Image of student raising their hand at the CyberCamp

By Leiah Kim, Staff Writer

 

The Central Florida Navy League (CFNL) held its annual CyberCamp at the DoD StarBase Central Florida in Orlando, June 24-28.

 

The week-long camp provided 8-to-16-year-old students with interactive activities, hands-on experiences, and a comprehensive introduction to cybersecurity. Students then competed in a final day competition to evaluate their learning experience. The camp’s $50 registration fee included training materials, equipment, lunch and a commemorative CyberCamp t-shirt.

 

CFNL, a nonprofit organization, advocates for greater support of military personnel and veterans, and it seeks to educate the public on the military’s significance and sacrifice. CFNL has hosted CyberCamp for four years thanks to the generosity of community sponsors who fund the curriculum, lunches, equipment and camp shirts. Volunteers who donate their time and expertise to train the next generation of cyber professionals oversee all aspects of the program, which seeks to inspire a diverse group of children to explore the world of cybersecurity.

 

Andrea Schaumann, the CyberCamp director and CFNL director of STEM, said the camp was grateful to have two interns from StarBase and two student volunteers who were former campers helping this year. According to Schaumann, the camp would not be complete without its head instructor, Jonathan Harris, lead engineer at the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD).

 

“One of the hallmarks of this camp is ensuring that populations who are typically underrepresented in coding, cyber and STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] careers have the opportunity to see representation from their community and guest speakers” Schaumann said. “This allows students to see that there are many successful adults from diverse backgrounds and gives participants an opportunity to get hands-on experience and build an early foundation.”

 

Staff writer, Leiah, interacting with one of the campers

Camper discussing cybersecurity project.

 

CFNL’s CyberCamp program aims to develop students’ skills in varying levels of cybersecurity. Many of the students were returning campers, had previously attended similar events, or had acquired cybersecurity knowledge through other experiences.

 

“I am actually a CyberPatriot in Civil Air Patrol, so I have been working with cybersecurity,” said one camper in describing his background. “My favorite thing about technology is seeing how much it has evolved from the 40’s to today.”

 

Many campers attended to gain a head start in their career choices, which highlighted their passion in cyber skills.

 

“I need a similar college degree to do this if I want to become a pilot,” said a returning middle school student. “I am very interested in planes and hope to one day serve in the Air Force.”

 

CyberCamp instructors guided and encouraged the students’ enthusiasm they noticed toward the camp’s content. They saw each child demonstrate a unique interest in technology that revealed an eagerness to hone their skills and continue learning.

 

After meeting their instructors, participants learned daily camp functions. For example, if an instructor yelled “Cyber!” then campers responded with “Security!” and remained silent for an announcement. They began their journey into cyberspace by learning what cybersecurity is and why it is crucial in today’s digital age. Borrowing from the CyberPatriot curriculum, campers discussed online safety, how to protect themselves from phishing and hackers, and the importance of maintaining an appropriate digital footprint and online presence.

 

Having addressed the basics, CFNL volunteers started the campers on the material they were most excited to start using, which involved cybersecurity principles and developing a foundation of coding skills.

 

“We use the CyberPatriot curriculum PowerPoints, however, I love incorporating a lot of hands-on activities where the kids actually use the commands,” Harris said. “Although the instruction is necessary, practicing what they are learning and getting their hands on the keyboard helps them thoroughly understand the content.”

 

Campers working on cybersecurity worksheet.

The campers utilize skills to answer cybersecurity worksheet.

 

Students explored various systems, including Windows and Linux. Linux, an open-source operating system, powers many popular platforms today. It offers flexibility and customization, allowing campers to learn how to manage a computer’s hardware and memory.

 

“I love Linux so much,” said the previous year’s camp competition winner and current volunteer. “I can’t wait to learn more because this is just a part of understanding how to protect a company’s system from an attacker. It’s fascinating to experience this all over again and now help introduce campers to Windows and Linux.”

 

Campers also developed their skills through interactive games on Kahoot and GimKit. Such applications provide early learners with opportunities to challenge themselves with STEM questions while playing games that engage their age groups.

 

“GimKit has been my favorite part of camp so far,” a camper said. “It’s like a video game where you answer questions on chemistry, software and hardware to gain energy and move your character around.”

 

Navy Capt. Tim James, NAWCTSD commanding officer, spoke to the children about cybersecurity.

Navy Capt. Tim James, NAWCTSD commanding officer, spoke to the children about cybersecurity.

 

In addition to the curriculum and games, CyberCamp featured guest speakers from the modeling, simulation and training industry who discussed diverse career opportunities in cybersecurity and STEM. On the final day of camp, Navy Capt. Tim James, NAWCTSD commanding officer, spoke to the children about how cybersecurity and STEM support the military in training and real-life operations.

 

“Regardless of their passion, STEM touches on it somewhere, so they can get involved in something they really care about,” James said. “Some skills are harder to begin developing when you get older, so it’s important to get children immersed and excited about their passions when they’re young and can foster it as they grow.”

 

On the final day, campers split into teams of two for the final competition. This competition evaluated their ability to harden a system as the campers became cybersecurity specialists to secure a company’s system against cyberattackers. Teams gained points by uninstalling unwanted programs, removing unwanted accounts, answering trivia questions on configuration settings, and developing complex passwords to make their systems more secure.

 

Winning team received medals for effort.

Campers competed on real-life scenarios and the winners received medals.

 

Camp counselors noticed the teams’ high energy as they competed and encountered challenges based on real-life scenarios. Afterwards, students waited to hear who placed first, second and third. Contest officials tallied the points and announced the winning teams, who received medals and took home tech prizes. After the contest, campers shook hands and applauded everyone’s efforts. Coordinators congratulated the campers on the skills they had developed, and improvements made throughout the week.

 

CFNL cybersecurity expert providing guidance to the campers.

CFNL’s CyberCamp experts guiding and instructing campers on the foundations of cybersecurity.

 

Throughout CyberCamp, attendees began building their foundations in cybersecurity and safe internet usage. From phones to computers, today’s users employ devices that constantly present privacy and safety concerns. Programs like CFNL’s CyberCamp provide expert guidance for the new generation to have a comprehensive understanding of technology while maintaining a safe online presence.

 

In their last hour of camp, students played their favorite GimKit games and collaborated on an interactive movie, where they made decisions as a cyber specialist. After all the hard work they accomplished during the week, counselors said they were proud of the development and impressive knowledge this group of campers displayed.

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