Women are sorely outnumbered in the information technology industry. Dale Rowe, associate professor of information technology, hopes to start to bridge the gap with the Girls Cybersecurity Camp on July 17-21. The free camp is exclusively for girls ages 13-18 to get them interested in both IT and cybersecurity.
Rowe started this camp three years ago with the help of some of his students. Their goal from the beginning was to bring more girls into the IT profession and help build their confidence in their technological abilities.
“A lot of stuff we see in the IT program is the girls tend to ask the guys a lot of the questions and rely on them and often the guys don’t know what they are doing either,” Rowe said. “(We are) giving them a separate environment where they can come and learn about cybersecurity and also realize they can do it and they’re capable of it.”
The camp will offer various workshops teaching basic coding, password security, basic cryptography, how to use wireless internet properly, how to recognize and deal with viruses and malware, what to do when you’ve been hacked, and how to handle cyber bullying. Rowe and his students have worked to make the workshops more hands-on, so campers walk away physically seeing, hearing, or touching the results of their work.
The camp’s sponsors, Palo Alto Networks, Adobe, Microsoft, 3M, FireEye, and UTOS, make the experience possible at no cost to the girls. Each camper will receive a “Raspberry Pie,” which is basically a small operating system about the size of a smart phone, with the power of one, too. The girls will do their work on these little systems and will be able to take them home and show all the things they created.
“We try to make everything they do give them some kind of visual or audio or tactile feedback, so rather than saying ‘I wrote a piece of code that does a loop,’ it’s ‘I wrote a piece of code that cracked a password or turned on some LED lights and made the room flash,’” Rowe said. “It’s something that’s more memorable and more fun than just some class.”
The camp also includes multiple opportunities in a high-tech starship escape room equipped with multiple touch screen panels for communication and problem solving, a captain’s chair where they can steer the ship, and Tron-style lighting to make the room feel like a real starship. Rowe said this idea came from watching how his students learned and worked in cyber defense competitions.
“I had the question, can you learn in that kind of environment or are they being tested on what they’ve already learned because they do a lot of prep beforehand?” Rowe asked. “(The escape room) was designed to find that out. We kind of aligned the four or five challenges in the room with the workshops they have upstairs and then we measure how well they do each day in the escape room to see if there is any progression and see if they get better from the workshops upstairs or if they are just capable of learning it (on the spot).”
They found last year that many of the campers were good at learning in the room, but they needed a little bit of background to get started, which is why the workshops are helpful. The escape room is an innovative way for the girls to learn and use the skills they have learned at camp.
Cara Cornell, one of the students helping put the camp together and member of the Cybersecurity Team, said that one of the main objectives of the camp is to show young girls that cybersecurity can be fun and that they are capable of doing great things.
“Technology has been seen as a kind of intimidating subject,” Cornell said. “We want them to know they can do it and try it out.”