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GenCyber Camp highlights importance of cybersecurity

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

LAWRENCE — Two dozen K-12 teachers from across the United States gathered at the University of Kansas this summer to learn the basics of cybersecurity.

The GenCyber Summer camp took place July 29 to Aug. 2 at the School of Engineering. The goal: Help the teachers understand topics such as cryptography, Wi-Fi security, cyberbullying and more — then take that knowledge and incorporate it into lessons for their own students. Activities included a “cryptographic scavenger hunt” to test the teachers’ knowledge of the topic.

“An objective of these camps is to teach them the fundamentals of cybersecurity so that they know how to protect themselves online,” said Bo Luo, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, who helped lead the camp. “Another aspect here is to help them to be able to spread out this information. So we work with the teachers to come up with curriculum ideas on how we could educate students.”

Most of the teachers were from Kansas, but several came from out of state, including from as far away as Florida.

Jessica Tickle, an engineering teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District, said it is increasingly important that students understand how to keep their internet-connected devices — and their own data — safe from hackers and other would-be criminals. The lessons could also prepare some of those students for a future career in tech.

“We are adding cybersecurity to our school curriculum this coming school year, so this is one of three different programs I've done in the last three months to get ready for that class,” she said. “(In this camp) I've been able to find little nuggets that will at least keep my students interested and make them curious enough to dig deeper.”

“A lot of it is focused toward getting the kids educated enough that if they feel they have some hacker in them, we get them pointed in the right direction,” said Al Miner, a teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park.

“You know high school kids aren't necessarily going to be defending networks against attackers, but they are using the web and apps that use the web all day, every day,” he said. “They're putting a lot of information out there, and they need to know that people are collecting that information and using it either for their own purposes or against them.”

Luo said KU officials hope the camp helps seed the cybersecurity profession — that the teachers who came to campus this summer will inspire some of their students to make a career in the field.

“We want to educate as many students as possible on the safe use of the technology,” Luo said. “And we hope some of the kids will be interested in cybersecurity and joining us in the future.”

The camp was funded by a $100,000 grant from the National Security Agency.

EECS faculty members Fengjun Li, Alex Bardas, Drew Davidson and Chris Seasholtz contributed to teaching and organizing the camp. A total of 122 GenCyber camps — some aimed at teachers, others at students — were held across the nation in summer 2019.

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