California all-girls team helping tackle the cybersecurity problem from high school up

610 200 Victor Abalos

(Photo Credit: Moreno Valley CyberPatriots)

It seems almost every week there’s a terrifying news headline describing yet another hacking attack on our country’s business, government or political information infrastructure. We are indeed in the midst of the “cyber wars.”

As we scramble resources to protect our systems, relying on military, law enforcement and private sector experts, a critical capacity question has emerged:  Where will the next generation of cyber warriors come from?

In California's Moreno Valley, a so-called CyberPatriots high school club is answering that call. The all-girls group took their digital game to San Luis Obispo recently to compete in the California Cyber Innovation Challenge on the campus of Cal Poly.

The team was one of 16 competing in the high school cybersecurity event sponsored by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) along with an impressive list of businesses, state agencies and education partners committed to the state’s investment in cybersecurity.

The California Cyber Innovation Challenge is part of a statewide campaign to expand access to technology career pathways for students and empower businesses to support cybersecurity education and training.

“These are the cybersecurity experts and workers of the future,” said Steve Wright, director and sector navigator for Information Communications Technologies for the California Community College Strong Workforce Program. “These kids come from all kinds of backgrounds. They are learning to work as part of a team as well as individually,” to tackle the cyber challenges of the present and the future.

The competition ran through a hectic weekend and involved a series of computer, legal, ethical and organizational challenges, all designed to replicate an actual cybersecurity threat.

“The California Community Colleges help promote these high school cyber competitions because our state's vibrant economy, quite simply, needs more workers trained to address the huge cybersecurity challenge facing our economy,” said Van Ton-Quinlivan, vice chancellor for workforce and economic development at the California Community Colleges. “High school students can dramatically advance their training when they advance to the community colleges and soon to be ready to be hired in one of our economy's most vibrant sectors.”

“Words cannot describe this kind of opportunity,” said Donna Woods, a Moreno Valley high school teacher and one of the all-girl team coaches. “The doors this opens, the exposure they get to industry experts and colleges – it’s their oyster!”

In addition to business and education officials in attendance, the event featured military and government intelligence cybersecurity experts. Everyone, said event organizer and digital entrepreneur Scott Young, is looking for future cyber security workers.

“The director of engineering at a large cybersecurity company in Irvine told me having CyberPatriot participation on a resume would put that candidate at the top of the list when applying for a job,” said Young.

Young, who is working with Wright to develop curriculum pathways for students to pursue digital careers, is also president of ListentoSee, Inc., a digital consulting company.

A North Hollywood High School team won the event but the Moreno Valley CyberPatriots team received high praise and a commendation from one of the judges, who serves as cybersecurity director for the CIA.

“The girls did very well in other competitions,” said Woods, who is also part of the statewide CyberPatriots team of experts. “They won the state competition in their respective division and then advanced to the regionals of the national competition where they placed third.”

Check any job site and look at the number of openings for IT cybersecurity jobs. Watch these competitions and you know that help is on the way. 


Victor Abalos

All stories by: Victor Abalos