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W. Va. Partners with SANS to Bring Girls into Cyber

Young women in West Virginia will join more than 6,000 high school girls for the second year of Girls Go CyberStart, an interactive series of digital challenges that teachers girls about cybersecurity. 

First introduced in 2018, the program launched with 231 participants from 27 high schools across West Virginia. This year, according to West Virginia’s governor, Jim Justice, the state is officially partnering with SANS Institute to introduce its young girls to the field of cybersecurity through the CyberStart program.

“Cybersecurity is a growing and well-paying field,” Justice told MyBuckhannon. “The profession faces a shortage of qualified professionals, especially women. The Girls Go CyberStart program is a fun way our West Virginia students can get training opportunities and find out how they can be part of this workforce.”

Female high school students in grades 9–12 are able to participate in the challenge as individuals or as part of a team of up to four players. As the goal is to introduce and then build on the participants' knowledge base, those who enroll are not required to have any information technology or cybersecurity experience. Instead, the girls will learn cybersecurity through a series of puzzles and problem-solving challenges.

“The nation desperately needs more highly skilled cyber professionals, and we have evidence that CyberStart improves the quality and preparation of people entering the cybersecurity field," said Alan Paller, director of research, SANS Institute.

"Women are significantly underrepresented in the technical side of cybersecurity. By opening CyberStart to tens of thousands of girls in high school, and to all college students, we hope to help the nation identify the next generation of talented people who will excel in this critical field.”

Throughout the series, students will learn about cryptography, web vulnerabilities, Python, Linux and forensics, according to the Girls Go CyberStart website.

“People who enjoy learning new languages, math or music often excel in this field – but so do people who prefer geography, history and drama! Whatever your passion, there's only one way to find out if you'll also love cybersecurity,” the website states.

Currently 26 US states are listed as having officially partnered with SANS Institute as part of the Go Girls CyberStart program. 

According to SANS Institute, the UK government opened CyberStart to all high school students in a $25 million program, Cyber Discovery, launched last year. According to participants who took part in the first-year program, 83% rated their overall experience as either good or very good. More than 75% of students said they were considering joining Cyber Discovery again for its second year.

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