EAST ORANGE, NJ - In learning how to protect her and her family’s electronics from hacking, Orange sixth grader Dylan Brooks discovered something about herself.
“I never knew I had the skills to do technical stuff on the computer,’’ said the 11-year-old, one of 13 middle schoolers enrolled in a weeklong Air Force Association CyberCamp at the East Orange YMCA’s Capital One Computer Lab and Learning Center. Participants came from East Orange, Orange, South Orange, Springfield and West Orange.
By the third day at camp on Wednesday, Brooks and her fellow campers not only had learned the importance of creating passwords using lots of different characters and numbers and changing them frequently, but had also tried their hands at website administration.
“These kids are learning how to safeguard their own devices, but this is also a great career option,’’ said Alisa D. Vural, the CyberCamp director and chief financial officer of the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges. The East Orange Y is one of six branches of the Metro Y, the largest association of YMCAs in New Jersey with more than 35,000 members.
CyberCamp is part of the AFA’s CyberPatriot, the national youth cyber education program designed to inspire students to pursue careers in cyber security and other technical fields. The East Orange YMCA is one of 85 locations nationwide to offer the camp this summer.
“Kids are naturally attuned to computers, and CyberCamp exposes them to mind-expanding opportunities, fostering creative, productive thinking to solve real-world challenges,” Metro YMCA Chief Development Officer Lisa Kelly. “This is positive screen time that engages, builds confidence and advances learning.”
Capital One Bank Senior Vice President Brian Young and Vice President Mark Charbonneau visited the camp and were impressed by the level of material the middle schoolers were tackling.
Charbonneau told the campers that online fraud “is a big issue,” and thanked them for taking an interest in learning ways to combat it.
“These are real-life skills they’re learning, and the demand for them will only grow,’’ Young said. For every 10 people Capital One hires, Young estimated, half work in some capacity of cyber security, commanding high salaries. Industries are looking for ways to be proactive to cyber security threats, rather than reactive, Young added.
In 2014, Capital One gave $11,800 to the East Orange YMCA to create the state-of-the-art computer center, and followed up with a $7,000 grant for a Smart Board, Kelly said. Capital One employees also invested sweat equity by painting and remodeling the space, and the company has been extremely generous supporting the Metro Y’s financial assistance fund, she said.
Virginia Tech computer engineering major Aaron Morales, who is teaching the CyberPatriot curriculum at the East Orange Y, said the CyberCamp is giving students “exposure to how computers actually work. People don’t get how powerful they are.” The Morristown resident and Vural, belong to a squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, a volunteer organization that assists the U.S. Air Force through three missions: emergency services, disaster relief and aerospace education.
Vural’s daughter, Ilayda, an eighth grader at West Orange’s Roosevelt Middle School, said cyber security has long been a passion of hers and she recognizes its growing role in the world. “It’s really important to know how to protect your own information online because so much happens, and you rely on it so much,’’ said the 13-year-old, who plans to become an aviation lawyer for the Navy.
East Orange seventh grader Joy Wilson said she was glad her mother encouraged her to enroll in CyberCamp. On top of learning about computer safety, the 12-year-old enjoyed collaborating with her peers, many of whom she now counts as friends.