Eighth grade student Debbie from Country Meadows Elementary School in Peoria dreams of becoming a computer programmer someday. But until this week, she had never met a woman in that role.
“It taught me that just because you’re a woman, doesn’t mean you can’t do different things," she said. "It gave me a little bit more confidence.”
Debbie was one of hundreds of middle school students participating in CybersecurityDay4Girls on Arizona State University's West campus this week.
“It’s important to make a specific reach to girls because they don’t see themselves in these roles yet,” said Jamie Winterton, director of strategy for the Global Security Initiative.
ASU’s CybersecurityDay4Girls was hosted in partnership with IBM to introduce young girls to the field of cybersecurity. Middle school girls are the focus of this program because women are typically underrepresented in cybersecurity roles.
“We started IBM CybersecurityDay4Girls in 2016 because we recognized a gap. … We needed to get to girls earlier, so we decided to target middle school girls and work with them to bring awareness of cybersecurity (opportunities),” said IBM’s Heather Ricciuto.
CybersecurityDay4Girls covers topics to help middle school students and their families stay safe online in an ever more connected world. The program also introduces more advanced concepts like cryptography and blockchain. This exposure provides students with a better understanding of cybersecurity as a career and encourages them to consider pursuing it further.
Hallie Schukai is a sophomore studying computer science in the Fulton Schools of Engineering. “If I was that 12-year-old girl sitting in there right now, I would be absolutely thrilled because making it all about these middle school girls is amazing," she said. "I wish I had had it when I was their age.”
It was also an opportunity for participants to meet and hear from female professionals already working in cybersecurity. These role models shared their personal journeys that led to their positions today, along with explanations of what their jobs entail.
Winterton moderated a panel discussion between students and female cybersecurity professionals. “They don’t have a lot of people to look up to, so by bringing them together and showing them there are actually a lot of female leaders in cybersecurity … then they can start to see what kind of careers they might be good for.”
IBM has hosted nearly 100 CybersecurityDay4Girls events in 10 countries since 2016. This week IBM partnered with ASU for CybersecurityDay4Girls in conjunction with the 10th annual NICE conference (National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education) in Phoenix. The annual NICE Conference and Expo brings together thought leaders from industry, government, academia and nonprofit organizations to address the community's cybersecurity education, training and workforce needs.