After more than two decades of working in the private sector, Sara Gopalan saw firsthand the gap between what students were learning and what was needed to be successful in the cybersecurity field.

She decided to take matters into her own hands and become a teacher herself. In just a few years, she has become an integral part of the cybersecurity education community in the Inland Empire region.

Gopalan is a Career Technical Education (CTE) Teacher at Temecula Valley High School (TVHS), where she specializes in Information and Communications Technologies pathway. 

Her mother was a teacher in India and, while she didn’t initially see herself following in those footsteps, she’s glad that she did.

Gopalan started small by volunteering to teach a free course on computer fundamentals at her local library. She also became involved with CoderDojo, a worldwide network of volunteers who teach programming to children ages 7-17, and joined the CTE Advisory Committee at Temecula Valley Unified School District.

That work eventually led to an offer to become a CTE teacher. While Gopalan had decades of professional experience, she did not have teaching credentials. She found a program that allowed her to obtain them in six months and she quickly hit the ground building a three-course IT/cybersecurity pathway based on Cisco’s Network Academy curriculum.

In an effort to bridge the gap she saw between industry and education, Gopalan integrates guest speakers and soft skills like interviewing and teamwork into her classes.

“Because my course is part of career technical education, I need to connect it to what they’ll see in the workplace,” she said. “If they have to hire someone in the workplace, what are the skills they are looking for?”

Gopalan’s passion has positioned TVHS as a leader in the region and one that’s poised to become a statewide presence.

“Sara is a go-getter. She is incredibly resourceful and thorough in her work,” said Kim Randall, CTE Department Chair at TVHS. “She has brought her industry expertise to the classroom at TVHS, and we are so fortunate to have her working with students in this ICT pathway.”

In addition to launching a new pathway, Gopalan also helped build a CyberPatriot presence at her school. She recalls meeting with California Cyberhub Community Manager Donna Woods and wanting to emulate the success she’s created at Moreno Valley High School. 

“The students I saw were so engaged the whole time, and I was so impressed by how much they had prepared ahead of time,” Gopalan said. “They had binders of notes and highlights on every page.”

Gopalan worked with Susanne Mata, ICT-DM Deputy Sector Navigator in the Inland Empire/Desert Region,  to obtain funding for what are now five CyberPatriot teams in the Temecula Valley Unified School District.

Karen Walker coaches one of those teams at Chaparral High School. She said Gopalan’s leadership and guidance made her transition into coaching very smooth.

“Sara has helped me immensely with CyberPatriot,” Walker said. “She has done most of the work researching what we needed to do and how to do it.  She also has usually been the one to fill out all the necessary paperwork for our district, both to get our teams funded and to get our buses to competitions.”

Gopalan said she’s learned a lot from Cyberhub community members like Irvin Lemus. She hopes that the Inland Empire will be able to achieve the success Lemus and his colleagues have in the Bay Area. She also hopes to collaborate with middle schools to establish strong feeder courses in ICT pathway in the Temecula Valley Unified School District.

 “It is amazing to see how much the awareness about Cybersecurity has grown in the past two years,” she said. “We’ve gained great momentum, and I want to pass it on to middle schools so students will be prepared to try these classes and activities when they get to high school.”

 

Slaght is a firm believer that internships and apprenticeships are the way to meet this demand by providing a clear pathway from high schools and community colleges to cybersecurity jobs. The CCOE’s Internship and Apprenticeship Pipeline and Link2Cyber programs connect students and recent graduates with career opportunities in the region.

The CCOE is working to create what Slaght calls cyber’s “blue collar workforce,” or a new class of employees who are working secure, high-paying jobs that do not require college degrees.

“We found bright kids coming out of high school who can get a few certifications for networks and land a $65,000-$80,000 job,” Slaght said. “We really want to create a template for how to approach this moving forward.”

Slaght entered the cybersecurity field after a distinguished career in the U.S. Navy, where he retired as a Rear Admiral and served as commander of the Space and Naval Warfare Command Systems and the USS Flint.

