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Why UNG and Forsyth County Schools are encouraging students to learn more about cybersecurity
CyberSmart at Forsyth County Schools
The CyberStart America Georgia Task Force led by UNG recognized Forsyth County Schools for getting more high school students involved in its cybersecurity training program. Photo courtesy of the University of North Georgia.

The CyberStart America in Georgia Task Force, led by the University of North Georgia, recently recognized Forsyth County Schools and nine other districts in Georgia for their efforts in getting students more involved in its cybersecurity program.

The program, CyberStart America, features a free, learn-as-you-go online game designed to help students explore cybersecurity and compete for cyber training scholarships.

UNG stated in a press release that the workforce development tool is “vital,” with more than 755,000 cybersecurity jobs open nationally and nearly 23,000 available in the state.

"It's helpful for students to have this continuing cybersecurity education," said Caitlin Conneely, cyber program officer for the Institute for Cyber Operations. "That helps them understand the long-term benefits of a career in this field."

This year, Georgia has the highest number of program participants with more than 6,200 students registered, and leaders at UNG hope that number continues to grow. The university’s Institute for Cyber Operations and College of Education are spearheading the effort in Georgia to sign students up for the game, which started on Oct. 4 and runs through April 4.

FCS has the highest number of participants in the program, as of Feb. 27, with 825 students taking part. Many of those students now competing for the program’s cybersecurity scholarships are from Alliance Academy for Innovation, as well as Denmark, Lambert and South Forsyth high schools.

“We’ve participated [in CyberStart America] the last two years, and it’s a great way to expose many students in our district to cybersecurity,” said Dr. Valery Lowe, director of college and career development at FCS.

The top 20 students from public, private or home schools participating in the program will each receive $500 prizes, with 10 of the prizes set aside for new players and the other 10 going to returning players, according to a press release.

Each school district also has a chance for two of its schools to receive $2,500 each, and the district with the highest number of students qualified for the National Cyber Scholarship semifinal by April 4 will receive an additional $5,000.

FCS and the other nine districts recognized as top participants in the program will also receive five additional $500 prizes for their top students.

UNG and the National Cyber Scholarship Foundation, or NCSF, are providing further support to Title I schools to help students have the resources needed to take part in CyberStart through an initiative called ACCESS.

InspirEdu, an Atlanta nonprofit providing technology for students, got involved in the initiative by also giving away 150 laptops and 52 Bluetooth headsets to students excelling in the CyberStart game to support their continued cyber learning.

"We are reaching a lot of students with cybersecurity education that the industry has been unable to reach in the past," said Dr. Lindsay Linsky, director of ACCESS and UNG professor of middle grades education. "It's helping a wider variety of students learn about cyber careers."

Here are the top 10 districts recognized by UNG and the CyberStart America in Georgia Task Force:

●       Forsyth County Schools

●       Muscogee County School District

●       Gwinnett County Public Schools

●       Columbia County School District

●       Coffee County School District

●       DeKalb County School District

●       Buford City School District

●       Cherokee County School District

●       Thomas County School District

●       Douglas County School District