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GenCyber: Not Your Average Summer Camp

News Story

Andreea Cotoranu discusses Pace’s upcoming GenCyber workshop, for which the University has received significant funding from the National Security Agency to train high school teachers in cybersecurity.

When school lets out for the summer, the summer camp rush for K–12 students commences. Yet, as programs such as the federally funded GenCyber demonstrate, camp isn’t just for students—it can also be for teachers.

GenCyber, a venture funded by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), seeks to create summer experiences for both high school students and teachers to increase interest in cybersecurity careers. For the past several years, Pace has received grants from the NSA to host GenCyber workshops for both secondary school students and teachers. 

“Pace University has a strong cybersecurity practice and therefore it is in a great position to host both,” says Seidenberg Clinical Professor Andreea Cotoranu, director of Pace’s GenCyber teacher program. “GenCyber is a competitive program, so we’re happy to be in the game.”

While Seidenberg Professor Pauline Mosley, DPS, directs the student camp, Cotoranu is in charge of determining how to best operate the teacher side of the equation. Her goal is ensure that the lessons learned at GenCyber make it back to high school classrooms.  

“Each GenCyber program has its own flavor,” says Cotoranu. “Our goal at Pace GenCyber is to introduce cybersecurity concepts, resources, and methods to facilitate integration of the material we teach into the high school curriculum.”

A key feature of the Pace GenCyber curriculum, designed in part by Li-Chiou Chen, PhD, is the use of Raspberry Pi as a low cost, flexible, and safe teaching platform for topics such as network traffic analysis, cryptography, and web security. 

While cybersecurity is an increasingly complex field that experiences changes literally by the second, the goal of Pace’s GenCyber teacher program is to introduce cybersecurity ideas to the classroom, and therefore make the field a little bit more manageable. As Cotoranu notes, the goal is not to overwhelm or induce anxiety, but to initiate a general sense of understanding that could lead to the development of effective problem solving skills.

“When people talk abut cybersecurity they often talk about things that are scary, such as crime and malicious behavior. We're not coming from the perspective of fear,” says Cotoranu. “It’s rather saying ‘yes, we have a problem, we all know we have a problem.’ The idea is, what do we do about it? In our line of work, in higher education, we educate.”

Cotoranu believes that introducing cybersecurity concepts earlier in the educational pipeline—so that students have a general knowledge and understanding of cybersecurity concepts before they attend college—can only result in positive outcomes for both teachers and students. In fact, students having a greater understanding of cybersecurity can lead to the cultivation of more deliberate and impactful career goals.

“Students can learn earlier about what it entails to secure the internet,” says Cotoranu. “They become part of this social responsibility movement and they also learn earlier about careers. Often, students don’t know what a career in cyber entails—what they should study, what are the responsibilities for those jobs. Bringing awareness is a priority for us.”

The upcoming teacher camp will run from July 11–19, and will be composed of teachers from all over the country—from New York to Arkansas, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Florida, and more. Cotoranu is particularly excited to help build self-efficacy for teachers, and therefore help build a stronger foundation for cybersecurity education nationwide.

“We are looking to build a community of high school teachers that could support each other, and be effective educators, mentors, and advisors. The community is the most powerful thing, and it is probably one of the aspects that the teachers appreciate most.”