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Cyber Camps Highlight Regional Collaboration

Nearly half of the colleges in the Bay Area Community College Consortium participated in an initiative this summer to bring cyber security training to high school students through the CyberPatriot program.

Nearly 500 students attended weeklong cyber camps held from June 26-August 4 at the following colleges:

  • Las Positas College
  • Cabrillo College
  • Monterey Peninsula College
  • Solano College
  • Foothill College
  • Gavilan College
  • Santa Rosa Junior College
  • San Jose City College
  • Merrit College
  • College of San Mateo
  • Community College of San Francisco
  • Diablo Valley College

Richard Grotegut, Bay Area Deputy Sector Navigator for IT and Computer Science, was the driving force behind the camps and secured funding for the initiative from a Strong Workforce Program Regional Joint Venture. The camps are one part of California’s commitment to cybersecurity education and workforce development.

Making It Happen

The impetus for starting cyber camps in the Bay Area came after seeing success that teams from Southern California had in cyber competitions. Grotegut likened the cyber competition world to a sports league and hopes that schools in his region will progress to the next level.

“Sports teams compete pretty regularly and can go to regional championships or go to states,” Grotegut said. “We want to do that for this skill for kids who compete this way using their brains.” “It was time for the Bay Area (home of Silicon Valley) to form teams and compete.”

Grotegut supports all 28 community colleges in the Bay Area Community College Consortium. He visited each college last spring to pitch the idea of a cyber camp.

Most of the funding was provided through the Regional Joint Venture Fund. Colleges were only responsible for food and facility costs, and a faculty stipend if applicable. The $8500 provided by the Regional Joint Venture made the camps feasible for colleges that had the resources to host and plan them, Grotegut said.

Once the colleges were in place, Grotegut needed to find people to teach camp. He utilized his involvement with the Western Academy Support and Training Center to connect with instructors and establish a train the trainer program.

Train the trainer sessions were held June 19-23 at Cabrillo College and included instruction in the CyberPatriot curriculum. Several of the WASTC instructors had taught Cisco academy and other programs, so they had the fundamentals needed to quickly come up to speed on CyberPatriot.

Those instructors also had the chance to add a new skill to their resumes and, in some cases, travel to a different part of the state.

“It was an interesting way to do professional development and keep cost down,” Grotegut said.

Grotegut and his team further assisted colleges by creating promotional flyers, managing registration, providing copies of the student workbooks, and purchasing T-shirts for camp participants. This work ensured a consistent experience for students across the region.

College Perspectives

Participating colleges were eager to get on board with the initiative once they learned what CyberPatriot was and what it could offer their students.

“What drew me to camp was the ability to gamify learning about cybersecurity,” said Richard Wu, an Instructor in the Computer Networking And Information Technology Department at City College of San Francisco. “Trying to learn these concepts from a book can be pretty dry so having this competition format is much more engaging.”

This initiative is also a key part of the cybersecurity pathway from middle and high schools to community colleges. Many colleges already have or are in the process of creating degree programs specifically focused on cybersecurity.

“We are very interested in creating a pathway for students who might want to pursue cybersecurity as a profession, and we are doing our best to establish strong working relationships with the high school computer science teachers, said Bryce Martens, a Computer Information Science Instructor at College of San Mateo. “The camp really helped in both areas.”

Grotegut said the College of Marin and De Anza college are interested in coming on board for next year, which would mean half of the BACCC schools are part of the cyber camp initiative.

Overcoming Obstacles

One challenge the colleges faced was a high no-show rates at a number of the camps. They suspect this is due to the fact that the camps were free and that, in some cases, registration occurred well in advance.

“We contacted the students right way and heard the same excuses: they forgot about it, they scheduled something else at the same time, they didn't have any transportation, their parents didn't know about it,” Martens said.

To prevent this from happening again next year, Martens suggested collecting parent contact information on the registration form so reminders could be sent to them as a way of confirming their students’ participation closer to the date of the camp.

Other suggestions for next year include expanding high school networks and hiring additional staff to supervise camper pick up and drop off each day.

Despite those challenges, students who attended the camps benefitted from the experience. The skills they learned will make them better technology consumers, even if they never work as cybersecurity professionals.

“Students were exposed to cybersecurity issues in the college environment. Students developed real skills that they took home and some of them applied what they learned at home,” said Gerlinde Brady, Dean of CTE and Workforce Development at Cabrillo College.

Martens heard positive feedback from the attendees and their parents after the camp ended.

“She [a participant’s mother] told me how much her son enjoyed the class and told her all about it every day on the drive home, and said he was now considering cybersecurity as a college major,” Martens said. “She wanted to make sure we tell her and her son about any other classes and camps in the future.”

Next Steps

Grotegut hopes the camps will serve as a catalyst for continued cyber security instruction in the region. The goal is to have teams participating regional or statewide competitions and pursuing cybersecurity degrees at community colleges.

Statewide competitions will be held in January and February, and the national finals will be held in Baltimore in April. Grotegut is working with colleges to host practice rounds throughout the fall — an extension of the partnership started over the summer with the cyber camps.

Grotegut also plans to add an advanced track to next summer’s camps to accommodate students who participated this, or those who already have some background in computer programming and networking.

Plans are also in the works to create a one-credit course that community college students could take to learn the CyberPatriot curriculum. Colleges could collect enrollment revenue from this course with little additional effort required to prepare course materials.

Colleges are eager to come along in these efforts. Wu said he had not heard of CyberPatriot before Grotegut’s presentation, but now that he does, he is committed to ensuring that it succeeds.

“Silicon Valley is right here so it makes sense for us to be doing these types of activities,” Wu said. “The Bay Area is definitely more awake now. Look for us to be right alongside southern California in a few years.”