GenCyber Camp at RIC Empowers Next Generation of Techies

GenCyber Student Teachers
Rhode Island College Impact

These computer science majors are prepared to take on the IT world and to teach high schoolers the ropes.

With so many kids growing up digital, you’d think they’d be flooding the IT job market. Not so. Nationwide, there is a huge demand for computer science majors and an even greater demand for those who specialize in cybersecurity.

Suzanne Mello-Stark
Assistant Professor Suzanne Mello-Stark

Cybersecurity is critical for everyone, says Assistant Professor of Computer Science Suzanne Mello-Stark. A year ago, she initiated the creation of a cybersecurity minor at RIC and warned:

"As a nation, we’re putting everything online but we’re not thinking about how to protect it."

The risk posed by hackers to critical infrastructure is no small matter. In May a cyberattack disabled the Colonial Pipeline Company, which operates the country’s biggest fuel pipeline network, carrying 2.5 million barrels of refined petroleum products a day to airports and filling stations. The attack led to the shutting down of all four of its main lines.

"Virtually every company and government agency in the country needs someone on staff to protect their systems," says Mello-Stark, "but college enrollments haven't kept up with the demand.”

To help meet the demand, in 2015 the National Security Agency created the GenCyber program. This program provides free summer cybersecurity camp experiences for students and teachers at no cost. For the second time, Rhode Island College will be hosting a GenCyber camp for students. This one, which runs from July 5-16, will be both on and offline.

Forty high school students will spend two weeks learning about cybersecurity and hopefully be inspired to enter the field. They represent schools in Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and seven high schools in Rhode Island.

GenCyber Backpack

Each student will be given an Arduino (programmable microcontroller), "The Code Book: The Secrets Behind Code Breaking" (a national bestseller adapted for young adults), a camp T-shirt and other goodies all stowed inside their GenCyber backpack. There will also be awards and prizes earned throughout the two weeks. By the end of the camp, students who have successfully completed the program, will receive a GenCyber certificate.

Mello-Stark has witnessed for herself how empowering the camp can be. “Students I met seven years ago at my first GenCyber camp have gone on to earn degrees in computer science and cybersecurity; and I know it’s because of the camp. We expose students to areas of study [computer science and cybersecurity] that not many high schools offer,” she says.

Computer Science Book

Students will be divided into four groups, with 10 students in each group, and each group will be led by RIC computer science majors: Nick Garvey, Brailin Frias, Diego Gomez and Ariel Troncoso. All, except Troncoso, have minors in cybersecurity.

Garvey, an avid gamer who started coding at age 12, is president of InfoSec, a RIC student-run cybersecurity club; he hopes to become a game developer. Frias is treasurer of InfoSec; he intends to go on to develop apps for fitness. Gomez and Troncoso work at the IT Help Desk for the Central Falls School District. Gomez wants to become an IT high school teacher, and Troncoso, who is minoring in healthcare administration, wants to develop software for special ed students with severe disabilities who cannot attend class or who do not do well in social environments. Troncoso is vice president of InfoSec.

Students stuffing bags
Deigo Gomez (left) and Nick Garvey fill GenCyber backpacks with books and other fun stuff

GenCyber’s lead instructor is Douglas Tondreau. He teaches graduate-level IT and cybersecurity at URI and is lead information technologist at URI’s Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics Center. Instructor Thom Mastroianni is a computer science and design teacher at Exeter West Greenwich High School.

By the flurry of preparations going on, campers are sure to spend two exciting, fun-filled weeks in cyberspace.

GenCyber Staff
From left: Nick Garvey, Thom Mastroianni, Diego Gomez, Douglas Tondreau, Brailin Frias, Ariel Troncoso and Suzanne Mello-Stark