After retiring from the Navy, he served as Vice President of General Dynamics Information Technology. He holds a master’s degree in Computer Systems from the Naval Postgraduate School and spent 15 years acquiring and providing IT solutions to the Navy.

While the CCOE is working to increase the number of cyber graduates in the San Diego region, it’s also trying to attract more cyber employers to the area by creating an environment that’s conducive to existing companies and entrepreneurs alike. Those companies can become thought leaders in the region and take advantage of the high quality of life San Diego offers, Slaght said.

San Diego is home to Navy and Marine Corps bases, and Slaght sees veterans on those bases as one untapped constituent group to help fill the cybersecurity career pipeline. Slaght has been involved with efforts to transition veterans from the military into the private sector.

“Veterans are a huge potential source for the cyber workforce,” Slaght said. “We are working to ensure that they military producing the right number and the right kind of veterans to fill these open positions.”

Sentek Global CEO Eric Basu is a founding member of CCOE’s board and said Slaght’s leadership helped streamline a frenetic environment and align multiple stakeholders around a single vision.

“RADM (ret) Slaght literally forged order out of chaos, bringing all of the cyber security players in San Diego together for the first time,” Basu said. “The CCOE has been one of the most successful industry organizations in San Diego, running on an extremely lean administrative budget for four years.”

Jim Skeen, Founder | Partner of Lockton San Diego and another CCOE founding board member and said Slaght’s leadership helped form productive relationships with education and industry partners.

“His professional credentials and collaborative nature were and remain key to CCOE being accepted as cyber’s connective tissue delivering a community asset,” Skeen said.

Looking to the future, Slaght hopes to see cybersecurity education take an even more significant role in the K-12 curriculum.

“Everyone should have a second language, and I would offer that the second language should be coding,” Slaght said. “C++ and other skills are going to become essential moving forward, not just for cybersecurity jobs, but for nearly any type of career path a student wants to take.”

To learn more about the CCOE, visit sdccoe.org.

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After making strides to improve educational opportunities in cybersecurity, Manson still felt like something was needed to bridge the gap between the classroom and the working world. He traveled to the midwest to attend his first cyber competition in 2007 and took a video camera to interview some of the competitors. He didn’t have to do many interviews before he realized that he’d found the missing piece of the puzzle.

“A student said to me that he could learn more in these three days than in a year’s worth of classes,” Manson said. “What I realized later is that to be good in these competitions, you’ll practice for months and students could learn faster through competitions.”

Manson returned to California determined to replicate the success he’d seen in the Midwest. He started hosting the Western Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in 2008 and took a team from Cal Poly Pomona to nationals in 2009.

That team gained a lot of attention and demonstrated the need for cybersecurity professionals that still exists today.

“Boeing said they wanted to interview our team and offered every one of those students on the team a job,” Manson said. “Those early students were pioneers. College cybersecurity programs are much more developed now than they were then and it’s easier for students to go into it now.”

While Manson’s work brought him notoriety in the cybersecurity community, longtime colleague Ronald Pike said personal gain was never the goal.

“Dan’s selfless support of others in cybersecurity has included research to lay out a path to success for young cyber-students, the development of competitions to allow students to test and demonstrate their skills, the development of research projects to engage students in solving some of cybersecurity’s great challenges, grant and philanthropy work to bring in resources to make competitions and research in cybersecurity possible and endless energy to support students,” said Pike, an associate professor of Computer Information Systems at Cal Poly Pomona.

Manson began working with high school students in 2010 and, after seeing CyberPatriot in action, realized that cyber athletes could exist alongside any other sports team and the competitions could draw spectators just like a football or basketball game would.

To that end, he’s worked to expand cyber competitions beyond CyberPatriot to include capture the flag and other competitions designed to attract a diverse group of students and foster a sense of community just like any other sports team.

Unlike a lot of other sports teams, however, just about any cyber athlete can reach the major leagues by obtaining a well-paying job in California or anywhere in the U.S. or around the world.

“We can create cyber athletes who are just as passionate about what they do as any other athletes and who can go pro a lot easier than any other athlete,” Manson said. “When I see the kids play in competitions, I think they’re playing a sport.”

