GenCyber: a Summer Introduction to Cybersecurity for Middle-School Students

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A free three-week day camp offered at UW Tacoma is designed to spark STEM interest and college dreams.

The “white hat” cybersecurity heroine of the future might be a South Sound 8th-grader today.

A free, three-week day camp experience at UW Tacoma this summer might be the place where that code warrior’s passion is ignited.

Dr. Yan Bai, associate professor, UW Tacoma School of Engineering & TechnologyThe National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation recently announced that UW Tacoma will be the site of a 2019 GenCyber Camp. The campus is partnering with the UW Tacoma Math-Science Leadership Program, Franklin Pierce Schools, local high-tech employers and other community organizations to offer the program.

Sixty kids in grades 8 and 9 will work on hands-on projects, case studies and cyber challenges. Organizers are particularly interested in engaging local urban youth who are historically underrepresented in STEM fields.

NSA and NSF developed the GenCyber concept as a way to address a shortfall of skilled cybersecurity professionals. The hope is that kids who get energized by the camps will maintain their interest through high school and college and into a career in the field. The first camps were offered in 2014 at six locations around the country. Since then, the program has expanded to 122 camps in 39 states and the District of Columbia.

D. C. Grant, Lecturer, UW Tacoma School of Engineering & TechnologyIn the Northwest, the UW Tacoma camp is one of only three offerings in Washington and Oregon; the others are in Bellingham and Portland. The three-week experience at UW Tacoma is unique in the nation – all the other camps are one or two weeks in duration.

Amanda Figueroa, director of student transitions at UW Tacoma, is one of three organizers of the UW Tacoma camp, the others being Yan Bai, associate professor, and D.C. Grant, lecturer, both faculty in the School of Engineering & Technology.

“We were able to build on the success of the Math-Science Leadership Program that we have developed over the past 15 years,” said Figueroa, referring to the STEM day camp program that has introduced thousands of youth to career pathways in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “The length of our GenCyber camp is a function of what we’ve learned with MSL. We want to invest deeply in youth and have them experience enough time on a college campus where they really begin to see themselves at home on the campus.”

Amanda Figueroa, Director of Student Transitions, UW Tacoma Student Affairs and Enrollment Services.Although funded by NSF and NSA, the camp wouldn’t be possible without community partners. Activities will be offered by organizations like Microsoft, the City of Tacoma and the Department of Homeland Security.

“Franklin Pierce Schools is providing a bus, so that transportation is not a barrier for their students, who live in more rural areas of Pierce County,” said Figueroa. The school district’s commitment grew out of a connection that Dr. Bai and Mr. Grant had established with a teacher from the district. Tacoma Public Schools is also supporting the effort, and recently the organizers were able to open participation in the camp to teachers from area school districts.

Kids and teachers are being actively recruited for the free camp, which runs July 15 – August 1. More information is available on the UW Tacoma GenCyber Summer Camp website.

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Written by: 
John Burkhardt / June 7, 2019
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu