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Pine Forest is the first high school in the Escambia County School District 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 Escambia County School District Superintendent Malcolm Thomas. “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.”
The CyberPatriot competition 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 second-highest tier, gold. Following 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.
Earlier this year, the University established a mentor relationship with Pine Forest, which is home to the 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. Anthony Pinto, computer science lecturer at UWF, and UWF computer science students also provided coaching support and training for the students in preparation for the competition. The collaboration is part of the UWF Center for Cybersecurity’s efforts to gain Center for Academic Excellence designation from the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security.
“All of the students were really enthusiastic and receptive to learning about cybersecurity,” Pinto said. “It was interesting to see how much they already knew about computer science and the cybersecurity field, but we were able to provide a global perspective. By partnering with area schools, we are making middle and high school students and the community aware of the Center for Cybersecurity and all of the degree programs offered here. This is the type of project that breaks down barriers between the University and the community, and helps make UWF a first-choice school for students who want to pursue a career in cybersecurity.”
To learn more about the UWF Center for Cybersecurity, visit uwf.edu/cybersecurity.