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St. John’s Hosts Camp for the Next Generation of Cybersecurity Professionals

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Seeking to learn more about careers in the burgeoning field of cybersecurity, 75 students from the five boroughs of New York City, Long Island, and northern New Jersey attended the weeklong GenCyber camp in July at St. John’s University’s Queens and Staten Island campuses.

The free camp, made possible by a $100,000 grant cofunded by the National Security Agency and National Science Foundation, was created to inspire high school students to pursue cybersecurity careers, increase diversity in the cybersecurity workforce, and help students better understand safe online behavior. This summer, camps took place in 29 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

“Having an opportunity to host the GenCyber camp represents an incredible opportunity for the College of Professional Studies (CPS) to showcase the work we are doing in cybersecurity and homeland security,” said Katia Passerini, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Professional Studies. “Our plan is to continue to build similar programs and invite the alumni to join us for the many events and conversations about cybersecurity issues throughout the academic year.”

Each course at St. John’s GenCyber Camp was taught by University faculty at either St. John’s Queens or Staten Island campuses. Guest lecturers included representatives from First DataErnst & YoungThe New York City Police Department, and CNN. In Queens, classes took place in the new Cyber Security LabHomeland Security LabComputer Science Lab, and Innovation Lab. Topics included cryptography, cybersecurity crisis simulation, network security, drones, and more.

For drone flying exercises, Staten Island campers traveled to the Queens campus, where students learned about drones from Robert A. Barone, Associate Dean and Director, Strategic Planning and Budget, and guest lecturer, Jim Record, a retired military and commercial airline pilot. Both men hold remote pilot certificates, which are required by law to fly certain drones.

“Drones will soon be among the most important new asset to the law enforcement community,” said Mr. Record. “If you consider how the military already uses drones, it is not difficult to imagine the average patrol police officer will be able to use this technology.”

In the network security class, students saw firsthand how hackers can gain access to a home security camera halfway around the world. “It was eye-opening to see just how easy it is,” said Chloe Bogdashevsky, a high school senior from Forest Hills, NY. “When I got home, I put a piece of black tape over every webcam in my house.”

Students also discussed the role “white-hat hackers” play in the field. The term is used to describe ethical computer hackers who test the security of an organization’s information systems. “I had always thought of hackers as ‘the bad guys,’” said John Manzola, a senior from Bergen Beach, NY. “Now, I know that I can make a career out of working with a company to hack into its website to test its vulnerability.”

According to Program Director Ying Liu, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Science, another goal of the GenCyber camp is to promote cybersecurity best practices. “As we introduce them to this discipline, we also want to teach them to become good digital citizens,” he said. “That is a lesson they can take into any field.”

On the final day of camp, students made a short trip into Manhattan to attend the Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE) conference, The Circle of HOPE: A Hacker's Dozen, at the Hotel Pennsylvania. The conference, held biennially since 1994, featured electronics workshops, Segway rides, art installations, vintage computers, robots, and an amateur/ham radio station.

“I’ve always been interested in computer programming and technology, but I didn’t know much about cybersecurity,” said Matthew Chiarovano, a sophomore from Glendale, NY. “I learned that the career possibilities in the field are really limitless. Now, it’s an area I would definitely consider exploring in college.”

Jared E. Littman, Director of the Office of Grants and Sponsored Research, was pleased with the camp. “Obtaining this grant award is a wonderful opportunity for St. John’s to offer this program to high school students so they can begin to learn about the many components of cybersecurity,” he said. “It also provides these students with access to our incredible facility within CPS. I look forward to expanding on this program and seeing these students back at St. John’s.”

Reflecting on the busy week, Kevin James ’11C, ’13MBA, Assistant Dean, College of Professional Studies, thanked the teaching assistants who helped at the camp. “We owe a great debt of gratitude to the teaching assistants,” he said. “Their hard work and enthusiasm made the week enjoyable for everyone involved. We could not have done it without them.”