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Nevada near top for National Cyber Competition enrollment, encouraging girls in STEM

It's brain Olympics in cyber security! Girls are showing off their cyber smarts & competing with teams across the nation. Nevada has the 2nd highest number of teams competing & The Cheyenne HS has the most in the state. (Heather Mills | KSNV)

Girls across the country are competing online. They’re cracking codes and looking for security gaps, all to prove they are cyber smart. It’s called the Girls Go Cyberstart competition and there are more than 1000 competitors from Nevada, the second highest enrollment in the nation.

269 of those competitors are from Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas.

It all plays out on a computer. Lina Aery, a freshman at Cheyenne H.S. said, “It’s a challenge. It's puzzling.”

With a keystroke, these girls are working to unlock codes and find security flaws. Sydney Johnson, also in 9th grade said, “It’s like I’m playing a game but I get to figure out clues and hints about it.”

It’s step by step. Level by level. Cherrie-Ann Dalisay explained, “One of the levels to it was finding a scam email.” She’s a junior at Cheyenne. She’s done this kind of work before and said it’s not too hard.

But this is brand new to freshman Samantha Moss-Clayton. “I figured I’d just take a try at it,” she said. “Some of these levels have my brain hurting, but it’s actually really fun.”

Fran Bromley-Norwood teaches Cyber Defense at Cheyenne H.S. She said, “Exposing girls who may have not even been aware of the fact that it even existed,” was the goal of the national competition.

For Giselle Valladres, it could be the start of future plans. She said, “It’s going to be a job, it’s going to be a career and it’s important to learn it now because this is going to blow up.”

For others, learning cyber defense is about practical application for personal use. Norwood-Bromley said, “Their computers, their laptops, their tablets, unfortunately, could be attacked and knowing how to protect those items is really important for them.”

Sydney said it’s been a great learning experience so far. “The game, itself, it teaches you something that you’d never learn if you were at home doing nothing.”

It’s fun, but also difficult. Lina said, “There’s been ones that I have been stuck on for hours or there’s ones that I’ve gone past in 30 seconds.”

It’s all designed to attract young women into the field of cybersecurity. “They have the power of doing it because they are a girl,” added Bromley-Norwood. “The population of people that are in cyber defense are primarily, or the STEM area, are male. Sometimes girls feel intimidated that they don’t feel like they can be successful in that area.”

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