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Normal West Students Finish Strong At National Cybersecurity Competition

Normal Community West High School students and their teacher say the first year participating in a new program aimed at getting more girls interested in cybersecurity was a success—capped off by a strong showing in a national competition.

The Girls Go CyberStart program, which debuted in Illinois last fall, provides opportunities for young women to explore their interests and test their skills in the cybersecurity field.

"Seeing a more diverse crowd between men and women in a field like this is inspiring to a younger generation."

“In any sort of field or career it’s really important to have diversity, and right now the computer science field is pretty much dominated by Caucasian males,” said Normal West computer science teacher April Schermann. “If we have the creators of technology and the defenders of our systems just all one particular group, it’s leaving out a lot of underrepresented people.”

Nearly 400 girls from Illinois have enrolled in Girls Go CyberStart, and 45 of them represented Illinois at the national competition on May 20-21. That included students from Normal West, LeRoy High School, and University High School, competing against 15,665 girls nationwide.

Despite the coronavirus, four girls from the Normal West Cyber Club were able to collaborate online at nationals in a Cyber Capture the Flag competition. Bailey Turner, Abby Rosenberger, Andrea Irving, and Ellie Diggins finished the competition and earned third place for Illinois.

“I saw it as a great opportunity to pull more girls into the computer science field and more specifically cybersecurity,” said Diggins, a junior. “Seeing a more diverse crowd between men and women in a field like this is inspiring to a younger generation." 

Normal West has around 100 female students involved in the Girls Go CyberStart program. The program became so popular within the school that more than 90 male students joined the club to participate in the activities, even though they are unable to compete.

“Some of them have been inspired to pursue a field in computer science as a college major or potential career,” said Schermann. “The people that chose not to do that know that they are going to be surrounded by technology everywhere in their life.”

Irving, who competed at nationals for Girls Go CyberStart, plans to pursue a major in computer science at North Dakota State this fall. Irving was a member of multiple computer science clubs at Normal West, including Girls Who Code, STEM Club and the Computer Science Honors Society.

“I think that anyone who wants to pursue a career in computer science should have the chance to do so, no matter what gender or color they are,” said Irving. “It’s really cool that these opportunities exist so that it can help everyone get involved and feel less underrepresented.”

Unit 5 is continuing to expand its computer science courses and will now offer a cybersecurity course this upcoming school year.

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