High Schoolers Delve Into Cybersecurity

EWU GenCyber Camp at the Catalyst gets a younger generation interested in cybersecurity.

July 19, 2023

Budding cyber experts are getting their feet wet this week at EWU’s GenCyber Camp at the Catalyst.

The camp, which runs from July 17-21, caught the interest of 27 high school-age campers – including 14 girls and 13 boys. Stu Steiner, an EWU assistant professor of computer science and cybersecurity expert, said most come from Cheney, Spokane Public Schools, Central Valley and West Valley districts. Four are homeschooled and one lives in Astoria, Oregon.

The campers include a mix of teens, both those who’ve previously taken cybersecurity classes and those who have little or no experience but want to try it out.

Students in grades 9-12 have fun while learning what cybersecurity is all about at the weeklong camp held at the Catalyst.

“Some of them are just kind of dangling their feet into it to see if they like it or not. Some of them are really interested in it,” Steiner says. “This is the first time we’ve ever done [the camp] and the first time it has ever been done in the Spokane area. We’re learning as much as the kids are learning I think on this thing.”

The GenCyber camp is a collaboration among EWU, Cheney High School and Spokane Falls Community College. Two of the partners brought experience with curriculum development to the table, while the camp’s leadership team boasts four experienced cybersecurity educators.

“We had to really figure out what was going to be kid-friendly or high-school friendly,” Steiner says. Lectures are kept short. Cyber campers follow along and then work with a partner to figure things out on their own before participating in cyber gaming that requires deployment of their newly learned skills.

The camp is free for eligible students. It was funded with a $70,000 grant from the federal National Security Agency (NSA), which covered staffing, equipment, food and beverages, and take-aways that include a single-board Raspberry Pi 400 computer.

Five EWU cybersecurity students — fresh off of EWU’s big win at a national cybersecurity competition — stepped into teaching assistant roles, working directly with the campers and serving as role models. Those EWU students include Lewis Thomas, Tristen Greene, Jessica Doner, Johanne McClenahan and Isaias Hernandez-Dominguez

The week’s activities kicked off with the campers installing new software on a laptop, building a virtual network and then connecting with other networks in the room before playing a virtual game of tracking down clues online to “capture the flag.”

Steiner says networking was a favorite activity so far and that the cyber campers were looking forward to receiving a Raspberry Pi 400, a personal computer that’s shaped like a keyboard, for some hacking exercises. “We have Wi-Fi routers set up in the room and they are going to hack into those routers and get the passwords off of them,” Steiner explains.

Later in the week, cyber campers will receive a thumb-drive containing traces of missing cat photos, files and text messages that spark a forensics investigation. “There’s a whole story around these cat pictures. They have to recover the cat pictures, the files behind the cat pictures, the text files, the text messages and stuff like that.”

In the latter part of the week, two NSA representatives will fly into Spokane to meet with the teaching team and the cyber campers. The agency has already awarded EWU a grant for next year’s camp, which will focus on middle schoolers, while continuing its cyber camp partnership with SFCC, which will host high schoolers next year.

“We have an incredible cybersecurity program,” says Steiner. “We’re national champions. And we encourage (students), ‘If you are interested in cybersecurity, just dangle your feet into it and see if you like it.”


*Starting this fall, EWU’s own students can take an intro to cybersecurity class. The course will give students a feel for what the field is all about, while also counting toward general education requirements.