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PPEC Students Explore Cybersecurity Concerns, Careers

John Vennard Pikes Peak Early College students explored a career option Dec. 14 that’s expected to reach millions of vacancies as most graduate. For many, it was their first time considering the option, or completing exercises revealing its societal implications.


“We’re vulnerable as a nation, and cybersecurity is how we’ll strengthen the backbone of our country,” said Scott Nelson, SecureSet Academy vice president of program operations, facing students at Pikes Peak Early College in District 49.


Roughly 30 students had gathered in the high school, located in the northeast corner of Colorado Springs and the Falcon area of El Paso County. The college preparatory school uses a blended-learning model, combining online and classroom instruction.


Nelson shared the latest statistics concerning a gap in skills. One report revealed 84 percent of employers believe half or fewer of cybersecurity applicants are qualified. Another declared a global shortage of 2 million cybersecurity professionals by 2019.


As a career military officer and graduate of the U.S. Army War College, Nelson is well versed in threats to national security. He recently retired from active duty in the Army, but continues to serve as a colonel in the Army Reserve.


Scott Nelson The SecureSet Academy administrator explained vulnerabilities to critical infrastructure, the assets, systems and networks with a great impact on national security, economic vitality, as well as public health and safety.


“With cybersecurity, there are not enough people to fill the employment demand,” said Nelson, covering how cyberattacks can elevate into cyberwarfare. One-in-four organizations have experienced an advanced persistent threat on IT systems.


By 2020, the average cost of a data breach is expected to hit $150 million.


Students at Pikes Peak Early College know how to create online content — at least one is already an accomplished app developer — but few truly consider security, according to teacher Katrina Craig, who coordinated the presentation.


Craig, a math teacher, joined a cybersecurity “bootcamp” last July at Sand Creek High School in District 49. It stressed a need to get K-12 students excited about cybersecurity. SecureSet Academy and STEMsCO had won a $100,000 federal grant from Generation Cyber to provide summer camps for teachers and students.


GenCyber is a program spearheaded by the National Security Agency and National Science Foundation. It was formed to grow and improve cybersecurity education in the United States, according to the NSA website.


John Nogle “Our students today are getting a hands-on experience in a field that they may have never experienced before,” said Craig. “For most, they’re getting exposed to a whole new world in computing.”


Craig smiled as a student who struggles with academics took on a leadership role during the presentation, and its related activities. When another student was abruptly called to resolve a personal matter, she asked Craig to collect any paperwork or handouts for her — the career path had peaked her interest.


After describing how the Internet works, from cryptography to browser cookies, John Vennard hosted cybersecurity-related exercises. He was set to graduate in two days from the 20-week accelerated cyber security program at SecureSet Academy.


SecureSet Academy is designed for anyone interested in preventing the destruction of the U.S. virtual infrastructure, according to Nelsen. He says it’s possible to earn more than $70,000 per year as a starting salary, even without a bachelor’s degree.


After earning a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering, Vennard was struck by the importance of cybersecurity certifications. Like every SecureSet Academy graduate, he was able to pass the certified information systems security professional test by (ISC)², as well as obtain the Security+ endorsement from CompTIA.


Vennard was already hired into a career as a security engineer for a Denver-based company refining the art and science of securing information. He will help businesses manage the risks associated with competing in digital markets.


Faith Parker Vennard helped ninth-grader John Nogle, 14, and 10th-grader Faith Parker, 15, hack into a “Hackett College” website. They searched its HTML and CSS code to find vulnerabilities in the PHP scripts reading and writing to a MySQL database.


After John and Faith showed a successful data breach, Vennard instructed them to find a means to change student grade variables.


While John was considering a career in radio or computers, Faith was interested in a political career. She wanted to learn more about how the increasing concern of cyberwarfare could impact political discourse and public elections.


“As President of the United States, you wouldn’t want to just read a speech about a cyberattack,” said Faith. “You need to really understand this stuff.”


With a year of success in Denver, SecureSet Academy opens next month in Colorado Springs. Program graduates will earn transfer credits to partnering colleges. The academy had a pending relationship with University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

Dustin Senger