Although Manson will no longer be working directly in California as he begins his new challenge in Nevada, Pike said his efforts will continue to be felt for years to come.

“Our students go to the top corporate and government employers in the nation because of the programs that Dan put in place,” Pike said. “Also, students from middle school through colleges all around the nation benefit from programs and capabilities that exist because of Dan’s dedication to students in this field.”

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“The girls asked them questions about their careers and what they do and had a chance to visualize themselves in those careers,” Raleigh said. “For the employers, it was a chance to come in and see what GenCyber is all about and get a hands-on look at what these students are doing.”

Sarah Brown, a third-year GenCyber attendee, moved from the middle school group to the high school group this year and said she enjoyed the more advanced level of learning that came along wit hit.

“We interacted a lot more in the virtual reality room and I learned how the fisheye camera works and how to live stream and the delay that occurs between the equipment and the stream,” she said.

Hawley said the all-female environment helps build a sense of confidence in the girls that would not exist in a mixed-gender environment.

“Girls learn differently than boys do,” Hawley said. “If she’s not 100 percent sure, she won’t raise her hand if she’s around male counterparts. It shows just how important this work is to provide the all-girl learning environment.”

That confidence is bolstered even more by the CSU San Bernadino faculty who serve as GenCyber instructors. Claire Jefferson-Gilpa’s 14-year-old daughter had the opportunity to serve as a teaching assistant for a college-level class after her GenCyber experience — which speaks to the academic integrity of the program and its faculty.

“She enthusiastically accepted, and the experience has been world changing,” Jefferson-Gilpa said. “For my daughter seen as a leader and encouraged to do so on a collegiate level by experts in the field is tremendously valuable. It is also exceptional in contrast to much of her experience where she must constantly prove her worth and place in the field.”

While GenCyber is organized by the Girl Scouts, the camp is open to any middle or high school girl in Riverside or San Bernardino counties. To that end, Raleigh and Hawley partnered with the Riverside Unified School District and the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program to increase awareness about cybersecurity in underserved communities and start those students on a pathway toward a stable and well-paying job in the cybersecurity field.

Raleigh hopes this is the first step in a long partnership with community organizations.

“I talked with one of the chaperones, and she said it was an amazing experience for the girls,” Raleigh said. “They had never really talked about their future, but saw that they could go to college and saw that there were people who look like them doing these careers.”

The program also embraces students with disabilities. The demand for cybersecurity careers is large and growing by the day; it’s going to take people from all walks of life to meet the need. Cyber careers are also uniquely suited to some disabilities, as student Emma Shanks learned at GenCyber.

“Because she is deaf, my girl scout Emma uses the internet and chat rooms for much of her communication with the ‘hearing world’,” said Melissa Stark, Shanks’ girl scout troop leader. “I’m so thankful for GenCyber offering opportunity for all abilities of girls to attend so Emma can gain the skills to be safe online and when sharing information about herself. Her confidence has grown and she feels included and accepted.”

After the success they’ve seen thus far, Raleigh expects the GenCyber program to grow even more in the years to come. Even if attendees do not end up pursuing careers in technology, the skills they are learning will help them lead safer lives online.

“We are teaching girls about the world around them, and that world is changing,” Raleigh said. “They know how to use technology, but they don’t know how to protect themselves and how the choices they’re making now can impact them down the road.”

For more information about GenCyber, visit gen-cyber.com. For more information about the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council, visit www.gssgc.org.

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It’s that human element where Fraumann really shines. She has a background in marketing and knows the importance of telling a good story to get a message across. During the course of her time at Securing our eCity, she’s spoken to elementary school students, senior citizens, and the business community – effectively, everyone.

“What I’ve found over the years is that people really want to talk about their issues,” Fraumann said. “I always try to talk about how cyber security impacts everyone and how it relates to their specific areas of concern.”

For example, online school grading systems are vulnerable to cyber attacks, something most teachers and students don’t think about when entering student data in them. And, parents might not realize that giving their phone to a toddler could lead to disastrous consequences if it’s not secured correctly.

