Two teams of high school computer whizzes from Pine Forest High School are gearing up to compete Friday in the CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Defense Competition at the University of West Florida.
The competition is designed to encourage high school students to pursue college studies in math and science, as well as possibly enter careers as defenders of the Internet.
Earlier this year, UWF started a mentor relationship with Pine Forest, which is Escambia County School District’s only Cyber Academy.
Kathy Denkler, assistant director for industry and community partnerships at the UWF Innovation Institute, assisted Pine Forest cyber teacher Angela Irby with registering the student teams for the national competition.
“The kids are real excited about it,” Denkler said. “They gain a lot of things by competing.”
Pine Forest is the first high school in the Escambia County to compete in the national cybersecurity competition, with support from the UWF Innovation Institute, Center for Cybersecurity and the school district.
More than 2,150 middle- and high-school student teams are registered for the national competition this year.
"Escambia County Schools strive to look into the future and create educational programs that will help prepare our students now for the careers that will be waiting for them after graduation,” said Malcolm Thomas, Escambia County schools superintendent. “As cybersecurity issues crop up in the news almost daily, teachers and students are already working on learning the skills to protect our secure web sites and data in the near future. Pine Forest has been in collaboration with the university and our local Homeland Security office to help prepare our students for opportunities in the real world.”
Cybersecurity is information technology security designed to protect networks, computers, programs and data from attack, damage or unauthorized access.
In the real world, the federal government has allotted more than $13 billion annually to cybersecurity over the next five years.
The high school CyberPatriot competition works like this: It places middle and high school students in the position of newly hired IT professionals tasked with managing the network of a small company.
During the competition rounds, student teams are given a set of virtual images that represent operating systems and work to find and resolve cybersecurity vulnerabilities. They compete for top placement within their state and region to earn an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the National Finals Competition, where they can earn national recognition and scholarships.
The Pine Forest student teams competed in the first two rounds of competition in October and November and scored in the gold, the second-highest tier.
After the online state rounds, the top three teams from each state and 12 wildcards will complete the regional competition in January 2015. The top teams will then advance to the nationals round, to be held in March 2015.
Denkler said the competition provides students with a variety of tools, including expanding their interest in Information technology and computers as well as teaching them social skills and teamwork.
“In Cyberpatriots, you have to have an understanding of a variety of skill sets,” Denkler said. “They will be able to teach other kids what they have learned and how to share information.”
To learn more about the UWF Center for Cybersecurity, visit uwf.edu/cybersecurity.
For additional information about the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Education Program, visit www.uscyberpatriot.org.