It’s impossible to miss the energy and passion that Brent Wedge brings to cybersecurity education. Over the past two years, he’s built a program from scratch and created a network of teachers and coaches who are ready to take the program to the next level. 

Wedge is the coordinator of the cybersecurity program at Modesto Junior College but spent the bulk of his career as a systems analyst at the Stanislaus Union School District. This experience proved to be essential for understanding the K-12 landscape in the Modesto area and where cybersecurity might fit into it.  

With support from Modesto Junior College administration and the California Community College Information Communication Technologies and Digital Media sector, Wedge and faculty colleague John Zamora started a CyberPatriot team at Enochs High School. 

Unlike the Bay Area or other parts of the state, technology is not always top of mind for everyone in the Central Valley. Wedge used his experience in the school district to make a case for cybersecurity. 

“I want students to arrive at MJC already having done cyber in their high school and already be familiar with it,” he said. “We initiated a dialogue with administrators at Modesto City Schools and then went to the schools to help them get started.” 

After launching a successful CyberPatriot team, Wedge held the Central Valley’s first cyber camp over the summer and created an advisory board to build industry connections.  

Wedge looked to Irvin Lemus, CIS department chair at Cabrillo College, and an integral part of Bay Area cyber education, as a mentor and role model for how to successfully implement cyber programs across K-12 and community colleges. 

“It is always a pleasure to work with Brent; his passion and excitement to bring cybersecurity to his community are enormous,” Lemus said. “I know his efforts embody a cyber hero as his community will benefit from his efforts.” 

He also received guidance from Tobi West, the CIS department chair at Coastline College. West immediately recognized his dedication to cybersecurity education and the potential for him to do great things in the Central Valley. 

“Brent has been working diligently on building their cybersecurity program in preparation for the Center of Academic Excellence application,” West said. “This effort demonstrates Brent’s commitment to making cybersecurity education available for the community and helping to develop the future cybersecurity workforce.” 

Luke LeCain, a senior at Enochs High School, was part of Wedge’s first CyberPatriot team, which won the California Mayors Cyber Cup at Fresno City College last year. LeCain attended Modesto Junior College’s first cyber camp last summer and is now taking community college courses in high school. 

“Luke is a natural-born leader who is out promoting cyber competitions,” Wedge said. “He was a great student, but he needed a pathway. Once we defined that pathway, he ran after it.”  

Under Wedge’s direction, LeCain looks forward to achieving even greater success this year. 

CyberPatriot gave me a way to learn new skills, develop skills I already had and see how I stack up against the rest of the U.S.,” LeCain said. “This year, I would like both of my teams to compete at the platinum level, and at least one of my teams go to regionals.” 

Moving forward, Wedge hopes to expand on the momentum he built by strengthening connections to industry through his advisory board, and to four-year colleges like Cal Poly Pomona and CSU Sacramento. 

Students need to go even further than our college. We are part of the journey but not the final destination.” Wedge said. “I want to give them a boost of encouragement and be prepared for university transfer.” 

As cybersecurity education has grown in California, a new generation of cyber heroes is emerging from the pathways, competitions, and coaching that happens every day across the state. Brandon Nguyen is undoubtedly part of that group and has already had an impact on his school and his community.

Nguyen recently graduated from Oxford Academy in Cypress. While he was in school, he completed 24 college credits through Cypress College, earned three certificates and obtained six industry certifications — all before officially graduating.

He was also an active member of the school’s cyber competitions team and now works as a mentor to younger students.

Nguyen said he did not enter high school intending to be so involved in cybersecurity, but things gradually built on one another as he became more involved.

“One of my friends did CyberPatriot and said I was pretty good and should join their team, which was the only team at the school,” Nguyen said. “Then a professor asked me to start taking college classes over the summer. I followed along the pathway and, over time, I just kept taking more classes.”

That professor, Ben Izadi of Cypress College, said Nguyen was one of the top students he’s had and someone who was not afraid of taking chances and pursuing new challenges.

“He has set goals and is committed and focused on achieving those goals. I found Brandon to be a responsible and dedicated student who goes above and beyond the ‘call of duty’ to complete tasks in a timely manner,” Izadi said. “He can process information intellectually by applying problem-solving knowledge to new situations.”