When it comes to cyber competitions, Fraumann is a big believer in the concept of gamification and putting cyber activities on the same level as other sports. In fact, everyone who participated in the Securing our eCity Cyber Boot Camp this year received a cyber letterman’s jacket — just like a jock would receive on the high school sports team.

She’s also worked with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America to add a cyber security patch as a credential for scouts to earn. These efforts are essential to making cyber competitions and cybers ecurity education part of the mainstream and available to all students, not just the stereotypical STEM focused student or students from affluent backgrounds.

“Cyber security is an issue that touches all of us. Organizations like ours can become part of the the solution,” Fraumann said. “When you are able to break down those barriers, it’s amazing to watch the students and the sense of pride they have.”

Alan Watkins was the IT Operations and Security Manager for the City of San Diego when Securing our eCity was formed. He met Fraumann in 2010 and was immediately taken by Fraumann’s understanding of cyber security and her ability to make the public aware of its potential implications.

“Although some of her team members appeared to be sales oriented, I could tell Liz was more of a visionary and passionate about the concept of increasing awareness of cyber security for individuals, families, and businesses,” Watkins said.

Over the years of working with her, Watkins saw that enthusiasm continue to grow. While many people tend to focus on the scary aspects of cyber security, Fraumann tends to take a more encouraging tone.

“I see a passion in Liz for both cyber and kids – helping them see their own potential and directing them into healthy and legal avenues for cyber rather than saying ‘beware of the dark side,’” Watkins said. “I would like to think that all the kids she has encouraged over the last several years would look to her as their cyber hero for providing them with the opportunity to explore the field of cyber security in an environment of fun competition.”

Emily Le is one of those students Fraumann has inspired. They met when Le was a student at Mira Mesa Senior High School participating in cyber boot camp. Le heard Fraumann give a presentation on professional development and one of the things that stuck out to her was the advice never to be afraid to ask for opportunities.

Le took that advice to heart and approached Fraumann after the presentation to ask for an internship. Fraumann said yes and spent two summers working for Securing our eCity. She’s now attending UC San Diego and said the experience with Fraumann provided the training and the confidence she needed to obtain internships at NASA and Northrop Grumman.

“When you talk to her you get super excited about cyber security,” Le said. “When I was working for her I asked if she planned on retiring and she said she wouldn’t because it was her passion.”

While Fraumann’s work over the past decade have been successful, she knows it’s not enough. She sees an opportunity to take the cyber cup model nationwide and have California serve as a model for other states on how to conduct cyber security training and education programs.

“We need to have some things that reach all the way into primary grades,” she said. “I would love to take our program and have it nationally accepted in all schools and then take it anywhere in the world it’s willing to go.”

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Outside of promoting a healthy lifestyle, Diaz is also developing self-paced CyberPatriot training designed for students who are not able to attend in-person training sessions. He’s using Moodle and GoToMeeting to deliver online training sessions that can be viewed in real-time and are recorded for later use.

Diaz said moving away from location-bound training is critical for bringing cyber competitions to underserved communities, where family schedules and obligations often lead to inconsistent attendance at scheduled training sessions and events.

“I can be at five schools virtually and have more impact that way than going to one school hoping that all the kids show up,” Diaz said.

Beyond the Bell Administrator Carey Peck said the resources Diaz is putting in place are invaluable as interest in CyberPatriot in the Los Angeles Unified School District continues to grow. Beyond the Bell currently has more than 170 registered CyberPatriot teams and it’s impossible to hold in-person coaching sessions for all of them.

Further, Peck said the self-paced modules Diaz is developing help to solidify students’ understanding of the concepts because they are responsible for solving problems and figuring things out on their own.

“The real hallmark of our winning teams has been self-education,” Peck said. “They get to dig in on their own and develop the level of skill they need to soar.”

Peck said Diaz exemplifies the success he wants to see from every Beyond the Bell student.

“William came to the plate with a few strikes against him, but found this means to elevate his life and his work and continue his education, and to serve others,” Peck said. “He is the epitome of what we would like to see in this program.”

