Summer camps usually conger up memories of huddling around campfires, s'mores, singing ... or, for the more intense, practicing math tables or musical scales.
But a recent camp at the College of DuPage left its attendees with memories of securing personal online information and cyber crime sleuthing. The Glen Ellyn college was host to a federally-funded program that taught a select number of students and teachers about cyber security, with the goal of improving awareness of online safety and introducing the teens to the potential of careers in fighting cyber crime.
And with an estimated gap of 2 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2019, it's a camp that's definitely geared to the future.
COD's GenCyber camp, supported and funded through the National Science Foundation and National Security Agency has three main goals, according to Program Manager Barbara DiMonte: To increase interest in cyber security careers and diversity in the cyber security workforce; to help students understand correct and safe online behavior; and to improve teaching methods for bringing cyber security content into school programs.
"We're training teachers so that they build cyber security principles into their K-12 curriculum, and they're creating the awareness for their students about what's happening in the workforce and what careers are related to cyber security," DiMonte said. "So we're able to start at a much younger age to build that talent pipeline."
Lead instructor Justin Wagner said the one-week camp covered a wide range of topics and issues, from a discussion of the "First Principles" in cyber safety to internet vulnerabilities and how participants can protect themselves from cyber criminals.
The students also received hands-on experience on Raspberry Pi mini computers, which Wagner said helped "get the technology in front of the students."
The students and teachers also heard from experts who talked about intellectual property rights and online ethics, and from local police detectives who specialize in solving cyber crimes.
The final day was spent at the COD's Robert Miller Homeland Security Building's Street Scene, where participants took part in a challenge of solving a simulated identity theft case.
"We want the teachers and students to have fun at the camp because we want these individuals to go back and spread the word about cyber security and we want to do that in a positive, fun environment," DiMonte said.
For the students, the camp taught responsible online behavior -- like being careful what to post on social media, or not sharing passwords with others -- but it also exposed them to the opportunities of a career in cyber security.
"The notion (of cyber security jobs) is that I sit at a desk and I don't talk to anyone and I look at a computer," DiMonte said. "In reality, you need social and critical thinking skills to be able to excel in the workforce."
From the teachers' perspective, the camp not only helped them in integrating online safety into their curricula, but also prepared them to work closely with students when dealing with online issues.
"Teachers are mentors and they are becoming (students') technology coaches, too," Wagner said. "It may also open up that awareness for the teacher to go 'Hey, you know what? Cyber security is a huge field, so even if you go into business or auto technology or whatever else, cyber security is something you should be thinking about."
DiMonte added the program also helped teachers understand they will be training students for jobs that do not currently exist.
"By the time those students graduate, the whole internet will continue to transform and change," she said. "So it's really about creating that awareness and building that skill set so that children are then thinking about it and being interested."
Despite the late start in bringing the camp together due to a delay in funding from the government agencies, DiMonte and Wagner called the GenCyber Camp a success and plan to reapply for the grant next year.
"The long term is to generate awareness that security just doesn't apply to people going into computer science field, but applies to almost every job we're doing today," Wagner said.