High school students from around Howard County received mentoring and hands-on training at the Howard County Cybersecurity Academy located in Phoenix Technology Solutions in Downtown Columbia. Claude Williams, a CISSP and CASP certified instructor, lead the class through different cyber systems and the history behind some of the world's most famous cyber security systems.
High school students from around Howard County received mentoring and hands-on training at the Howard County Cybersecurity Academy located in Phoenix Technology Solutions in Downtown Columbia. Claude Williams, a CISSP and CASP certified instructor, lead the class through different cyber systems and the history behind some of the world's most famous cyber security systems. (Photo by Nate Pesce, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

When discussing the CyberSecurity Networking Academy offered by Howard County schools, students enrolled in the program describe it as more like a work environment than a classroom setting.

On Sept. 17, students in the academy had the opportunity to experience a real world cybersecurity work environment thanks to Columbia based Phoenix TS.

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Phoenix TS, a computer training provider whose clients include government agencies, hosted 22 of the academy's students for a two-hour cybersecurity training session delivered by a Phoenix TS instructor.

Throughout the program, students learned cryptography basics, encryption basics and protocols while working through scenarios that required them to implement appropriate protection measures in order to effectively secure data.

After the session, students and academy instructor Vipul Savalia raved about the experience.

"Very valuable," Savalia said of the lesson for his students. "It's great, this is the work that they're going to be doing.

Students, who credit Savalia for making the academy more like a work environment than a typical classroom setting, said the Phoenix TS lesson gave them an in-depth look at the theories and practices they've been learning.

"This is what we want to do," said Kyle Malone, a Long Reach High School senior. "This is the path we want to follow."

Howard students were granted the opportunity to meet with Phoenix TS instructors thanks to the generosity of its co-founder and president Firoozeh Azarbaidjani Do.

Or as Azarbaidjani Do would tell you, students can thank her 9-year-old son Daryan —a student at Clarksville Elementary School — who suggested to her that students should have a field trip to her offices.

"This is all about giving back to the community," Azarbaidjani Do said, adding that she hopes to work with the school system and have students visit again in the future.

Phoenix TS has been located in Columbia since 2010. It was previously headquartered in Rockville.

"I think what today shows them [students] is that they're going to need to continue their education, this field is going to change so quickly," said Natalie Belcher, an instructional facilitator for career academies with the school system.

Howard County Career Academies, located at the student's school or Applications and Research Lab (ARL), offer students an opportunity to enroll in specific courses for a designated career field.

The CyberSecurity Networking Academy offers students a pathway in either PC Systems or Computer Networking.

Other career academies offered by Howard County schools include an arts, media and communication course, business, management and finance, construction and development and health and biosciences among others.

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Students weren't the only ones to sit in on the Phoenix TS training session.

They were joined by Howard County Deputy Superintendent and Board of Education Member Sandie French.

Speaking to students, French complimented them on their "sterling character," adding that the "future is in good hands."

"What I think you're getting into is real critical," she said. "You're our bright future."

Wise stressed to students how proud the school system is of their achievements and urged them to take advantage of opportunities following graduation since Howard County is becoming a hub for cybersecurity companies.

"We want to make sure that you not only go off to the college of your choice, but that you're going to be coming back to take these high wage jobs that are paving our future," she said.

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