Local high schoolers get a head start in emerging industry at COBA’s Cybersecurity Camp

By Bernadette A. Serna

Local high schoolers get a head start in emerging industry at COBA’s Cybersecurity Camp
Dr. Anitha Chennamaneni and Provost Dr. Peg Gray-Vickrey welcome students to the cybersecurity camp.

Texas A&M-Central Texas’ College of Business Administration kicked off its free week-long cybersecurity camp for local high school students. The camp is designed for high school students to increase their knowledge of cyberspace, explore various cybersecurity careers, and learn to practice safe online behavior.

“The camp is free to all participants. Any high schooler can attend the camp. Participants will gain an understanding of basic cybersecurity concepts, learn to practice safe online behavior, explore various cybersecurity careers and increase their knowledge of cyberspace. Allowing the participants to develop their critical thinking, teamwork, and communication skills,” said Dr. Anitha Chennamaneni, Computer Information Systems Department chair and program director.

Teamwork and leadership brought at least one Temple High School student to the camp. Hayden Pool and fellow classmates began a gaming club at Temple HS. His teacher suggested they check out the cybersecurity camp.

“My first day went really well. It exceeded every single expectation. I was expecting super monotone lectures and stuff that I already knew.” Pool said. “But they introduced a bunch of stuff that I had no idea about. It really surprised me.”

Pool, a senior in the fall, joined the camp looking to gain knowledge about what field experience is needed and what courses he needs to take for a future in cyber security.

“Camp activities are designed to ensure an active learning environment through problem-solving exercises, collaborative in-class assignments, inquiry-based Q/A and hands-on training problems. They will also explore various cybersecurity careers and increase their knowledge of cyberspace. Additionally, participants receive instruction and mentorship from A&M-Central Texas faculty and other experts in the region,” Chennamaneni said.

Lead instructor for the camp Dr. Abhitjit Nag, assistant professor of computer information systems at A&M-Central Texas, designed a camp experience to include firsthand learning in the cybersecurity domain and visits from cybersecurity professionals to provide insight into various career opportunities.

“Having a camp like this will motivate students to start a program in the cybersecurity domain. It helps to address the shortcomings of active workforce in the field of cybersecurity.” Nag said.

According to the Texas Comptroller about 130,000 Texans are employed in the cybersecurity industry. The ever-growing industry contributes at least $35.5 billion to Texas’ gross state product. The average annual salary for an employee in this industry is $110,000, and one job in cybersecurity generates about $224,000 in economic input and $124,000 in Texas wages.

Camp participant Anahi Hernandez will be a junior in the fall at Harker Heights High School. Seeing her sister explore learning opportunities in coding inspired her to try something new.

“I thought this was a great opportunity to gain an insight. And then maybe next summer I can get into (Girls Who Code). I think this opened a new world and new possibilities for me. It could be possible for me to want to be in the technology field in the future.” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is part of the STEM Academy, a college-preparatory program for students interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and earning her associates degree.

When asked what he is most looking forward to Pool said, “Group projects. They said that will be the part we can be hands on apply what we learned throughout the entire things. And gives us a chance to show what we learned.”

The eagerness to learn and the opportunity for students to demonstrate what they have learned was evident on the first day of camp.

“I was pleasantly surprised that all the students were bright, paying attention and asking good questions. It’s obvious that they all wanted to be here,” Mr. Emmet Gray said. “That’s the best kind of student to have, when you have a class full of student that really want to be here and are really interested in the topic.”

Gray is a camp instructor and visiting lecturer of Computer Information Systems at A&M-Central Texas.

Chennamaneni hopes the camp will provide memorable and rewarding experiences. Through the College of Business Administration at A&M-Central Texas, she is working towards offering cyber and coding camps next year to both high school and middle school students, and an all-girls cyber or coding camp.

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