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  1. Education

USF CyberCamp aims to grow interest in cybersecurity field

YBOR CITY — In the SecureSet Academy's Ybor City office, students in the University of South Florida's cybersecurity summer camp set about trying to pick old-fashioned locks.

The students possessed varying understanding levels of lock picking, but each grabbed a tension wrench and went to work on locks ranging from practice locks to high security locks.

Lock picking does not immediately come to mind when envisioning cybersecurity, but the exercise aimed to give the kids confidence in breaking security measures.

The exercise represented just one of several activities the students enjoyed during the week-long camp that USF used to inspire high school students to pursue careers in cybersecurity.

Today's booming need for cybersecurity professionals sparks the need to promote the industry, according to camp instructor Nate Fisk. He said the field requires a diversity of skills.

The camp, now in its third year, succeeds in raising awareness of the field.

"We wanted this camp to speak to the students at their level," Fisk said. "We want them to see the different skills. Everyone leaves here able to get into a web page – one of ours of course."

More than 25 area high school students received hands-on opportunities to explore the rapidly growing field during the camp, which ran from July 9-13.

USF's College of Education, the Florida Center for Cybersecurity and the Florida Center for Instructional Technology collaborated to operate the camp.

"There are so many people interested in helping and growing the program," Fisk said. "It's all about reaching them. We want them to leave here knowing cybersecurity is cool."

Jaden Wright, a rising freshman at Robinson High School, said the camp succeeded in maintaining his heightened interest in the field. He noted how fun it was to learn about Linux and more related cybersecurity topics and participate in activities like lock picking.

"I love the teamwork and how interactive the camp is," Wright said.

Some noted the importance of bringing what they learned from camp into their online lives.

"We're learning how to protect ourselves and how not everything on computers is safe," said Chasity Smith-Pedersen, a rising junior at Spoto High School.

Smith-Pedersen came to camp with an interest in coding and how to make web sites.

"I thought I'd be sitting in front of my computer screen all week and that's not the case."

A few students came in with previous cybersecurity experience, including Brooksville Central High's Ethan Stayt, a rising senior whose dad works in Information Technology (IT).

"I grew up watching my dad doing these types of things," Stayt said.

Stayt considers cybersecurity a possible field while also considering the military as an option.

"(Cybersecurity) is a growing field and someone needs to fill the positions."

The camp is led by university-level instructors and USF students. Stayt said their participation helped the camp earn his recommendation for anyone interested in cybersecurity.

"It's hands on and enticing and all the instructors are here to answer your questions."

Contact Katelyn Massarelli at kmassarelli@tampabay.com

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