The federal government is offering middle and high school students a chance to learn about cybersecurity and the threats that can be found online.
Called GenCyber, the free summer camp program teaches youngsters about the growing field of cybersecurity and what they can expect from related coursework in college. The camps are also available to teachers to help them develop cybersecurity programs for their schools and motivate students to pursue careers in cybersecurity.
GenCyber is a partnership between the National Security Agency (NSA) and the National Science Foundation. The camps will be held through early September 2015 at 29 university campuses in 18 states, including Florida, New York, Mississippi, California and Minnesota. Most are day camps lasting five days; some are overnight.
The program began in 2014 as a way to get more students interested in future careers in cybersecurity. As cyber threats and attacks become more common, educating the next generation of cybersecurity experts has become a priority for leaders in both the public and private sectors.
GenCyber started as a pilot program with six summer camps and has expanded to 43 camps at a cost of about $4 million. It plans to host 200 camps by 2020.
Camps vary in subject matter. In Vermont, high school students will build their own computers, learn about attacking and defending networks, and hear from experts. In California, middle school girls will receive their own small computers, learn how to create firewalls and take apart electronic equipment. They’ll also fly drones.
The goal of GenCyber is to capture the imaginations of young people who have an interest in the field and show them the challenges and career opportunities that await them, Steve LaFountain, Dean of the NSA’s College of Cyber, said in a May 2015 news release. The program also seeks to teach students to be better citizens in cyberspace and raise their awareness of risks.
Having a steady pipeline of skilled cybersecurity professionals is considered critical to the country’s economic and national security as the public becomes ever more reliant on digital technology in every aspect of daily life.
In April, President Barack Obama issued an executive order declaring that cyber attacks threaten national security. Recent months have brought news of hacks targeting the Internal Revenue Service and The White House, as well as the online password company LastPass.
Demand for cybersecurity experts and computer science specialists is high. Federal projections call for employment of computer systems analysts and information security analysts to significantly outpace the nation’s average job growth through at least 2022.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has also highlighted the shortfall of qualified professionals for cybersecurity-related positions.