Diaz’s passion for cybersecurity comes across loud and clear to his colleagues. Raul Gonzalez-Rios was on Diaz’s Cyber Patriot team and now works with him at A World Fit for Kids. He credits Diaz with pushing his love of IT farther than he thought was possible.

“I thought I knew everything about computers, but he proved to me that there was always more to learn, and has helped forge the path I took towards my cybersecurity career and CIT degree,” Gonzalez-Rios said. “William’s initiative to enhance his skills and knowledge is inspiring to all students and coaches around him.”

Moving forward, he hopes to continue coaching CyberPatriot, but instilling in his students the idea that winning is not everything. This is a hard message for most teens to hear, he says, but one that is critical for moving the needle on solving California’s cybersecurity workforce crisis.

“I’m always telling kids that competition is great and all but at the end of the day it’s the skills that matter,” Diaz said.

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 Lemus was content working in the industry and never saw himself as a teacher. A few years ago, he started helping a friend who is a high school drama teacher. Lemus is a lifelong musician who plays piano, drums, guitar, bass, and saxophone. He helped compose music for the school’s productions and quickly found that he enjoyed working with students through that process.

His presence in the school led to an invitation to coach a CyberPatriot team. Lemus was not familiar with CyberPatriot but was intrigued enough to give it a shot. It was pitched to him as a hacking competition, but he quickly learned that it wasn’t that.

After that first year, he was hooked and hasn’t looked back since. Lemus now works with CyberPatriot, Cisco and other cyber challenges to engage as many students as he can in the cybersecurity field.

“I like to create labs and challenges; I like to show students that they can do this and cybersecurity isn’t some scary thing that’s out of their reach,” Lemus said. “When students understand and see how this knowledge applies to their world, they can see themselves in the field, as well as how topics discussed affect themselves and others around them.”

Richard Grotegut, Bay Area Deputy Sector Navigator for IT and Computer Science, met Lemus in southern California and recruited him to move up north to assist with summer cyber camps. What started with one camp has now grown to 30 events held at 20 community colleges.

Grotegut said he was impressed by Lemus’ ability to connect with students, and the work ethic he’s shown in coordinating the cyber events.

“He’s very relatable, professional and contentious,” Grotegut said. “We launched our cyber camp program again this summer and have been overwhelmed by the response. Irvin’s done a lot of work to make that happen”

Lemus moved to northern California and now makes his home in Monterrey. He set up the Bay Area Cyber Competitions website and now serves as the coordinator for all events in the region.

In addition to those responsibilities, Lemus also helps other coaches learn the CyberPatriot ropes and avoid some of the same mistakes he made when he was starting out in the program.

Andrea Salas, a CyberPatriot coach at Alhambra High School, connected with Lemus earlier this year after running into trouble with the CyberPatriot Primary Round.

“My principal had just paid $200 to register my new after-school Cybersecurity club for the competition, and the kids were ridiculously underprepared,” Salas said. “Although they had an abundance of enthusiasm to make up for it, at that moment, we were faced with a situation where we couldn’t get past the ‘Read Me’ document.”

Salas said Lemus remained calm despite her frustration with the situation and guided her through what she needed to do to get her team up and running. That demeanor translates into his work with students.

“He knows how to engage with kids from different backgrounds and encourages and models positive social interactions among them,” Salas said. “He understands that his job is about outreach and that keeping kids interested means making what he presents interesting, something that is difficult to do when the cybersecurity concepts the kids are learning are purely defensive.”

Lemus is currently pursuing his master’s degree in cybersecurity at Webster University. He hopes to see cybersecurity become an even bigger part of the K-12 curriculum in California to show students that IT is about much more than coding and writing programs.

“Just like coding is being pushed, how computers work and how they talk together should also be a core curriculum,” Lemus said. “I would like to see schools teach these topics so everyone becomes more secure and our next generations are inherently more secure than the one that came before it.”

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McNally did not have any cybersecurity training or experience when he started as a coach in 2011, but that didn’t stop him from pushing forward. He drew from materials provided by the Air Force Association and looked to Vahanian for technical assistance.

He encourages any teacher who is interested in CyberPatriot to consider becoming a coach, regardless of their technical experience.

