Rowlett High School home to district’s first CyberPatriot club

GARLAND, TX. (December 2, 2014) Promoting science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) education, Rowlett High School is the district’s first to implement a national Air Force Association-established program: CyberPatriot—The National Youth Cyber Education Program.

A competition-fueled initiative, CyberPatriot features teams across the nation identifying network cyber security vulnerabilities through virtual images. Teams compete in six-hour rounds, vying for an all-expenses paid trip to nationals in Washington,D.C., where they can win scholarships.

Computer science teacher Trina Cunningham sparked the program’s creation at RHS. She learned about the cybersecurity-focused initiative at a staff development meeting.

“I told my computer science III students about CyberPatriot and asked them to look into it,” she explained. “One student, Joseph [Sperry], did some research and said it looked like something cool that we should get started here.”

Cunningham then approached Campus Technology Specialist Frank Roesch with the idea. Roesch loved the concept and spearheaded the program’s formation at RHS.

“The industry needs computer science people,” he said. “CyberPatriot is a way to motivate high school students toward careers in cybersecurity and other STEM fields that are critically needed. Students get to learn how operating systems work, network protocol and ethics.”

After detailing the program’s importance to campus administrators and obtaining permission from GISD’s Technology Department, Roesch worked on getting the program’s technical requirements off the ground.

Corralling support for the new student-run organization was not as hard as Roesch or Cunningham thought.

“Initially we had about 20 kids who were interested in joining the program,” Cunningham said. “Now we have 14 solid Cyber Talons members who make up three teams. These kids show up consistently three times a week and are very supportive of each other.”

And to add more appeal to the program, members have a chance of receiving a University of Texas at Dallas scholarship, thanks to network security professional Kevin Henson. The UTD alumnus helped secure a university sponsorship for RHS.

“As they thrive, and if we make the rounds, I help identify the kids who are doing well,” Roesch said. “This opens up the opportunity for scholarships to study computer science at UTD. There is a market for the skills sets these students learn. And people are willing to pay for that.”

Although Cyber Talons is still in its inaugural year, it is already well on its way to making a name for itself in the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition. Boasting two five-member boys’ teams and a four-member girls’ team, the green group performed well in their first competition.

“Team 1 was in the 77th percentile of the Platinum Division, with a score of 172 out of 200 possible points,” Cunningham said. “Teams 2 and 3 were in the Gold Division, with scores of 123 and 134, respectively.”

Round 2 saw even more success, with Cyber Talons qualifying for state.

“The students did a great job in round 2,” Roesch stated. “Team 1 placed in the Platinum Division, while Team 2 placed in the middle Gold Division and Team 3—our all-girls group—placed in high Gold. Everyone’s goal after state is to get that all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C.for nationals.”

Cyber Talons will compete for a spot at nationals Friday, Dec. 5.

Submitted by Caren Rodriguez, Garland Independent School District.

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