About 100 high school students from Georgia and South Carolina participated in the inaugural Cyber STEMfest at the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center.
Students from nine high schools, including Lincoln County, Davidson, and North Augusta, along with a few home-schooled students, attended the Sept. 13 event.
Todd Gay, director of Outreach and Engagement, said schools across the area, from K-12 through high schools, ask to visit the Cyber Center to learn what is offered, particularly when it comes to education and training.
“That’s a big part of our mission, we really want to make sure that we are helping to shrink that cybersecurity workforce gap. Because it’s so broad,” he said. “There’s so many jobs open right now that we’re trying to fill.”
He said they want to get students on the campus to see what is available and that led to the concept of STEMfest.
“We limited it to 100 students because we wanted it to be engaging, we wanted to make sure that when they went to their different areas, they were engaged in it, we didn’t get it so big that they felt left out,” said Gay.
Greenbrier senior Madison Sprouse said it was exciting to be part of the first Cyber STEMfest.
“It’s helping a lot; it showed me what I have to work with outside of high school and stuff. And for my future,” she said.
Gabriel Punke-Bendt, a junior at Greenbrier, wanted to learn more cyber skills to widen his portfolio.
“I’m trying to go into a school for cybersecurity then go into the industry for cybersecurity. So, it helped me with some skills,” he explained.
The students began the day participating in a capture-the-flag competition. After lunch, they were broken into three groups for the afternoon’s activities, including an escape room where they had to solve a cipher to get a virtual key.
Gay said the Georgia Cyber Center is a leader in workforce development and developing skilled workers.
“These buildings were built for collaboration. We have broken down the silos and brought everybody together, academia, government, state and federal Department of Energy, and private industry all under one roof,” he explained. “When these students come in here, they see the Georgia Bureau of Investigation walking around the Cybercrime center. They see digital forensic investigators walking around. We love the fact we have it all under one roof, because they can network, they can intern with these companies, they can get a paid internship, and possibly secure a job when they graduate. It’s a one-stop shop.”
Sprouse said learning job skills at home means she will likely stay at home for work.
“Because I feel like we just have everything here and it’s just so easy to stay right here,” she said. “We have it.”
Gay said they plan to schedule additional STEMfests, but participation will always be capped at 100 to give students personal attention.
STEMfest was presented by the Cyber Fusion Innovation Center and Georgia Cyber Center. It was sponsored by Augusta University School of Computer & Cyber Sciences, The CSRA Alliance for Fort Eisenhower, Augusta Technical College, CACI International, and Peraton — all of which are resident partners at the Georgia Cyber Innovation & Training Center.