Izadi calls Nguyen the “symbol of success” for Cypress College’s PACE (Pathway to Advancement of Cybersecurity Education) program aimed at developing cybersecurity pathways from middle school to four-year college.

Izadi invited Nguyen to present at the WASTC Winter ICT Educators’ Conference earlier this year. He was also recognized at the CompTIA Partners Summit in Las Vegas over the summer for his success in completing professional certifications while in high school.

Not only does Nguyen have a grasp on the technical skills needed to be successful in cybersecurity, he’s also developed the interpersonal skills that are essential for a good cyber coach. Nguyen mentors high school students as part of the Sunburst Youth Academy National

Guard Youth Challenge Program, which connects at-risk high school students with cybersecurity education.

“Cybersecurity builds critical thinking skills. I’ve learned that it’s not just computers that can get compromised; sometimes the weakest thing is humans,” Nguyen said. “You need to know how to train people to make sure hackers don’t call them and force them to do things like give them their passwords. That mindset is important.”

If you ask anyone in California’s cybersecurity education community who has made an impact on students and the industry as a whole, “Coach Paul” is likely to be one of the first answers.  

Not only does Paul Johnson coach some of the best cyber teams in the world, but he is also a tireless advocate for the positive impact cybersecurity education can have on students from all walks of life. He’s seen his students embrace cyber as a pathway to high-paying, intellectually-rewarding jobs that are helping to keep the world safe from cyber threats. 

Johnson was recently named CyberPatriot XI Mentor of the Year and has built the CyberAegis juggernaut in just five years. His teams consistently take home top honors CyberPatriot, the California Mayors Cyber Cup, and other cyber competitions at both the middle and high school levels. 

“We live in an amazing age now where you can sit down at a computer, and with no experience, an hour later you can have your own Android app that you programmed running on your smartphone,” Johnson said. “Working with very sharp, high-achieving, competitive students and successfully competing at the national level is extremely gratifying.” 

By day, Johnson is a Senior Staff Cyber Systems Engineer at Northrop Grumman in San Diego. The Northrop Grumman Foundation is the presenting sponsor of CyberPatriotJohnson’s son was interested in cybersecurity, so he decided to jump in. 

His first information session at Del Norte High School had three students, but the program quickly grew to more than 100 students in a student-led team structure known as CyberAegis. Students serve as mentors to each other, which allows them to grow as leaders and learn soft skills to complement what they are learning about technology. 

As the program grew, Johnson saw an opportunity to expand beyond the confines of one school or school district to build something with an even greater reach. 

“I formed a non-profit corporation, CyberAegis Team, Inc. to more easily procure equipment such as servers and networking equipment to provide students hands-on experience,” Johnson said. “Our website was entirely designed and implemented by my students.” 

Johnson also places a focus on bringing women into cybersecurity. About 40 percent of the CyberAegis teams are women, which is higher than the overall competition makeup. An all-female team from Oak Valley Middle School competed in the CyberPatriot XI National Finals earlier this year.  

In addition, seven CyberAegis members received the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing Award last year. Johnson encourages women to lead recruitment events and speak publicly about their success in cybersecurity to help increase diversity in the field. 

“Females are given fewer opportunities than their male colleagues,” said CyberAegis team member Lilly Hu. “If more young women become involved with IT and cybersecurity, we can change such stereotypes. Having more women would encourage support for one another.” 

The model of professionalism Johnson fosters pays off in the form of internships and full-time jobs. 

 “My students are routinely sought out by companies such as Northrop Grumman for internships as they’ve found that my students can immediately start making significant contributions on day one,” Johnson said. 

Beyond professional success, CyberAegis students also praise Johnson’s supportive personalityIn fact, the father of one CyberAegis team member commuted from San Diego to Atlanta after his job was transferred just so the student could continue being part of the team. 

“Coach Paul has been a tireless advocate for his teams and is a model coach in the state on how to manage and nurture multiple teams allowing them to advance and flourish,” said Scott Young, president of SynED, which hosts the California Cyber Guild.  