“A coach’s job is to supervise while students learn from online resources,” McNally said. “You don’t need to know cybersecurity at all.”

A Setback Turned Opportunity

Shortly after McNally’s CyberPatriot team — the first one in Northern California — was up and running, it hit a setback that might have caused other coaches to throw in the towel.

Two students who gravitated towards the CyberPatriot program in the fall of 2011 had installed their own games onto the computers in a computer lab the previous spring. This was against school policy and caused the CyberPatriot team, that these students were now a member of, to lose access to the computer lab for an entire school year.

McNally was upset that the school’s administration would suggest that his CyberPatriot program would be responsible for such behavior.

“If I was any other teacher, the program would have been dead in that moment,” McNally said.

Rather than sitting back and losing an entire year of competition, McNally found other locations that would host his CyberPatriot team. He partnered with two hotels in the area that allowed him free use of their conference rooms. The hotels even used their connections to local restaurants to have the six-hour competitions catered.

Not only did those connections get McNally and his team through a tough situation, they also helped spread the word about CyberPatriot in the community.

“Everything was free because people saw value in the program and wanted to support us,” McNally said. “We made this program continue no matter what obstacles were thrown our way.”

This period also saw a transition of CyberPatriot mentors from James Vahanian to cybersecurity engineers from AeroJet, a company GenCorp owned.

Those engineers pushed McNally’s students to learn even more about CyberPatriot and learn more outside the classroom, which made the program even stronger.

Community College Connection

McNally’s team went back into the classroom 2012 and continued building a successful program over the next few years. In 2014, he caught the attention of Steve Linthicum, Deputy Sector Navigator for Information Communication Technologies and Digital Media (ICT/DM) in the Orange County Region.

Linthicum was looking for people to help spread interest in the CyberPatriot program throughout the state as part of an effort to build a cybersecurity pathway from K-12 to college to industry. He was so impressed by what McNally was doing in northern California that he made him Greater Sacramento Region CyberPatriot Middle/High School Coordinator.

“Sean has been a valued resource and deserves most of the credit for making the program grow across the Region,” Linthicum said.

In that role, he visited schools throughout the region and helped teachers come on board as CyberPatriot coaches. He also represented the Sacramento region at ICT/DM meetings and events.

“My primary mission was to help other teachers not have to suffer through obstacles like I did in becoming a CyberPatriot coach,” McNally said. “I showed them the ropes, so to speak, on how to set up for competitions and provide rigorous training materials for the students to be self-taught, unless a mentor was found to implement the training.”

Teacher of the Year

As he became more involved in the CyberPatriot community, McNally’s peers encouraged him to apply for the Teacher of the Year awards that the Air Force Association gives to teachers who are making an impact in Aerospace or STEM disciplines.

In 2014, he was named the Claude Farinha Gold Rush Chapter #116 Teacher of the Year for secondary education. His application was then passed along to compete for Teacher of the Year in Northern California Area 1. He won that award and was invited to a banquet where the statewide Teacher of the Year would be chosen from three regional finalists.

As he sat in the banquet hall, McNally thought he would need to wait in suspense through the entire thing to find out whether or not he’d won. As it turns out, he received some good news early in the evening when he opened the event’s program.

“In that program was printed, ‘Sean McNally-Area 1 and State Teacher of the Year.’ I was surprised and grateful to learn that I had won,” McNally said.

Sean also won AFA State Teacher of the year again in 2015 and was on track to win again in 2016, but no one was selected that year.

Winning State Teacher of the Year made McNally eligible to apply for National Teacher of the Year, an award that’s given to one of the statewide winners each year. He didn’t win that award, but his application was so strong that he received the National Air Force Association’s Medal of Merit for his efforts in STEM education and his advocacy of the National Youth Cyber Education Program.

Looking Forward

With awards under his belt and a successful team at his high school, McNally has already achieved a lot in the Air Force Association’s National Youth Cyber Education Program.

He hopes to continue building on his outreach efforts as a California Cyberhub adviser. He’s also started the CyberPatriot Lecture series to provide regional training sessions for teams in need of a mentor.

