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The Federal Trade Commission reported earlier this year that American consumers lost a total of $5.8 billion in 2021 to fraud, with identity theft and online shopping scams being the most prevalent categories of fraud. Now more than ever, the internet can be a dangerous place to be.
To help prepare the next generation of professionals to fight this trend, the Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security (Pitt Cyber) and Pitt Information Technology hosted their 6th annual Air Force Association CyberCamp in July, with over 150 students attending from local Pittsburgh high schools. The weeklong camp is open to high school students from the greater Pittsburgh area and teaches cybersecurity principles to help prepare attendees for future career opportunities. Thanks to its partnerships with the EQT Foundation, The Grable Foundation, AT&T and UPMC Women in IT, the camp is free to all students.
The camp also partners with the Hill District Community Engagement Center (CEC), which has hosted a summer program for high school students for the past two years. An important motivator for the organizers of CyberCamp is ensuring that students from populations underrepresented in tech have access to cybersecurity opportunities; partnering with the CEC is just one way they do so.
“The camp is designed to get people really interested in cybersecurity and they also learn a lot about online literacy to keep themselves safe on the internet,” said James Weaver, an instructor at the camp and Pitt IT employee. “Whether they fall in love with technology and eventually enter that field or simply walk away more informed on how to stay safe online, the camp aims to make a positive difference in their lives in our digital era.”
CyberCamp teaches students a range of technical skills, including introductory digital literacy, cyber ethics and systems security. Classes are taught by cybersecurity professionals from the University of Pittsburgh and elsewhere in the area. Over the course of the week, students learn vital skills like cyber hygiene, Windows and Ubuntu system administration, and more.
CyberCamp hosts both a standard camp and an advanced camp to reach all levels of learners. Advanced camp students are required to have completed the standard camp at least once before. On top of the standard camp curriculum, advanced students learn more complex technological concepts including command line in Ubuntu.
“Everyone should know these things. Like financial literacy or media literacy, cybersecurity is now a life skill,” said Rohan Mehta, a sophomore at Upper. St Clair High School.
Mehta was one of many students who signed up for the camp to pursue a goal to work in cybersecurity in the future. Another such student was Audrey Fruehauf, a senior at Ligonier Valley High School.
“It is interesting to see how we run our systems, how vulnerabilities happen and how we can ensure they don’t happen again. This camp gave me a real first glance at how to pursue a cybersecurity career in the future,” said Fruehauf.
However, not every student at the camp signed up to work in information technology or some form of computer engineering. The camp’s diverse digital curriculum and accessibility to all communities have helped students with a wide variety of goals in mind for their future.
“I want to be an architect one day,” said Jalen Jones, a 9th grader at Pittsburgh CAPA High School. “CyberCamp has helped me understand computers even more so I can pursue the digital aspects of architecture and also taught me basic cybersecurity skills for my personal life.”
“I want to work in law and would love to study cyber law. By understanding cybersecurity myself, I can pursue that goal,” said Andrew Kaehly, a junior at Hampton High School. “This camp is an excellent prerequisite to anything somebody our age could want to do.”
— Nick France, photography by Mike Drazdzinski