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Two college cyber defense competitors earn scholarships

Anna Staats, captain of the University of Maryland Baltimore County Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition team, assigns tasks to teammates during the Mid-Atlantic Regional competition in March 2019.

Growing up in the digital age; living with the Internet of Things; and the presence of more female role models. Those factors and more appear to be helping to draw more women into the cybersecurity field. 

According to a new survey by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)², women make up about 24 percent of the U.S. cybersecurity workforce, considered to be cyber and IT professionals who spend at least 25 percent of their time on security work. That number compares to only 11 percent in 2013.

“Traditionally, many women didn’t think they were capable (enough) to pursue a career in cybersecurity because it was a male-dominated field,” said Claire Seiler, a University of Florida junior. “It can be very intimidating to be the odd one out and feel like you don’t belong, and when nobody else looks like you. That’s changing."

Seiler credits organizations like Raytheon, that place a priority on diversity.

"It’s really helping more women join and stay in the field,” she said.

This shift is reflected in the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, which is presented by Raytheon. It’s the nation's largest competition of its kind, allowing students from across the country a chance to test their cyber skills.

The 2019 tournament, the 14th season for the competition, is bringing together more than 2,000 grads and undergrads from 235 colleges and universities to compete. Last year, five women were among the top 10 teams. One was Mariah Kenny, the winning team captain from the University of Virginia.

This year, 11 women will compete at the championships in Orlando, Florida, April 23-25, 2019.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for a mentor,” said Anna Staats, a University of Maryland Baltimore County sophomore and captain of her Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition team. “I was in high school, and my mentor had heard that I was interested in cybersecurity so she pulled me aside, gave me her card and said ‘If you’re interested in doing this, call me.’ She’s been a great mentor, a great inspiration."

Claire Seiler types on a laptop in a classroom
Claire Seiler practices remotely with the University of Florida Student Information Security Team for the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

Raytheon and the Center for Cyber Safety and Education are helping both Staats and Seiler, who was co-captain of the University of Florida’s 2018 CCDC, to further their cyber careers. The students are receiving the Raytheon Women’s Cybersecurity Scholarship, which is administered by the center. Staats and Seiler will each receive $10,000 toward tuition, fees and books, and the opportunity for a paid summer internship with Raytheon’s Cybersecurity and Special Missions unit.

Upon graduation, the center will award both students a $5,000 voucher toward an (ISC)² exam voucher (for the test of their choice), hard copy textbook, digital textbook, practice exams and a five-day seminar. There are a number of cybersecurity certifications offered by (ISC)², such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional certification.

“These certifications further my understanding of cybersecurity as a whole and test my knowledge,” said Staats, who is interested in pursuing vulnerability research in the virtual reality field. “Then, getting a CISSP will open up an array of job opportunities for me.”

Seiler, who will intern at Raytheon this summer, is looking at a career in both hardware and software cybersecurity. “My dad worked in computer sales and repairs for awhile,” she said. “And I wanted to learn more about what was happening internally in computers. That passion has never dulled over those years, and I’ve never wavered from path.”

According to the center’s research, there will be a shortage of 3.5 million cyber professionals worldwide by 2021. That’s one reason Raytheon invests in the scholarship program — to help create a path to cyber careers for women, promote the cyber workforce and gain strength through diversity.

“NCCDC isn’t a typical competition; you need to work as a team, you need interpersonal and management skills, and you need to be technically proficient,” said Dwayne Williams, NCCDC director. “Both men and women realize that they need to develop these skills if they want to make a name for themselves in the workforce.”


Published On: 04/23/2019
Last Updated: 04/23/2019