Students prepare for cyber competition

Broadalbin-Perth student Christina Fedullo, teacher Billy Eipp, Jonathan Simmons and Zacharay Johnson prepare for the cyber competition. (Photo submitted)

BROADALBIN — When a STEM club at Broadalbin-Perth High School got involved with the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot competition three years ago, “we were terrible,” said math-computer science teacher Billy Eipp, the club’s adviser.

Last year, the competing students from his cybersecurity class got within three points of the national semifinals. Some students have moved on to computer science or cybersecurity in college or are planning to.

“The contest process is complicated” but Eipps said both he and his students have been improving.

The grueling competition involves six-straight hours looking for weaknesses in Windows or Linux programs that hackers could exploit. “The students get mentally exhausted,” Eipps said.

“It’s their first real-world experience of working six hours straight.”

Their first session was on Nov. 3. They face sessions on Dec. 8 and Jan. 19 to determine if they fall into the gold, silver or bronze category. Only the gold students can vie in the national semifinals on Feb. 9 if they outscore students in the 2,757 high school teams vying throughout the country. The crux of the competition is that “the computer system is insecure, and you have to figure out why,” Eipps said. The students use their own thinking skills but collaborate to advance their teams. The six teams consist of four students each.

“I fell in love with cybersecurity,” said junior Tsa Brody, who wants to go into that field and work for the FBI.

Unlike courses involving books and lectures, the cybersecurity class “really gets you involved,” said junior Christina Fedullo. “It’s like my fun class.”

What senior Jacob Holland appreciates about the course is that “it’s very hands on.”

“There’s a lot of figuring things out by yourself.”

Senior Jack Szumowski wants to be a business major in college with a computer science minor. He said the competition is good practice for the work world, which can be unforgiving. “If you fail here, it’s OK,” he said.

For senior Brooke McClarren, the forensics class she took got her interested in sleuthing for “traces of a hacker and password-cracking tools.”

When Eipps got students involved the cybersecurity contest with his STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) club three years ago, the students had to use their own computers. Last year, Eipps, who is both a mathematician and computer engineer, improved the process by programming 21 school computers for the competition.

Eipps said math and computer science go well together. “The logical thinking which is math thinking is cyber thinking,” he said.

“You don’t need math to do computer science, but the better you are at math, the better you are at doing it.”

Eipps said taking the cybersecurity class is a great confidence builder for the students who take it. They come out saying “I never knew I could be good at computers.”

Despite his own background, he admitted that “as a teacher, it’s a scary thing creating a class like this” because he wanted to be sure he is giving the students everything he can.


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