GenCyber Camp Brings Technology to Underserved Groups
Carrie Raleigh didn’t know the first thing about cybersecurity when she started working for the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council. And, who could blame her? It’s a far cry from the things traditionally associated with the scouting program.
Over the past three years, Raleigh and colleague Knea Hawley brought the GenCyber program under the Girl Scouts umbrella and opened the doors for even more young women to learn about cybersecurity.
“I’ve learned so much and it’s been an amazing journey. Now it’s one of those things I talk about all the time,” Raleigh said. “It’s been so eye opening to me realizing the potential in the field for these girls. We can connect them with the training they need for this large opportunity in front of them.”
GenCyber is a nationwide program with camps in nearly all 50 states. The San Bernardino camps were held June 18-22 at CSU San Bernardino. The program was funded by a National Science Foundation grant received by CSUSB that made it free to all attendees. CSUSB has invited the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council to participate in their GenCyber camp since 2015.
Beyond learning the basics of cybersecurity, girls had the opportunity to meet with industry professionals from Google, Facebook and Bank of America just to name a few. While it took a lot of coordination from the GenCyber planning team, Raleigh said it was worth it for the students and the employers.
“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.”