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News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

11-16-07

Newton High School's Cyber Defense Club

Members of Newton High School's Cyber Defense Club are hoping to improve on last year's third place finish when they compete at next spring's IT-Olympics at Iowa State University. Club members, left to right in back, are Jorgen Rose, Allison Thongvanh and Michael Freeman. In the front, left to right, are Jay Kakade, Trevor Gooding and Troy Gooding. Photo by Jodi Morgan-Peters.

Contacts:

Doug Jacobson, Electrical and Computer Engineering, (515) 294-8307, dougj@iastate.edu

Jodi Morgan-Peters, Newton High School, (641) 792-5797, morgan-petersj@newton.k12.ia.us

Kip Peters, FBL Financial Group, Inc., (515) 710-2584, kip.peters@fblfinancial.com

Mike Krapfl, News Service, (515) 294-4917, mkrapfl@iastate.edu

High school students hard at work prepping for Iowa State technology competition

AMES, Iowa -- Every Tuesday after school the members of Newton High School's Cyber Defense Club head to the computer lab to learn some more lessons from three cyber pros.

The five to seven students who make it each week learn about building a computer network. They learn what it takes to keep their network up and running. They learn how they can protect their network from attackers. They even learn about the ethics -- and professional consequences -- of hacking into computers.

Allison Thongvanh, a Newton High junior who's thinking about majoring in business and graphic design when she heads to college, is in her second year with the club. She said she joined last year because she had an interest in technology and thought the club could be fun.

And is it?

"Yeah, it's fun because there's a lot of new stuff for me," she said. "There's a lot of interesting stuff, too."

All those new and interesting technology lessons aren't just for computer geeks.

They're for all kinds of students who want to learn about computers and want to compete in the first IT-Olympics at Iowa State University's Hilton Coliseum next April 25-26. Organizers of a new program at Iowa State called IT-Adventures are working to build interest in computer careers by establishing high school information technology clubs across the state and bringing those students to campus for competitions in cyber defense, robotics and game design. The program provides free computers, mentors and learning materials to schools and is signing up clubs through Nov. 26.

"This is a good way to get new kids excited about IT," said Doug Jacobson, an Iowa State University professor of electrical and computer engineering and an organizer of IT-Adventures.

The program's goal is to help 75 Iowa high schools establish IT clubs and send 700 students to the IT-Olympics. There are currently close to 70 clubs from 34 schools, including clubs in Alburnett, Carroll, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Iowa City, Liberty Center, Sac City, Sigourney, Waterloo, West Des Moines and West Liberty.

When students compete, "They definitely want to win," said Larry Brennan, a senior technical services consultant for FBL Financial Group, Inc. of West Des Moines.

Brennan and two FBL colleagues drive to Newton every week to work with the high school's Cyber Defense Club. It's the third year they've volunteered to help students learn and understand how they can build a small computer network and protect it from hackers. They helped last year's Newton team place third at Iowa State's High School Cyber Defense Competition.

"I know it sounds kind of geeky, but they come in and ask, 'How does the Web work?'" Brennan said. "They want to know how Amazon.com defends against attacks. And they want to learn how to protect their systems.

"Attackers have the easy job," he said. "They just have to find one weakness."

Jodi Morgan-Peters, a biology teacher at Newton High School and the Cyber Defense Club's adviser, said the club and competition are great ways for students to learn some computer technology and get involved at school.

"This taps into kids who might be looking for involvement in some of the less traditional extracurricular activities at our school," she said. "And this is an excellent opportunity for students interested in computer careers to do something and put that interest to use."

Club members are certainly learning some technical lessons, she said. But there's a bigger lesson, too.

"This gives students an idea that you can have fun with computers and can do something productive with them, too," Morgan-Peters said. "It can be a career. Students are looking at this as a cool career."

It's a career that's important for the state and the country.

A 2006 report by the National Academies, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future," notes that China graduated an estimated 350,000 engineers, computer scientists and information technologists in 2004. The United States graduated an estimated 140,000 students in those fields that year.

In Iowa, a 2005 report prepared by the Battelle consulting and research firm for the Iowa Department of Economic Development said the state should grow its small information technology sector to support and advance the state's economy.

Jacobson said IT-Adventures is all about getting more and more students interested in information technology as a field of study and work.

He said the number of high school students who express interest in the field has decreased by 40 percent over the past three years. At the same time, industry is looking for more information technology workers.

That's one of the reasons FBL Financial Group, Inc. is willing to send three of its employees to Newton every week.

"It's harder and harder to find staff," said Kip Peters, FBL's enterprise information protection vice president and Morgan-Peters' husband. "The stereotype is that information technology workers are geeky. But we come in all shapes and sizes."

And that's just one more IT lesson Newton High School's Cyber Defense Club is learning this fall.

For more information on IT-Adventures see www.it-adventures.org.

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IT-Adventures logo

Quick look

High school students across the state are learning about cyber defense, robotics and game design as part of Iowa State University's new IT-Adventures program. The program's goal is to hook students on information technology as a field of study and work.

Quotes

"This is a good way to get new kids excited about IT."

Doug Jacobson, an Iowa State University professor of electrical and computer engineering and an organizer of IT-Adventures

"I know it sounds kind of geeky, but they come in and ask, 'How does the Web work?' They want to know how Amazon.com defends against attacks. And they want to learn how to protect their systems."

Larry Brennan, a senior technical services consultant for FBL Financial Group, Inc. of West Des Moines