IT professionals record lectures on topics like using Cisco Packet Tracker and finding vulnerabilities in Windows. Those lectures were held in person and recorded for distribution on YouTube. McNally now live streams his CyberPatriot Lecture series across the state using Nepris.com.

No matter what comes his way, McNally will remain dedicated to doing whatever he can to advance cybersecurity education in California.

“I enjoy being part of a team of individuals who want to grow this program so that students can begin a pathway to a high wage-earning career someday,” McNally said. “My enthusiasm that comes out when I speak is well received by students; I have found a niche for myself and I like bringing a program to kids who enjoy it.”.

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“He was a terrific innovator who pushed a lot of programs into a high a degree of achievement and was very eager to start new programs as well,” Peck said. “He had a great organizational mind and didn’t forget anything.”

Some of those programs Talbot helped build and execute include Beyond the Bell Cup, a competition held at the end of each CyberPatriot season, and the California Cyber Innovation Challenge, a statewide cyber competition sponsored by the Governor’s Go-Biz Office.

California Cyberhub Community Manager Donna Woods worked closely with Talbot on CyberPatriot and other initiatives. She recalled his spirit and unparalleled support for cybersecurity education.

“Harry’s military ‘no retreat attitude, and diligence in upholding the Air Force creed and vision including “cyberspace global vigilance, fueled by innovation, shared values, and key capabilities” was evident in the exemplary work ethic, dedication, and vision for Beyond the Bell’s participation in CyberPatriot,” Woods said. “I will be forever grateful for the lessons learned from Harry, and for the foundational principles and high expectations he created for CyberPatriot teams throughout California.”

Peck said Talbot also took a personal interest in his students, mentoring them and often sponsoring them out of his own pocket if school funds were not available.

“He was constantly trying to help people and constantly adopted people who were starting their careers. He was an amazing and selfless mentor.” Peck said.

Erle Hall, Educational Programs Consultant in the California Department of Education, met Talbot in 2010 as part of his work to spread cybersecurity awareness to students. The relationship grew over the years and Hall invited Talbot to be a panelist at the Educating for Careers Conference last March.

Hall said the two bonded over their military service and their passion for cybersecurity education.

“Over these last several years we collaborated on career education and shared thoughts on our lives as ex-servicemen, he in the Air Force and I in the Army, and how that sense of service to country and community remained with us and informed our sense of mission in our work,” Hall said. “It was a shock for me to hear of his passing and I will miss him as a friend and colleague. His legacy will be carried among the many students’ memories of him as he inspired and connected them to the exciting world of cyber security education and competition.”

Talbot joined the U.S. Army in 1970 and retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 2004. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from San Jose State University, a Master of Arts in Public Policy from the Claremont Graduate School, and a Doctor of Education from California Lutheran University.

Outside of his service to the LAUSD and CyberPatriot, Talbot served as Associate Director of the United Way of Kern County and Santa Barbara County. He is survived by his brother Tom Talbot, a sister-in-law, a niece and a nephew in Texas.

Memorial services were held February 10 at First Presbyterian Church in Encino. Contributions in Talbot’s memory can be made to the Fisher House, Air Force Flight Test Center Museum, or to CyberPatriot through the Air Force Association.

And, she’s just getting started. West plans to expand the work she’s done in California to other parts of the country and develop a plan to engage women in technology long after they leave college.

‘No one had an answer for me’

West worked at the same company for nearly a decade before obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management. She became interested in IT after getting involved in a few projects at work and becoming more interested in computers and gaming at home.

Despite those interests, she struggled to find a master’s degree program that would allow her to pursue them. Her own struggles would later inspire her to become a mentor for others who are looking to pursue a career in cybersecurity.

“I went to my IT director, and I really asked a lot of people where should I go and what should I do. No one really had an answer for me,” West said. “I didn’t know what programs were out there and there was really no mentorship. What I deliver now to my students is what I couldn’t find.”

That mentorship comes in the form of Coastline’s Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program, which West runs in conjunction with Steve Linthicum, Deputy Sector Navigator for Information Communication Technologies and Digital Media in the Orange County Region.