For more information about Johnson and CyberAegis, visit cyberaegis.tech/. 

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.”

 

Over the past three years, Ed Garcia has learned right along with his students at Moorpark College when it comes to cybersecurity. Like a lot of IT professionals, he didn’t spend much time thinking about cyber threats until talk of hacking and cybercrime picked up in the media.

Garcia used his drive and connections to quickly launch both an associate degree in cybersecurity and a cyber club at Moorpark College. Both are off to a strong start and poised to continue growing.

“Three years ago, I sensed that cybersecurity was an area that needed more attention,” Garcia said. “I started building courses in the community college system, which is a very long process, so I wanted to get started right away.”

Garcia joined the Computer Network Systems Engineering (CNSE) department at Moorpark College in 2001. Before becoming an instructor, he spent 20 years at Southern California Edison, where he did everything from programming to networking. He also discovered his passion for teaching while working with at-risk students through a company outreach program.

In 2017, he was named a Ventura County Innovates Pathfinder by the Ventura County Office of Education. The ward celebrates talented leaders in education, business and community service who have made significant contributions in building pathways to employment for Ventura County students.

Garcia has never formally worked in cybersecurity, so he looked CompTIA and other industry resources, as well as models in place at other community colleges throughout California. Moorpark College now has the only cybersecurity degree in Ventura County, complete with a state-of-the-art classroom.

Last fall, the college also launched a cyber club to give students even more hands-on experience to complement what they are learning in the classroom. The club helped Garcia host the California Mayors Cyber Cup at Moorpark College and will begin entering its own cyber competitions in the upcoming school year. Read more

California Cyberhub Advisor Henry Danielson’s introduction to cybersecurity came in the form of a headache at his day job. He was the Director of Technology at the Coast Unified School District and found himself dealing with an attack on the district’s WordPress site, followed by a phishing attack on employee email accounts.

Rather than sit back and let those situations get the best of him, Danielson took a proactive approach in remedying them. He changed the SQL security on the WordPress site to make it more secure and worked Gmail’s team to prevent the phishing attack from happening again.

These experiences showed him the value of cybersecurity education as he saw the potential it could have for his students. Danielson has also run multiple phishing campaigns in his district to help employees become more stealth in their cybersecurity posture.

“As a CTO, you are obligated and challenged with protecting the organization and the employees from cyber attacks, social engineering, and threats,” Danielson said. “I find that combination of challenges and problem-solving skills fascinating.”

Danielson also has a passion for education. He holds a bachelor’s degree in child development and a master’s degree in education technology. He saw CyberPatriot and teaching Cybersecurity as a way to combine all of these interests while making a positive impact on his students.

Under his direction, the Coast Union High School cyber team won first place in the 2019 California Mayors Cyber Cup for the South Central Coast Region. The team will compete in the California Cyber Innovation Challenge in June.

“The kids blow me away with their intuition and passion for learning new subject matter and becoming subject matter experts in a specific discipline like Linux or cracking passwords,” Danielson said. “I know we have changed students’ directions for their career paths and developed their passion for information technology.”

Ayen Johnson, CyberPatriot Coach at the Coast Unified School District, met Danielson eight years ago and has worked with him over the past five years to develop a cybersecurity curriculum at the school.

Johnson said he sees Danielson’s dedication to cyber education in everything that he does.

“Henry works hard at making sure our students are exposed to as many opportunities as possible,” Johnson said. “He is a cyber hero because he works tirelessly to ensure their success and receive the recognition they deserve.”

Danielson earned the industry standard, Certified Systems Security Officer (CISSO) in January 2019. Danielson also obtained a Cyber Teacher certificate from the Computer Science Teachers Association in 2016 and has worked with organizations including the Grizzly Youth Academy, California Cyber Institute and the GenCyber Teacher Training Program at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

He’s also an adjunct instructor at Cal Poly and a CTO mentor at the California Educational Technology Professionals Association and the Cyber-Security Awareness Coordinator South Central Coast Regional Information and Communication Technologies & Digital Media.

