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Students dive into cybersecurity at San Juan College camp
Five-day event sponsored by National Security Agency, National Science Foundation
FARMINGTON — The organizers of the GenCyber Summer Training Camp at San Juan College are excited by the reaction of students who attended the inaugural program this week.
About 52 students spent the week in the college's Quality Center for Business learning to assemble a personal computer and program a robot while coming to understand the many facets involved in cybersecurity and safe online behavior.
The free summer camp sponsored by the National Security Agency and National Science Foundation is geared toward generating interest in cybersecurity as a career field for students in fourth through 12th grade.
Bradley Purdy, the college's dean of the School of Business, IT and Workforce Development, said the reaction from students to the camp exceeded his expectations.
The goal of the camp was to provide students an overview of topics, including computer safety, network security and computer networking.
Purdy said the students were eager to keep learning beyond the curriculum developed for the week-long camp and go in-depth on subjects.
"These are very impressive students," Purdy said.
During Wednesday afternoon's session, groups of students were engaged in fine tuning the programming of their Sphero robots and listening to a presentation from Detective Erik Barlow of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office.
The students were tasked with programming the spherical robot to navigate a maze they designed by laying pieces of masking tape on the carpet of the classroom.
Fourteen-year-old Andrew Grobler said there are three different ways for the Sphero robot to be programmed.
Students can use an app on a smartphone or tablet to draw the path they wish the robot to travel with their finger on the screen.
Within the app, they could also use a block-based system to issue commands to tell the robot which direction to travel, how fast to travel and how long before it comes to a stop.
Grobler and his group determined it takes the robot about one and a half seconds to move about a foot.
Using that information, they measured their maze to determine how the robot would roll through the maze and were working to program it accordingly.
"We've had a lot of opportunities to use things we normally wouldn't be able to get our hands on," Grobler said.
In his presentation, Barlow discussed how certain smartphone apps, including Snapchat, can be used for cyberbullying and described the process of how he investigates alleged cybercrimes.
Snapchat's latest feature Snap Map helps you see where your friends are hanging out, so you can join them. USA TODAY
Barlow went into detail about the work involved in obtaining search warrants to acquire data on possible suspects from companies such as Facebook and to search a suspect's home for a computer or device that may have been involved in a crime.
He reminded the students to exercise safety when adding followers they might not know when using apps like Snapchat, which recently released a feature called Snap Map that allows users to share their location with their friends.
The camp was helping 12-year-old Jessi Curry grow her interest in computers and technology.
"I like that I'm able to go somewhere and not feel out of place," Curry said.
Both Curry and Grobler said they were enjoying their time using the Raspberry Pi — a micro computer — to learn how to assemble a computer, and install an operating system and software.
Each student was able to keep his or her Raspberry Pi as part of attending the camp.
It was Curry's first time to experiment with the process of assembling a computer at the camp, which has helped increase her interest in pursuing a college degree related to computers.
"I've been interested in trying to major in computer science, computer engineering," Curry said. "This could help me get a base or foundation of what I could do."
A second camp scheduled for July 10-14 has about 55 students already signed up, according to Purdy.
A grant worth $71,000 from the NSA was designed to cover tuition for 90 students across the two camps. College officials are working with the San Juan College Foundation to accommodate as many students as possible.
Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.