GCU sophomores take center stage at first Girls in Cyber event

Grand Canyon University sophomore Allie Urbaszewski helps students from Sonoran Trails Middle School use a Caesar cipher wheel for encrypting data during the GCU co-hosted Girls in Cyber event at the Arizona State Capitol.

Photos by Ralph Freso

“I can take this first,” Megan Howell said immediately.

Howell, a Grand Canyon University sophomore, spoke convincingly Tuesday about her future in cybersecurity to a group of about 60 high school and junior high female students attending the first Girls in Cyber event at the Arizona State Capitol, in partnership with the Arizona Department of Homeland Security.

GCU sophomore Megan Howell, an intern at Cisco, speaks during a panel discussion on “How to Prepare for a Career in Cyber” during Girls in Cyber at the Arizona State Capitol.

GCU’s female presence was unmistakable.

Dr. Pam Rowland, Associate Dean of GCU’s College of Engineering and Technology, moderated a panel entitled “Is There A Place for Me?” It showcased that cybersecurity is a broad field needing different perspectives, backgrounds and talents. Sophomore Allie Urbaszewski explained cyber wheel/encryption while supervising a series of tests to students. And Howell discussed how she is preparing for a career in cybersecurity.

“For these other young girls to see what, in a sense, their peers and really close near peers are doing, it motivates them,” Rowland said. “They get excited. ‘It’s something I can do. Look what they did.’

“It’s just an opportunity they don’t always recognize is available to them because they haven’t seen others doing it. You can’t really be who you don’t see. Once you’re aware of it, then you start seeing it more, and then you start getting more intrigued, and you might consider going down that career path.”

The combination of youth and experience made a favorable impression on the female students from all parts of the Valley who spent six hours participating in group projects and listening to a group of predominately female cybersecurity officials from the public and private sector.

From left, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering and Technology Dr. Pam Rowland, Allie Urbaszewski, Steven Faulkner, Megan Howell and Michael Manrod were on hand for the event.

With the assistance of Urbaszewski, students learned about the perils of social engineering.

“Social engineering, to put it simply, is human hacking and psychological manipulation,” said Urbaszewski, who emphasized the awareness of personal information solicitation through forums such as social media, emails and shoulder surfing.

A video that showed people sharing details about their graduation or their pet’s name that were used for their passwords bolstered Urbaszewski's point.

“Don't work in the middle of a Starbucks where you’re putting your passwords in, or don't work in the middle of a food court at all – places like that,” Urbaszewski said. “And if you do, make sure you watch your surroundings. Make sure no one was close enough to steal your info.”

Amy McBeth, a teacher at Sonoran Trails Middle School, shared the surprise of one student to Ngan Pham, Statewide Cybersecurity Program Manager for the Arizona Department of Homeland Security, after the student learned this was the first Cyber for Girls event.

Megan Howell assists middle school students with an incident response design activity during the event.

“It was so well organized, and it ran so smoothly you couldn't even tell that it was new. It was like they'd run this event a bunch of times," McBeth was told by her student.

Howell was delighted to participate in the tech workshop on her 20th birthday, especially since she had the opportunity to help younger females who could eventually possess similar ambitions.

“I always wished I had an opportunity like this when I was this age to hear from women in cyber, because we heard a lot from women in coding,” said Howell, who served last summer as an Offensive Security intern at Cisco Systems, one of the largest technology companies in the world.

“I really hope the kind of advice and wisdom I can give the girls will be something that they can take with them, whatever they feel they pursue, whether it's cyber or not. The one thing I hope they can take away is that they can do cyber, and they can be really good at it. It's something that they should pursue if they're interested.”

Howell, a cybersecurity major, credited GCU’s technical and hands-on approach that she believes is suited for the workforce and enabled her to earn the internship at Cisco.

Students work with a Caesar cipher wheel for encrypting data.

She was one of the first students who completed the Arizona Cyber Threat Intelligence Support Unit and has since helped develop some of the content). The unit helps students participate in threat intelligence.

“(Cybersecurity) is definitely my calling,” said Howell, who was introduced to the profession as a youth by her mother, who spent more than 20 years in information technology.

“It’s definitely what I'm supposed to be doing. I definitely just see myself as continuing to grow in knowledge and pursue different areas in cyber.”

Urbaszewski, meanwhile, looked as comfortable talking to young students as she did with K12 teachers during an NSA (National Security Agency)-sponsored GenCyber Camp (focused on the next GENeration of CYBER Stars) at GCU last summer.

“This (event) helps create opportunities for them that they might not know are available and can either be given out or they can go out on their own and get them,” said Urbaszewski, a forensic psychology major with a minor in cybersecurity.

GCU College of Engineering and Technology Dean Dr. Pam Rowland listens as panelist speak during Girls in Cyber recently at the Arizona State Capitol.

“I’m glad to give them that chance.”

Rowland said GCU has various avenues to help a student enhance their careers in cybersecurity, from earning a certificate to pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

“It also provides opportunities for our industry partners to mentor,” Rowland said. “It speaks volumes when you have a company that will come alongside students and say, ‘Let me help you.’ So that mentorship is a large part.”

GCU Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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