Bagley summer camp teaches cybersecurity skills to teens

February 15, 2016

STARKVILLE, Miss. – “Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility, and it boils down to this: In cybersecurity, the more systems we secure, the more secure we all are.” – Jen Johnson, Department of Homeland Security Secretary

The Bagley College of Engineering is taking on its share of cybersecurity responsibility by educating future students during the upcoming summer months.

Bulldog Bytes, a residential summer camp open to both junior high and high school students, teaches kids cybersecurity and digital forensics techniques and also gets young people thinking about what they are putting online and how to do so safely.

The camp allows students to cultivate programming skills by actively participating in coding games, robot controls and smartphone app creation, among others. In addition, students also develop communication skills and lifelong friendships throughout their stay.

Serving as co-director of Bulldog Bytes, Sarah Lee, an assistant clinical professor for Bagley’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, hopes that the camp encourages students to pursue career paths where they can apply their programming and cybersecurity skills.

“The camp allows us to bring kids on campus, some who have never visited a college campus, to experience college life,” said Lee, excitedly. “Kids from all backgrounds get to see themselves on a college campus, and they begin imagining a future at MSU.”

CSE’s summer camp offerings began in 2011 as an avenue to expose high school girls to cybersecurity technology. Branded as Bulldog Bytes in 2013, the program has seen enough success to expand, now including gender-specific sessions for junior high girls, as well as both junior high and high school boys.

Lee expressed that there was also a strong need for a camp that allowed young girls to express interest in and learn about a field strongly dominated by men. “There is a lot of literature that shows that girls learn better in a gender-specific environment,” said Lee. “They can focus on the subject at hand and get more from peer-to-peer learning opportunities without distractions.”

According to a survey published by Huffington Post, the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC²), which serves as the nation’s largest organization of cyber professional certifiers, found that only 10 percent of nearly 14,000 cybersecurity professionals were women, a statistic that has fallen 11 percent in the past two years.

With the camp program growth, Lee and her collaborators in the English and Education departments plan to increase the involvement of junior high and high school teachers. By incorporating teachers, Bulldog Bytes hopes to inspire teachers to integrate the curriculum of the camp into their classes.

With multiple past campers becoming camp counselors, Bulldog Bytes allows camp attendees to have near-peer involvement with college students who have shared similar experiences.

Junior CSE major Tori Robinson attended the camp as both a student and counselor and says the camp is an enriching experience for all those involved.

“We have seen a lot of students who have trouble adjusting the first few days and want to go home, but by the end they can’t wait to come back,” said the Jackson, Mississippi native. “It’s the little things that touch my heart and really make being a counselor worthwhile.”

Robinson also expressed how being a camper herself aided in the counseling experience.

“I’m able to take some of the weaknesses from my experience as a student and make them strengths,” said Robinson. “Some of the projects we did when I was attending the camps are still done today, so I’m able to help them more, because I’ve been in their shoes.”

An upcoming expansion of the residential summer camp is also in the works, according to Lee.

“We do surveys and interviews when the kids come into the camp as well as when they leave,” Lee said. “One of the things we found last summer is that a young girl said, ‘If you really want to reach more students, you need to come to us.’ Because of that, we want to see how offering a day camp in an area like Columbus can help kids in other communities.”

A day camp experience, mirroring the activities and goals of the original Bulldog Bytes camp, would allow young students an opportunity to learn cybersecurity and programming skills in either an off-campus location or at MSU. With one session planned for the upcoming summer in Columbus, the team is hopeful that the Bulldog Bytes’ day camp will eventually expand to other locations.

Bulldog Bytes residential summer camp is hosting two five-day, four-night sessions in July. The application for both camps opens on March 1. Check for specific dates, times, and registration details at www.bagley.msstate.edu/outreach/summer-engineering-academies/.

For more information on the Bagley College of Engineering, visit www.bagley.msstate.edu.

By: Logan Treadaway