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Students learn about cybersecurity at Harford Community College’s GenCyber Camps

Students learn about cybersecurity at Harford Community College’s GenCyber Camps
Harford Community College launched its first-ever GenCyber Smart Camp for middle school students. The camps are designed to increase the interest in the rapidly developing field of cybersecurity as well as teach safe online behavior. (Courtesy Harford Community Colle / Baltimore Sun)

Through a recently awarded National Science Foundation and National Security Agency grant, Harford Community College launched its first GenCyber Smart Camp for middle school students.

The GenCyber Smart Camps are designed to empower the next generation of cyber defenders, helping them shift from being users to becoming makers, coders, developers and programmers.

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After receiving the grant in the spring, Harford Community College employees Dawn Grissom (project lead), project director – integrated business and applied technologies; Frank Mayer (camp lead-instructor), adjunct faculty, cybersecurity; and David Antol (camp co-instructor), coordinator for applied technology programs, worked with curriculum designers to put together a robust curriculum teaching students about cybersecurity in the context of familiar Internet of Things (IoT) devices that are a part of their home and play.

During camp, the first of which ran July 15 to 19 and the second which ran this week, students investigate, program and hack Roomba vacuum cleaners, program Amazon’s Alexa and learn firsthand from HCC’s drone technology instructor, Richard Gutierrez, and former instructor Joe Damanico about relevant applications of drones including risks, safety and security and ethical issues.

The camps are designed to increase the interest in the rapidly developing field of cybersecurity, teach safe online behavior and apply GenCyber Cybersecurity First Principles.

According to Mayer, the program provided campers with a deeper understanding of many technologies that are emerging and prevalent such as smart home Internet of Things devices, fitness trackers, global positioning systems, smart mobile phone applications for the Internet of Things, wearable technology and drones.

The camps also provided insight into cryptography using low tech and handmade items that included a Caesar Cipher wheel that the students still appreciated for its simplicity and ability to provide insight into a complex cyber security subject, namely cryptography.

“The students appreciated the simple and low cost Raspberry Pi that was still able to show them first-hand how software and hardware interact to produce the functionality that makes technology meaningful. The students gained insight into the top cybersecurity principles through the weeklong learning that exposed them to a wide breath of experiences, not just involving technical aspects of security but traditional aspects of security that included physical security as well,” Mayer said.

Additional HCC employees who contributed to the success of the camps include Sheila Allen, IBAT professor, who provided guidance on how to best keep middle school children engaged in a way that enhanced their learning experience; Kelly Pulaski, coordinator for youth programs, and her Camp Curiosity team; and Donna Walters, director for technology support services, and her information technology services team.

GenCyber Smart Camps are targeted toward underrepresented populations in cybersecurity as well as those who might not otherwise be able to afford camp. Eligibility requirements included being a Harford County resident, entering seventh or eighth grade and being between the ages of 11 and 14 years old, and having a “B” average or higher in math and science during the first quarter of the 2018-2019 school year. In addition, a letter of recommendation and student essay demonstrating interest and knowledge of computers and technology was required.

The one-week, nonresidential cybersecurity summer day camp was offered at no cost and included lunch, snacks, and before and after care. Twenty students attended the first camp.

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