District schools, students succeed in cyber during 2016-17 school year

No matter where you look these days, talk of cyber security and the need for greater emphasis on securing information online dominates conversation and media coverage. Whether a news headline features the latest cyber or malware attack circling the globe, or covers a rapidly changing cybersecurity infrastructure in the Central Savannah River Area, developments in the industry – and the thousands of future local jobs often associated with those developments – are of the utmost importance.

That is why the Aiken County Public School District has positioned itself, and our nearly 25,000 students, in a proactive, forward-thinking stance regarding the approach to cyber-related educational opportunities for all students.

“The cybersecurity industry is on the cutting edge of growth and job creation in the new economy and we want to ensure that our Aiken County students are poised to thrive in that emerging marketplace,” Aiken County Public School District Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford stated. “Providing highly skilled workers for cyber-related careers is a core goal at the heart of our ongoing efforts to engage community partners and support collaborative workforce development here in Aiken County through a new initiative we call AIKEN WORKS.”

During the 2016-17 school year, Aiken County students excelled in a number of competitions  and activities that tested and enhanced their cyber knowledge and online abilities.

Statewide cybersecurity organization SC Cyber presented Langley-Bath-Clearwater Middle School with a technology award earlier this year recognizing the Lions as the Top Middle School in South Carolina’s “NSA Day of Cyber” School Challenge, where LBC finished atop the middle school cyber scoreboard with over 250 students completing the online workshop. The school received $500 from SC Cyber, an amount matched by LEA Tech with a second $500 check. The University of South Carolina at Aiken also provided a summer camp technology scholarship to outstanding LBC 8th-grade student and SC Cyberperformer Jackson Stoll.

“The results achieved by LBC were phenomenal and I applaud their career education initiative and program,” said Tom Scott, SC Cyber Executive Director, in a news release. “Not only was LBC the top Middle School in the Palmetto State, but it also had the highest percentage of students complete the workshop and also had the highest number of female completers. Sixty-five percent of all students completing from LBC were female in a traditionally male-dominated profession.”

The challenge allowed participating students to take part in rigorous, real-life virtual cyber scenarios, discover the skills and tools used by the NSA cyber professionals, and explore the vast number of careers in cybersecurity. Each student received an individualized Cyber Resume and NSA Certificate of Completion.

“The ‘Day of Cyber’ School Challenge introduced students to careers in high-demand sectors like cyber security,” Scott added, “The key to successfully navigating our new digital economy and supporting the growing cyber security ecosystem within South Carolina is the investment in our workforce and the necessary educational foundations that a program such as this provides for students.”

Meanwhile, an Aiken County Career and Technology Center CyberPatriot Team captured a first-place win in the Silver Tier category of the state’s Open Division during the CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Education Program’s CyberPatriot IX competition.

According to the Air Force Association, which established the competition, 4,404 teams registered to compete in CyberPatriot IX, including 100 teams from South Carolina. Fifty-three teams competed in the Open Division in the Palmetto State.

The team of students from the Aiken County Career and Technology Center included Daniels Drayton-Martin (Silver Bluff High), Josh Embry (North Augusta High), Ruben Lopez-Cortes (Silver Bluff High), Jourdon Newman (North Augusta High) and Matthew Swygert (Silver Bluff High), and was coached by Amy Marchant, and mentored by Randy Coleman. The students demonstrated teamwork, critical-thinking skills, and technical knowledge key to a successful career in cybersecurity in advancing to the Southeastern Regional Open Division Round held in February.

“It is definitely a learning experience for the students. There are so many aspects to consider for each operating system and quiz,” Marchant stated in February. “The students did a wonderful job pushing through the images and scenarios. I am so very proud of how well they did for the first year. Next year we will be even better.”

The Aiken County Career & Technology Center offers students a two-year cybersecurity program with courses in computer networking and Cyber Security Fundamentals and Advanced Cyber Security. Students in the program work to attain government approved and globally recognized CompTIA Security+ certification.

Aiken County Career Center introductory cyber courses prepare students for industry experience in network architecture; network operations; network security; network troubleshooting; industry standards, practices, and network theory; and workplace readiness and leadership skills, in addition to the proper care, maintenance, and use of networking software, tools, and equipment. More advanced coursework introduces the core concepts and terminology of cyber security and information assurance, and examines how the concept of security integrates into the importance of user involvement, security training, ethics, trust, and best practices management. Fundamental cybersecurity skills covered during the program include network security, testing, and validation; compliance and operational security; threats and vulnerabilities; application, data, and host security; access control and identity management; cryptography; and a broad range of other topics.

Advanced Placement courses in Computer Science and Computer Programming were offered during the 2016-17 school year as part of our National Math + Science Initiative (NMSI) implementation at AP Academy programs located at North Augusta High School and South Aiken High School. Students at South Aiken High who took AP Computer Science met or exceeded performance goals and earned a portion of over $39,000 in NMSI incentives. Meanwhile, ninth-grade students at North Augusta High earned nearly 30 qualifying scores on the Advanced Placement Computer Programming exam.

The South Aiken High School NJROTC Cyber Team also excelled in cyber competition during the 2016-17 school year, placing second in the same CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Defense All Service South Carolina State Competition, this time in the Gold Tier category. Team members included Coleen Harmon, Savannah Linder, Deanna Davies and Jessie Przywara. Randy Coleman coached the South Aiken High cyber team.

Finally, students from each school across Aiken County – including middle school and elementary school students – participated in the national Hour of Code event. This exercise introduced many students in the lower grade levels to the computer sciences for the very first time, sparking an interest in cyber-related careers and technologies sure to fuel the next generation of Aiken County competitors in the expanding global cyber economy.

Growth in the cyber arena will increase exponentially in the months and years ahead, and our District will continue to support and encourage Aiken County students to seize all opportunities the industry will have to offer through our dedicated instructors, a future-ready curriculum and access to high-quality skill assessments and meaningful, career-informing experiences.

Looking to that future, and speaking directly to the rise of cyber-related career opportunities, Aiken County Public Schools will provide next-level student experiences by attracting new business community partnerships through our collaborative workforce development initiative called AIKEN WORKS. AIKEN WORKS is focused on the identified four key areas in which we must provide greater numbers of graduates who are future-ready immediately upon graduation. The Cyber Technology sector of our local economy is certainly among those critical areas, and we look forward to engaging area leaders in that discussion.