He helped more than 100 Girl Scouts earn cybersecurity badges through a program organized by the Girl Scouts of California and the California Cyber Training Complex (CCTC).

“The programs offered by the CCTC are important for girls along the central coast as parents look for resources to help keep their daughters informed and safe online,” said Jody Skenderian, CEO of Girl Scouts of California’s Central Coast.

Looking ahead to the next school, Danielson hopes to build the middle school cyber teams at Coast Unified. He’s also been teaching and coaching long enough that he’s beginning to see his former students find success in the cybersecurity field.

“I had one student this year that got into Cal Poly for computer science,” Danielson said. “He started in middle school and ended up becoming captain of the team. He’s a first-generation college student, and I know we changed his life for the better.”

That student, Luis Plascencia, said Danielson was always there for him as a mentor in his cyber endeavors.

“Henry has led me through a path of learning that has evolved my abilities for my future involvement in Cyber Security and Computer Science,” Plascencia said. “I am beyond thankful for everything this course has taught me and will come back to pay it forward to those that prepared me for my future.”

When Anna Carlin started working in IT in the 1980s, there were more women in the field than she saw 20 years later as an IT instructor.

Over the years, Carlin has used her experience in education and industry to help students understand the value that working in IT and cybersecurity can bring and inspire the next generation of ethical leaders.

Carlin worked in cybersecurity before there was a formal term for the field. She evolved from looking at the risk associated with computer systems at all levels to making presentations to the board of directors on the security over computer systems.

Along the way, she was asked to help teach some classes at Cal Poly Pomona. She was hesitant at first but knew that her professional experience would be valuable in the classroom.

“I never thought of going into academia,” Carlin said. “But I quickly found that I loved the interaction with students and sharing what I wish I knew when I was in their shoes.  In addition, understanding how what you are learning is applied in business is valuable.”

Carlin taught at Cal Poly Pomona for 20 years before moving to Fullerton College in 2016. Her goal as an educator is to help students build the bridge to what comes next after college. She also encourages lifelong learning and membership in professional organizations such as ISACA.  She is a board member and chairs the Academic Relations Committee for the Los Angeles chapter.

Carlin promotes the networking opportunities afforded by professional associations but also encourages security professionals to share their expertise with the future workforce by visiting the classroom, judging student-based competitions, advising colleges on curriculum, and mentoring.

Building professional connections and career paths early is the key to filling cybersecurity vacancies, she said. Some students might instantly know that cybersecurity is the career they want, but many discover it gradually.

“When there’s a shortage of people, you need to plant all the seeds you can,” she said. “You can’t sit around waiting for the right time when the lightbulb goes off.”

Carlin has mentored countless women throughout her career, including Tobi West, a cybersecurity professor at Coastline Community College and founder of the CyberTech Girls program. Carlin met West when she was a graduate student at Cal Poly Pomona and said the two hit it off almost immediately.

They now work together on CyberTech Girls, where West said Carlin serves as a role model for what a successful IT career can look like.

“Anna has been an inspiration for CyberTech Girls as an original supporter of the vision for the program,” West said. “Since the start of CyberTech Girls, she has provided workshop ideas and local event support as mentor and workshop trainer.”

Carlin sees the movement to promote stable, high-paying cybersecurity jobs to young women as an extension of the women’s empowerment movement she grew up with in the 1970s.

“The majority of single-income homes in America are made up of women who make their own decisions in life that are not dependent upon someone else’s paycheck,” Carlin said. “Cybersecurity is a high-paying field. We need to reach women early to give them a sense of what it’s all about and help them see a career path for themselves.”

Though she was hesitant about teaching at first, Carlin’s expertise has proven to be invaluable in the classroom. Carlin and West frequently collaborate on a presentation called “Cyber Up! Your Resume!” that helps students accentuate cybersecurity experience on job applications.

“Anna is a wonderful teacher both inside and outside of the classroom,” West said. “We have co-presented on several occasions to help students and those entering the field develop their resumes and their skills to prepare for cybersecurity careers.”

Carlin knows that women in IT may have different motivations than their male counterparts. She understands these motivations and emphasizes how careers in cybersecurity can satisfy them.

