Posted: Jun 3, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. – Gov. Doug Burgum today congratulated the 69 North Dakota college students from 10 institutions who are participating in the SANS Institute’s Cyber FastTrack program. The free online program is open to all college students and offers real-world cybersecurity experience as well as $2.5 million in scholarships.

Williston State College is the top participating college in the state and No. 84 in the nation in the competition. North Dakota, one of 25 states participating, had 10 students, including five from WSC, who made the quarterfinals and are competing for $2.5 million in scholarships. In addition, 10 of the 69 North Dakota college students participating were female. Women are significantly underrepresented in technology career fields, and the state is actively engaged in encouraging these opportunities to all students.

Participating entities include Cankdeska Cikana Community College, Minot State University, North Dakota State College of Science, North Dakota State University, Valley City State University, WSC, Bismarck State College, University of Mary, University of North Dakota and Lake Region State College. BSC and NDSU were also recently designated as Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research and Cyber Defense Education, respectively, a prestigious designation by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security.

“North Dakota has an opportunity to lead the nation in cybersecurity talent,” Burgum said. “Computer science and cybersecurity skills are in demand in virtually every industry, and these students are part of a generation of leaders who will be competing for high-demand jobs, some of which may not even exist yet. Congratulations to all of the participants, and good luck in the next round.”

The Cyber FastTrack program launched April 5 as the first step in a national initiative to close the U.S. cybersecurity skills gap. Cyber FastTrack gives college students the opportunity to play online cybersecurity games to discover their aptitude for the field – a global, growing career field with virtually zero percent unemployment. More than 13,000 students played, and as of May 20, 2,400 had reached the quarterfinal round where they compete for scholarships and direct introductions to employers for internships and employment.

North Dakota also had the highest per capita participation in the high school version of the program, which emphasizes female involvement, with 310 students from 28 schools participating. Three schools received cash prizes for the highest level of participation in the state: Red River High School, Flasher High School and Williston High School.

There are also several cybersecurity-related camps being held this summer across the state:

  • BSC Cyber Camp: Novice, June 24-28 for high school students, and Cyber Crime Fighters camp for rising 6th to 9th graders Aug. 7-8. More information can be found here.
  • NDSU’s GenCyber camp, June 24- 28 for high school students, is held on campus with lodging and meals provided free of charge. More information is available here.
  • UCodeGirl is hosting “Crack the Code: Tech Camp for Girls” June 24- 28. Full scholarships are available. For more information, click here.

“These camps are integral to investing in our youth and the future needs of our workforce,” North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said. “Meeting these needs through higher education programs alongside major growth in cybersecurity highlights adaptability to a continually changing environment due to technological advancements. Not only are our students able to find immediate use for their knowledge, skills and abilities, and connect these to our workforce, but North Dakota businesses, and businesses considering relocation to North Dakota, will be able to recruit for their needs right here knowing they’re getting the best possible candidates.”

“It’s exciting as a technology executive and a father to see the love of learning, problem solving and creativity that is sparked by these opportunities,” said Chief Information Officer Shawn Riley. “These programs offer foundational skills, as well as fun and engaging ways to explore career options.”

Participation in the programs is aligned with the state’s “K-20W Initiative.” This collaborative effort involves more than 40 public and private sector partners providing computer science and cybersecurity training and resources to North Dakota’s educators and students. For more information, click here. The statewide effort also aligns with a recent White House Executive Order on the cybersecurity workforce shortage.