Bilingual Cybersecurity Camp at CCM Benefits a Diverse Population of Students

Group of female high school students working on the inside of a computerThis summer, 40 high school students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic groups in Morris County had the benefit of learning about cybersecurity at a GenCyber camp run at County College of Morris (CCM).

The national GenCyber program, supported by the National Security Agency (NSA), seeks to ignite and sustain cybersecurity interest at the K-12 level toward developing a competent, diverse and adaptable pipeline of cybersecurity professionals.

The CCM program, the only GenCyber camp in New Jersey in 2022, was free for the students and provided them with 40 hours of cybersecurity programming as well as Raspberry Pi computers to use and keep. The CCM camp was distinctive in that it was one of a few camps across the country run in two languages, English and Spanish. The educators who successfully pursued a $50,000 NSA grant to run the camp had a vision of inclusion and equity, wanting to make sure the program would reach a broad cross-section of students.

Bringing Diversity to a Non-Diverse Field

Students who attended the camp were 54 percent female, while the number of women in cybersecurity fields is estimated to be only 24 percent.

“Bringing more women into this high-paying but heavily male-dominated field can help to build gender equity as well as reduce income disparity among genders,” said Dr. Mariel Kolker, the camp’s lead instructor and physics teacher at Morristown High School. “Equal-gender teams have also been found to be more effective and produce more innovative and impactful work,” she added.

Students who attended CCM’s camp were 46 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Black and 21 percent Asian. Research shows that Hispanic, Black and Asian professionals make up a high school students working on laptop togethersignificantly low percentage of the cybersecurity industry. Yet, studies note that diversity in working groups brings different perspectives and results in better ideas and higher profits.

It was a priority for Dawn Rywalt, camp program manager and associate professor at CCM, and Kolker to recruit a diverse pool of students.

“I felt very strongly about making this opportunity available to students who are not typically given access to such opportunities,” said Kolker.

At the end of the week, students reported enjoying learning about cryptography, coding in Python, password security, social engineering and more. Many students mentioned they now take their online security more seriously.  Several students talked about pursuing cybersecurity on their own through games and other online activities and the possibility of pursuing it as a possible future career. One of the Spanish-speaking students noted that the camp was unusual in that it made her feel included and it was easy for her to understand the material instead of being “put to the side or not understanding.”

Why Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is vital to the future of the United States, not just for government, business and industry, but also at the economic, academic and personal levels. Despite its importance, the supply of cybersecurity professionals has fallen far short of demand with some studies estimating as many as 700,000 jobs are going unfilled.

“It is critical that young students have a basic understanding of cybersecurity,” said Rywalt. “As they learn through their schooling and personal experiences, they can see how cybersecurity impacts all aspects of their lives, be it through social media, economic situations or physical devices. Plus, the field offers them the opportunity to build a career in a high-demand, well-paying field.”

About Morristown High School

Morristown High School has a robust set of computer science courses for students to take, including a course in Cybersecurity. It also has a CyberColonials Club in which students work together to solve Capture The Flag (CTF)-type challenges in a variety of online competitions and games. Morristown High School’s population as of 2021 is 49 percent White, 38 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Black and 4 percent Asian.


About County College of Morris

County College of Morris was the first community college in New Jersey to be designated by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Two-Year Education (CAE2Y). It has a certification program in Information/Cyber Security in which students secure a network, protect private data and set policies for managing the security of a business and the nation.