“Women want to see the value of the work they do,” Carlin said. “They’re not in it just for the money. They want to get up and go to work that doesn’t seem like work, and see the positive impact of their work.”

Jay Gehringer spent 27 years as a high school band director before making the transition into cybersecurity education. He knows firsthand the value that comes from being well-rounded and having expertise in multiple areas.

As a cyber coach and mentor at North Hollywood High School, he passes that lesson onto his students as they prepare for college and the working world. Cybersecurity impacts every part of the economy, and cybersecurity professionals need to be experts in technology and their industry.

“If you want someone to do cybersecurity for your oil refinery, you want them to be a petroleum engineer, but you also want them to be interested in their cybersecurity,” Gehringer said. “You need content knowledge in whatever area you’re working in, not just knowledge about cybersecurity.”

Gehringer encourages his students to consider double majors in college and reiterates that they don’t have to give up their passion for another field just because they are interested in cybersecurity.

His own career path mirrors some of these same ideas. He majored in music but took programming courses during college. He continued to learn about computers as a side project while he was a band director and eventually made the transition into teaching technology full-time.

Gehringer heard about CyberPatriot through a school district press release and thought he might be able to help out. He began coaching in 2011.His experience shows that anyone can become a cyber coach, regardless of their background or experience.

“99 percent of what I know about teaching cybersecurity, I didn’t know when I started,” Gehringer said. “I took Cisco courses, did a lot of research online, talked to kids who had figured things out and got some help from other instructors along the way.”

Gehringer’s students are three-time CyberPatriot National Champions, winning in the Open Division in 2014, 2017, and 2018.  As a coach, he’s careful not to overemphasize the success and helps his students keep their performance in perspective.

“Kids naturally like to do things well and at a high level,” Gehringer said. “With the support I’m able to give my students, they’re instantly one of the better teams in the country. I’m always reminding them that, while winning is important, it’s not the only reason to participate in these competitions.”

North Hollywood High School’s CyberPatriot teams are run as part of the Beyond the Bell after-school program. Gehringer said this approach helps him reach students who might not have room in the school day for cybersecurity education.

“It gives me access to kids who are taking a very heavy academic schedule,” Gehringer said. “Kids who are interested in cyber generally are not doing sports or performing arts. When mom was trying to get them to go out and play, they wanted to sit inside on the computer. CyberPatriot gives them an opportunity to work as part of a team.”

As his teams continue to achieve success, Gehringer uses that notoriety to spread the word about the potential cybersecurity offers as a career path. Once parents understand what it is, he says, they instantly see what he’s known for years.

“I like cybersecurity as a career because it’s not a job that’s going to get exported overseas or taken over by a robot,” Gehringer said. “A lot of parents are stuck on their kids being a doctor or lawyer, but that changes pretty quickly when you start talking about their kids coming out of college with multiple job offers before they graduate.”

Gehringer’s students will defend their national title at the CyberPatriot XI National Championship in Baltimore April 8-10.

Starting a cyber team involves hard work and dedication under normal circumstances. New coaches need to make arrangements with their schools, recruit students, and begin building community partnerships.

Now imagine trying to do all of those things while your community is recovering from devastating wildfires.

That’s the situation computer science teacher Edwin Kang found himself in last fall, but he did not let it stop him from creating several new teams at Ukiah High School.

The Ukiah area was impacted by the Mendocino Complex Fire in August 2018, and then again by the Camp Fire in October 2018.

“There was still smoke around when we came back to school the first week … it really lowered morale and made it hard to get back into the swing of things,” Kang said.

Over time though, Kang began to revive his existing robotics teams and see the potential to expand into cyber competitions. Ukiah High School is excited to compete in the California Mayors Cyber Cup for the first time later this month.

To help with his new teams, Kang is turning to a seemingly unlikely source.

“I’m getting the football coach to help me with a second team,” Kang said. “He has very little technical background, but he but knows how to coach and wants to work with kids as much as he can.”

Originally from Los Angeles, Kang has worked at Ukiah High School since 2014. Before that, he taught computer science at nearby Potter Valley High School. He became interested in cybersecurity after the Mendocino County Office of Education asked him to teach a course on “hacking the news” following the 2016 presidential election.

