What started as a need to fulfill a STEM requirement has grown into one of California’s signature cybersecurity education programs, thanks in part to Carey Peck’s hard work and dedication to the program and its students.

Peck is a consultant to Dr. Sandra Cano, who manages the CyberPatriot program at Beyond the Bell, a program in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) that offers educational programming before and after school at more than 1,000 locations throughout the district.

The district was looking for a way to meet its STEM requirement in a scalable way. CyberPatriot was suggested to the late Harry Talbot, who founded the district’s program and was looking for help running it. Under Talbot’s leadership, LAUSD earned two CyberPatriot National Championships and became the first Center of Excellence and the first to register 100 CyberPatriot teams.

Aside from the ability to scale, Peck said CyberPatriot fits with Beyond the Bell’s mission of career-oriented education for students from underserved communities throughout Los Angeles. The program has captured the attention of vendors such as Northrop Grumman and SpaceX.

“Bringing students into the fold and getting then career ready is a key element of the program,” Peck said. “We have a natural strength as a large system, and a tech program such as this is naturally interesting to our vendors. Cisco and Microsoft have been strong sponsors.”

With a program as large as Beyond the Bell, it’s easy to get bogged down in administrative details and making sure everything runs smoothly. Peck said he draws inspiration from the countless success stories he’s witnessed over the past decade.

Students who barely had any access to a computer thrived in the program and found that cybersecurity gave their lives meaning and direction they would not have had otherwise.

“This program has lifted up young men and women who had never lifted their eyes and vision to see a broader world and those are the stories that inspire me along the way,” Peck said. “A young man who was in trouble with the police and who now doing advanced graduate work at Cal Tech in AI; a young woman who had never left the City of Los Angeles who did so the first time on the plane that took her to Washington DC for the CyberPatriot finals.”

CyberPatriot was almost immediately accepted across LAUSD and has served as a team-building tool that teaches soft skills in addition to technical expertise.

“I have always been interested in, team building and motivation, and a major focus of ours is how to sustain the success we have had in our program, which has found tremendous student acceptance.

Liz Fraumann, director of the California Cyberhub, described Peck as the “quiet strength” behind LAUSD’s cyber success.

“Having known Carey for years, you can just feel the passion he has for the kids and what he does. California would do well to clone Carey and have someone like him in all communities to help guide and shape the students for the future that is within their grasp,” Fraumann said. “Anyone who really knows Carey is happy to count him as a friend and colleague.”

Not only has Peck seen students’ lives transformed over the past decade, but he’s also seen the cybersecurity field itself grow and evolve. The number of CyberPatriot teams has increased dramatically, and today’s teams are working on projects that the first cohorts would not have been able to imagine.

“In CyberPatriot III, students had to deal with only one image until the semi-finals, and that additional image was a Linux,” he said. “Now, round 1 has two images and they are more difficult by an order of magnitude, and there are Cisco packet tracer exercises also thrown in.

Peck said the future of cybersecurity education will only get brighter from here.

“We are at the very start of this enormous trend,” Peck said. “To put online and safely maintain the universal connectivity our new society requires will demand more and more thinking and professional management. All that will be reflected in the training we do, and in the future plans of our graduates.”