017 welcomed nearly 50 attendees on July 17. The free day camp teaches teenage girls basic programming and online safety. (Cybersecurity Research Lab)

BYU’s Cybersecurity Research Lab held their third annual Girls’ Cybersecurity Summer Camp on the week of July 17, giving teen girls a hands-on experience in cybersecurity.

The free day camp, held every July, teaches teenage girls basic programming and online safety. Activities at the camp included programming a personalized miniature computer, learning about online safety and a sci-fi survival simulation.

The camp, founded in 2015 by BYU associate professor Dale Rowe and BYU IT student CJ Cornel, is sponsored by Palo Alto Networks, Microsoft, Adobe, FireEye, RedSky, 3M and Utah Open Source. BYU IT students acted as teachers and mentors and were supervised by Rowe, who teaches cybersecurity and IT classes at BYU.

“There are a million cybersecurity positions around the world left unfilled … (our goal is to) promote awareness of cybersecurity, give (the girls) self-confidence, and ‘I can do it’ mentality, and to show the diversity that IT has,” Rowe said.

The camp, which hosted nearly 50 attendees, opened on July 17 with a showing of the movie “Hidden Figures,” which Rowe said is a great example of women in computer science and a way to set the tone for the camp. The attendees’ families were invited to the screening.

The camp gave attendees the opportunity to learn about safe practices online, as well as basic programming skills through a capture the flag game, which challenged the girls with completing various tasks like deciphering code and programming a basic script in C++.

“I love seeing their reactions to what they’re seeing, to what’s being presented to them,” Cornel said. “When (the girls) finally get it, their faces just light up. Everyone’s really happy to be at the camp.”

Cornel said the camp provides girls with the opportunity to meet other teens interested in computers and give them knowledge to help them both personally and professionally.

“Even if (the girls) don’t go into (cybersecurity), it’s still an introduction … it’s a necessity to know about it, whether it’s a job they’ll be taking, a major they’ll be doing, or just their own security online,” Cornel said.

Many of the girls said they’d like to return next year if given the chance, and some said the camp sparked their interest in pursuing cybersecurity as a career.

“I love working with computers, and this camp is helping me learn more about them, so I’m hoping to major in information technologies,” said Alexis Wright, who attended the camp for the past two years.

Attendees were also tasked with participating in the camp’s unique starship crew experience. The event, powered by the Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator, placed participants in a role-playing event similar to one from “Star Trek.”

Sam Bigelow
The Girls’ Cybersecurity Summer Camp starship experience set provides a believable environment for attendees to have fun and learn. The participants solve challenges with simple coding. (Sam Bigelow)

“We saw that (the girls) learned very quickly on the fly … When you do (the spaceship experience) where the ship’s about to explode, the girls retain that information,” Rowe said.

The girls were alerted of various challenges on the starship and were tasked with solving the problems through simple coding. The activity allowed them to learn practically in a fun, immersive environment, and gave participants the opportunity to grow.

“I’ve learned to step outside my comfort zone. I’ve never done anything like this, so it’s been nice to do things I don’t normally do,” said Cara Wilkie, a participant of the camp.

More information regarding the Girls’ Cybersecurity Summer Camp, as well as BYU’s Cybersecurity Research Lab, can be found here.

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