Linthicum said West is the perfect person to lead the apprenticeship program and help recruit more women into it. He is committed to improving diversity in the field but realizes that he is not the best person to lead those efforts.

“If you’re looking for a mentor, you want someone who is like you and I don’t fit that role very well for recruiting women into the field,” Linthicum said. “Tobi demonstrates that this is a profession that women can do and do a very good job at. She’s someone who investigates and tries to figure things out and look under the covers to see what’s really going on.”

One of those students described her experience finding the program and interacting with West, who helped her prepare for a Cyber Expo event and prepare to find a job in the cybersecurity field.

“I searched for ‘him’ Professor Tobi West and was shocked to see a beautiful stunning lady instead,” the student said. “Professor West has been an inspiration to me from day one.”

Teacher, mentor, organizer

West began teaching at Cal Poly Pomona after completing her master’s degree. She’d always wanted to teach but thought she needed a Ph.D. to do it. She was pleasantly surprised to learn that she could use her professional experience to help others find the same passion for cybersecurity and have a broader impact on the community.

“My job at that time didn’t do anything with the community; it was all about the company’s bottomline,” West said. “I knew I had a lot of good stories to tell about what happened at work, with encouragement from Dr. Dan Manson, I applied at Cal Poly and got the position.”

That desire to serve the community lead to volunteering at CyberPatriot events at Cal Poly for students of Los Angeles Unified School District. She knew that Coastline wanted to host CyberPatriot events as well and thought she could devote some time to making that happen.

Thanks to West’s leadership, Coastline is a Center of Academic Excellence for Cyber Defense Education and part of the Southern California Cybersecurity Community College Consortium, which is the second largest CyberPatriot Center of Excellence in the U.S.

This past October, West organized the second annual CyberTech Girls OC event at Coastline. The event brought over 100 middle and high school-aged girls together for hands-on activities like a computer forensics crime scene, building a website about personal cyber wellness, and disassembling a computer. Girls also had the opportunity to meet with representatives from Crowdstrike, Kaiser, NASA, Northrop Grumman, and several other organizations.

“The idea behind CyberTech Girls is that engagement in cybersecurity education has to start early, in middle school,” West said. “If we don’t have that diversity of thinking in boardrooms and product design, we aren’t going to beat the problem.”

Though West has done a lot of work organizing cybersecurity events for girls, she realizes that events alone are not enough to translate into careers. Moving forward, she plans to add

additional mentoring opportunities to foster deeper connections that will withstand the peer pressure that young women in the technology field face.

“I want to have that wrap-around so girls have something after the program,” she said. “Right now, they just come to the event and it’s over, unless they join our CyberPatriot program.”

Breaking the glass ceiling

Professor West and California Cyberhub Community Manager Donna Woods collaborate on efforts to bring more young women into cybersecurity. They also share a bond because they’ve both had to overcome some of those same obstacles that they see their students face.

“We had that higher glass ceiling we had to break through as women in this field,” Woods said. “I look up to her as an educator. It’s not often that we get to see women of her caliber and her knowledge. She has a great vision for promoting females in STEM and cyberscience.”

Woods also appreciates how transparent and accessible West is when working with students. She’s able to translate information in a way that students can easily understand without watering down concepts so much that the meaning of them is lost.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then West is in for a lot of flattery with the program she’s created. She’s working with Woods to expand the CyberTech Girls model to other parts of California. She also hopes to expand to other parts of the country, through her business CyberTech West.

“Tobi has created an incredible program at Coastline and we hope to emulate what she’s done in Orange County,” Woods said.

West is already starting to think beyond the high school and college pathways about how to retain women in cybersecurity jobs once they enter the workforce. She would like to begin tracking young women who compete in CyberPatriot and other cyber competitions to keep an eye on where they go after the competition ends.

“Let’s say that we are successful in getting women into this field, how do we make sure we keep them there? Right now we don’t have any tracking, so there’s no evidence that this event is meaningful,” West said. “I would love to enter a doctoral program to develop a tracking system for cybersecurity competition data to understand how these competitions impact future careers.”