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Maryland High School Girls Prove State’s Future as Cybersecurity Hub

GirlsGoCyberStart Competition Identifies Future Cybersecurity Stars

BALTIMORE (April 2, 2018) – The winners of the GirlsGoCyberStart competition, a series of innovative cybersecurity training challenges meant to inspire the next generation of cybersecurity professionals and identify talented youth in Maryland, met with Labor Secretary Kelly M. Schulz on Friday at a reception in Annapolis. The event acknowledged the hard work and skill the students demonstrated during the competition. Maryland teams from Poolesville High School and Montgomery Blair High School took first, second, fourth, and fifth place amongst all 2,700 teams.

6,650 high school girls from 17 states and territories participated in the competition. Of the top 100 teams overall, Maryland took four of the top five positions, and 15 of the top 100, proving the strength of Maryland’s future cybersecurity workforce.

“Our administration is committed to ensuring our students have access to the essential resources they need to pursue and persist in STEM fields,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. “We applaud the exemplary performance of these young competitors, and will continue to support their paths as they secure their place as the next generation of Maryland innovators and leaders.”

In Maryland, 404 high school girls formed 137 teams and competed in the five-day competition. Justin Serota, computer science teacher and sponsor of the Cyber Security Club and Computer Science League at North County High School, said, “For the first time ever, I had students asking me if they could come in on a Saturday, and those who didn't participate [in the competition] were enthralled watching their classmates solve puzzles and capture flags.”

While the competition demonstrated talent, it also highlighted the gender disparity in the STEM fields. The girls who competed represented less than one quarter of 1% of the high school girls in the states where CyberStart was played. These numbers align with those seen in the IT industry at large: women make up half of the nation’s workforce, but hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. Similar demographics are seen in academia, where women hold less than one-quarter of faculty positions in computer and information sciences at four-year colleges and universities.

“74 percent of high school girls across the nation express an interest in the fields and subjects of STEM,” said Secretary Schulz. “We must empower these young women to turn that interest into action. Initiatives like the Hogan administration’s Achieving Computer Science Collaborations for Employing Students Statewide (ACCESS) and GirlsGoCyberStart help us do just that. Through engagement, outreach, programming, and workforce development, we can reverse the statistics and grow female participation in cybersecurity and technology.”

Addressing the gender disparity in STEM was a primary goal of the GirlsGoCyberStart competition. Its online challenges inspired the next generation of cybersecurity professionals and identified talented youth in Maryland, while encouraging participants to explore their interests in cyber studies, learn core cybersecurity skills, and build confidence in problem-solving.

“The importance of inspiring young women to become interested in science, technology, engineering, and computer science in high school - and before - is well-known in the IT industry,” said Alan Paller, director of research for the SANS Institute, a cybersecurity college, training, and certification organization and the creator of the GirlsGoCyberStart competition. “The competition results from less than 1% of eligible high school-aged girls tell us that there are potentially huge numbers of girls in the United States with the potential to have a productive and exciting career in the cybersecurity field.”

Maryland’s top five GirlsGoCyberStart teams – along with their families and team sponsors – were acknowledged by Secretary Schulz at the reception. Governor’s citations were presented to teachers Mark Estep of Poolesville High School and Samir Paul of Montgomery Blair for their support of cyber studies and their contribution to the empowerment of the cyber workforce of tomorrow. Students Cindy Chen, Esther In, Sreya Vangara, Oksana Tkach, Grace Cai, Allison Borton, Nobline Yoo, Laura Cui, Artemis Tosini, Audrey Li, Shreeya Khurana, Kelley Li, Liang Lin, Lucinda Zhou, Marie Brodsky, Debkanya Mitra, and Victoria Xin received secretary’s citations from Labor Secretary Schulz for their outstanding performance in the challenge.

Schools that had large numbers of players and those that had high scorers shared in more than $70,000 in cash prizes from the SANS Institute. High-scoring girls won computers, Beats headphones, and gift certificates.

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