His passion had always been robotics, but he quickly saw the demand for quality cybersecurity education and learned about the resources available through the California Cyberhub to make it happen.

“Cyber education needs to be developed in middle school high school, and even a basic understanding in elementary school,” Kang said. “It’s becoming more and more relevant every day for all of us, and it’s becoming easier than ever to learn through things like the IT fundamentals program.”

Kang spends summers teaching at SMASH Academy, a STEM-intensive residential college prep program for students from underserved communities. SMASH Academy has locations across the country; Kang teaches at UC Berkeley.

“I live with them for five weeks in the summer and travel with them throughout the Bay Area,” Kang said.  “At the end of the summer, students leave with a portfolio they can use for scholarships, internships, and jobs.”

Kang remains passionate about robots and continues to advise Ukiah High School’s robotics team, which visited Google’s headquarters earlier this year. Moving forward, he sees opportunities for collaboration between robotics and cyber competitions.

“I am deeply passionate about fostering the next generation of responsible and ethical digital citizens,” Kang said. “Everything we’re doing in STEM, cyber, and robotics is part of that.”

Skip Brewer is the Computer Security Manager at the Elk Grove Unified School District, a position he took after several years in the IT industry. Given that experience, he was a little skeptical about cyber competitions when one of his teachers approached him about using a school computer lab to start a team.

“The first year I refused because I didn’t want kids on my network hacking,” Brewer said.

After seeing CyberPatriot in action, however, Brewer quickly realized that CyberPatriot was exactly the opposite of his original notion. He quickly signed on to help the district’s teams as a mentor and watched the program double in size.

Not only does Brewer serve as a coach and a mentor, but he also actively recruits other IT professionals to give back by becoming involved with cyber competitions in their areas.

Both coaches and mentors play integral roles in cyber competitions. Coaches serve as team leaders and provide both logistical and emotional support to the students. They do not need to have technical experience — that’s where mentors come in.

Mentors provide technical expertise about specifics aspects of the cyber competition, such as configuring accounts or securing systems. In other words, they worry about the technical details so coaches don’t have to.

Brewer said serving as a team’s sole mentor can be a substantial time commitment and require a broader set of expertise than one person typically has.

“I’ve been encouraging coaches to find multiple mentors who might come in once a month or once every few months,” Brewer said. “No one person is going to have all the expertise you need, and it opens up the pool of candidates to those who might not be available on a weekly basis.”

Brewer recently spoke about cyber competitions at the Educational Technology Professional Association conference, where he tried to dispel the myth that cyber competitions are all about hacking. Despite the success of CyberPatriot and other programs,

“I talked to people all week who have any involvement in technology and encouraged them to reach out and assist their schools who have cyber teams or want to start them,” Brewer said. “There’s still a misconception out there about what the program is. It’s not teaching kids how to hack; it’s quite the opposite.”

Brewer is also involved with efforts to make cyber competitions a full-fledged sport at the Elk Grove Unified School District. He believes that giving esports the same recognition as traditional sports will help build enthusiasm and increase participation.

Cindy Lascola, co-coordinator of the Design and Technology Academy (DATA) at Monterey Trail High School, met Brewer 20 years ago when he began visiting her classes to talk with students about how to stay safe online. He also serves as an adviser to 11th-grade DATA students and received DATA’s Partner of the Year Award.

Brewer approached Lascola about participating in CyberPatriot, and she quickly found that it would be a good fit for DATA students who were interested in engineering, computer science, architecture, and related fields.

“Skip is a wonderful mentor, speaker, coach and inspirational leader to our students,” Lascola said. “DATA Cyber is a model program thanks to Skip’s the coaching and leadership.”

He’s fortunate to have the support of Elk Grove’s administration, which allows him to spend one afternoon per week working with the CyberPatriot students. He put in his own time, too, but the dedicated time during the week makes being a mentor and a coach much easier to schedule.

“I really encourage leaders in other districts to make the investment with the kids,” Brewer said.  “Helping kids learn this stuff and compete is making an investment in their education and their futures.”