Story by Deb Seminary, contributing writer
North Dakota is leading the way in educating students in computer science. Through the PK20W initiative, we are the first state to have computer science and cybersecurity standards for curriculum. Studies show that students who have a foundational knowledge of computer science tend to perform higher in the areas of reading, writing, math, and science and they are more likely to enroll in college.
To encourage even more participation and interest in computer science and cybersecurity, the first-ever Cyber Madness Tournament was held February 10 - 12 at Bismarck State College. Thirteen teams of high school students from eleven school districts across North Dakota competed and on Saturday, the James Valley Career & Technology Center team was awarded the championship.
“I’ve learned a lot of (cyber) terminology at school but also at this tournament,” said Tioga High School Junior Emma Taylor. “We went over things like RAM, STAR, and network topology and we also learned about LAN or Local Area Network today. I plan on going to college for programming and I am working on a science fair project that will work on programming so hopefully, I can use some of this for that programming.”
As soon as teams registered, they had access to a Palo Alto Networks security fundamentals course so they could study and get ready for the event.
“Palo Alto has been a partner with us for a long time,” said Steve Snow, DPI’s assistant director of School Approval and Opportunity. “This is the first time they have done this type of competition with high school students. They set up a series of tasks and training so the students could protect firewalls and networks, find intruders and gain points for being successful. They received corporate level, real-world experiences.”
“Before this competition, I was a person that knew a lot about computers, so this helped me solidify my knowledge on the different topics,” said Eric Wilkie, Turtle Mountain Community High School senior. “With the growth of technology in our everyday life, it doesn’t hurt to know about this kind of stuff. I think it’s nice that they are giving us opportunities that we wouldn’t have gotten before.”
Day one included talks from Chief Information Officer Shawn Riley, with North Dakota Information Technology, and Fadi Fadhil, K-12 Principal Cybersecurity Strategist at Palo Alto Networks. There were educational sessions, opportunities to visit with vendors and sponsors, and a tour of Dakota Carrier Network.
Riley shared that a very small percentage of students who participate in high school sports actually can become a professional athlete, but every student who participated in this tournament is employable at its conclusion.
Day two of the competition began with teams answering questions from various categories about cybersecurity. The first round was “Easy,” and they eventually progressed to a “Mindblowing” level. The final round consisted of identifying cyber-attacks and how to mitigate them.
There are a half-million unfilled cybersecurity jobs across the U.S. Every business sector is affected. North Dakota is making a conscious effort to grow cybersecurity and computer-literate students into professionals that companies want to hire.
“I was thinking of going into cybersecurity but I’m more of a hobbyist,” said Tyler Hauck, a sophomore at Beach High School. “I’m more into programming than I am cybersecurity, but it makes sense to learn it, so you know how to protect what you a building. I want to go to college for robotics or computer engineering so this will all help greatly.”
“There isn't a job out there that doesn't use some sort of IT,” said Snow. “Our goal is to prepare North Dakota students for the digital world.”
The best perk of all is students are ready for the digital world no matter where they live. High-paying, in-demand cyber security jobs can be executed from anywhere. This means North Dakota kids remain in their home state and get paid very well to do it.