LITTLE SILVER, NJ - Only 11% of America’s Cyber Security professionals are female in a field that has nearly 300,000 unfilled jobs. The answer is clear. Paramount to American security is to train more of her children to take on cyber security jobs; and a necessary place to look for recruits is one half of the US population – females. Mandy Galante of Red Bank Regional High School has more than done her part in trying to fill America’s desperate need. She and her colleagues, Jeremy Milonas and Alison Murphy have been actively recruiting girls to the schools’ award winning Information Technology Academy which includes a cybersecurity core class and infusion of cybersecurity in all courses. In 2015, Mandy and Jeremy trained middle school girls to compete in the prestigious CyberPatriot competition, where those teams took 2nd and 3rd place in that national contest. This year the RBR computer teachers employed a grant to create a coding program for RBR’s sending middle schools. RBR’s STEM students acted as mentors to the younger students to entice them to join the RBR STEM programs.
So when the SANS institute convinced America’s governors they needed to institute a special competition to promote female cyber security interest, Mandy Galante used her connections and expertise to make the GirlsGoCyberStart program a success throughout New Jersey. As a result, of the 2000 teams and 6700 participants that participated in the first GirlsGoCyberStart competition in the United States, New Jersey placed 15 teams in the top 100. And RBR had the largest number of participants and teams competing in New Jersey with a total of 45 girls in 15.
On May 4, Michael Geraghty, the Director of NJCICC (New Jersey Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Cell, part of the national Department of Homeland Security) came to RBR to deliver a $3,000 check to the school for that accomplishment.
RBR had a core of girls in the RBR STEM programs including the Academy of Information Technology and the Academy of Engineering, but for this competition Mandy went outside the usual venue to seek contest participants by just walking across the hallway to Dr. Wilkinson’s Creative Writing majors in RBR’s Visual & Performing Arts Academy.
Mrs. Galante comments, “I wanted to get the girls involved who never thought of doing this. I had a preview of the game used in GirlsGoCyberStart so I knew it was very accessible to a non-techie. But how to find those girls? Easy - Dr. Wilkinson! She is so open to helping her students and colleagues, I was hoping she would give her girls some time in class to try it out. And she went even further! She made it the lesson for part of each day, and brought me in to "sell" it beforehand. She even helped me with their team pictures. Plus, people who are good at creative writing and music often have a talent for puzzles and tech.”
The girls actually enjoyed the competition and look forward to it next year.
Creative Writer Penny Hill commented, “At first the competition was really difficult, but then I realized it was much more about problem solving, and solving riddles. It was a lot more fun once you got into. I would do it again. I liked the whole story and narrative of it. I would even like to look more into the field as I find it interesting.”
Belinda Bohrman agreed with Penny that the program was difficult at first and approached it with little self-confidence in the subject matter stating, “At first I thought people who are really good at math could only do this. I had to solve a lot of equations and I was skeptical but by giving us a series of challenges and directions to solve problems, they demystified it.” She adds, “I would do it again, it was good for team building. We really had to heavily communicate with each other. It was a fun time to work with people in our class that wasn’t just creative writing.”
A list of the girls who participated follows: Isabel Halloran;Meghan Pawlak; Desiree Marshall; Hannah Nishiura; Morgan Almasy; Penny Hill; Belinda Bohrman;Nicholette Glenn; Adeline Monfil; Camarra Brittain; Victoria Lloyd; Kendall Stout; Esmeralda Pita-Herrera; Gianna Lanfrank; Grace Davidson; Julia Merola; Erin O'Kane; Mary Fitzsimmons; Melissa Vuong; Sophia LaRocca; Alexandra Lewis; Aurelia Whitehead; Elizabeth Heinemann; Gabrielle Jamieson; Katie Rowe; Carla Ortiz; Lilly Thygeson; Madison Young; Corine Normandin; Chloe Sharpe;Shelley Banfield; Juliet Alejandrez; Marie Davidson; Hannah Gazdus; Jessica MacLean; Brigid Clanton-Calnan; Hope Goldsmith; Maggie Scharmann; Allessandra Swart; Kaylin Hernandez-Perez; Mackenzie Wood; Tess Hintelmann; Giulia Dostie; Suubi Mondesir; and Willow Martin.