Cybersecurity issues are becoming more of a threat every day. The average cost of a malware attack on a company is $2.6 million. But industry and businesses are not the only targets of  threats. 

As more and more of our personal and sensitive information moves online–think bank accounts, internet of things (IoT) devices, and healthcare information–we put ourselves at risk for data breaches, phishing, cloud hacks and malware attacks, and more.

To combat this issue and create a pipeline of knowledgeable cybersecurity experts, GenCyber was created. These camps take place across the country with the goal of increasing the computer security workforce by creating interest and excitement for middle-school and high-school students to consider careers in cybersecurity.

A team of faculty from the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech took a different approach to the GenCyber model. Instead, they’ve created a camp and curriculum centered around secondary-school teachers who teach cybersecurity in their schools. 

Professor Joe Tront has been the PI and Program Director since the inception of the program in 2015. Each year, 20 -50 teachers are invited to participate. In years past, the camp has been held in-person in Blacksburg and in Northern Virginia; however, due to the pandemic, the curriculum has shifted to an online format since 2020. He commented on the approach of creating a teacher-based camp as opposed to GenCyber’s typical student-based camp.

“K-12 teachers are very adept at knowing how to be effective sources of knowledge for secondary students. Teaching the teachers allows us to reach a much broader audience” said Tront. “One of the goals of the camp is to improve the attendees’ ability to protect their computing and communication environments and that of their students, while informing the teachers of the value of a Virginia Tech cybersecurity education so that they can help us to recruit the best of their students to attend VT.”

teachers looking at screen in VT classroom
K-12 teachers at Virginia Tech's GenCyber camp in-person before it was moved to online format.

The 2022 GenCyber Camp just wrapped up its 8th year event.  Running from June 20-30, there were 36 teachers who participated– 25 were from Virginia and 11 from other states.  

Andrea Wells is a second-year camp attendee and a Virginia Tech graduate. After her company downsized due to the pandemic, Andrea found herself without a job. She decided to get her teaching certificate and began teaching cybersecurity in August of 2020. GenCyber has helped her give students up-to-date, engaging information related to cybersecurity.

“I love cybersecurity and wish that I had discovered it sooner.  It is always changing and as a teacher, you must teach the basics while staying on top of what is new and what’s coming next,” said Wells. “I can’t say enough good things about this camp.  Not only do you get a wealth of knowledge about cybersecurity concepts and trends, but you make invaluable connections and discover amazing tools to enhance student learning experiences.”

The camp program manager Ingrid Burbey is a research scientist at Virginia Tech ECE and has helped organize the event curriculum, schedule, and speakers since the program’s inception. Kristi Rice served as the teaching consultant for the camp and in 2021, she won the Presidential Cybersecurity Education Award. David Raymond is the Director of the Virginia Cyber Range and served as the lead instructor of this year’s program. 

Ed Ozols, another camp attendee is a Computer Science teacher at Putnam County High School in Eatonton, GA. Computer Science is a brand-new program for the school and GenCyber has provided him with valuable insights and cutting-edge curriculum to share with his students.

“The field is expanding faster than we can educate workers, so we need to begin training students early” said Ozols. “I have already begun to use some of the security tools that were introduced to us such as a password manager. I have also learned techniques that will help me be a better teacher.”

A grant for 2023 GenCyber camps at Virginia Tech has already been received. Teachers interested in attending should check for updates and to access the online application.

Screenshot of live presentation from the 2022 virtual GenCyber camp.
Screenshot of live presentation from the 2022 virtual GenCyber camp.