MORRISTOWN, NJ - On Friday, November 15, Morristown High School’s newly created cyber team got to test out their developing hacking skills, and it turns out this team has chops.  The team of four came in second in a competition among 80 students representing 20+ high schools attending a NSF Cyber Encounter workshop at Brookdale Community College.  This workshop, run in only six states by Sans Institute, was aimed at convincing students and teachers that cybersecurity skills are critical for personal and national cyber safety. 

The team members each won a Raspberry Pi 3 computer kit, complete with a touchscreen display and mini keyboard. The gifts were appreciated, but the team made it clear they were there for the hacking. 

“That was so much fun!” smiled senior Sofia Wawrzyniak as they made their way back to MHS. 

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The four students, junior Isabel Gringeri, sophomores Joseph Cama and Sue-Juan Clayton, and Sofia, came back to MHS and immediately downloaded data onto laptops to compete in Round 2 of the national CyberPatriot competition along with seniors Antti Meriluotto and Logan Blankinship. 

This is the first year that Morristown High School is competing in this national competition run by the Air Force Association, and is one of only 21 high schools in the state to do so.  The competition’s Round 2 began on Friday afternoon and ran into the evening. They used virtualization software to fix vulnerabilities in Windows 10, Windows Server and Ubuntu PC operating systems.  Challenges included auditing user access, enabling and disabling services, updating software, and managing operating system permissions, file sharing and account policies. The team is self-taught and is looking forward to learning more techniques for managing vulnerabilities.  

 Morristown High School provides a multitude of opportunities for students to gain valuable coding and cyberhacking skills.  This CyberPatriot team is part of the Engineering Club, which participates in several cyber competitions over the course of the school year in partnership with the Coding Club and Girls Who Code Club. 

Antti Meriluotto says that the competitions are great for students “to get a headstart on skills that are valuable in a professional environment.”

Students also have the opportunity to take four rigorous courses in coding, among them a new year-long course in Cybersecurity. 

Sofia Wawrzyniak, who intends to include cybersecurity in her post-secondary studies, noted, “We live in the information age, characterized by massive innovation but constant threat of attack or ransom.” 

Providing opportunities is part of the strategy to help our students develop 21st century skills; encouraging students to participate is another.  On Thursday, November 14, Morristown High School provided a coding presentation in Spanish for 9th and 10th grade girls and their parents. The presentation was prepared by physics teacher Mariel Kolker, who noticed the lack of girls--and Latinas in particular--in coding classes and clubs. 

The goal of the workshop was to help girls and their parents recognize how many career opportunities exist for people who can code, and for the girls to begin building their skills now by taking computer science classes and participating in clubs and competitions. While the girls had fun doing a computational thinking activity, their parents learned about why it’s especially important to support girls in math and computer science. 

“Too often I have seen that girls don’t believe in themselves when it comes to math, science and coding,” said Kolker. “Implicit bias about girls in STEM fields may cause girls to feel they don’t belong, and as a result they don’t see themselves as being capable. This is why we need to support them, provide them with clubs established for girls, tell them they can do it.”

Currently 4% of students in the computer science classes at Morristown are Latina, and the goal is to increase this number next year and beyond.  Ms. Kolker will be repeating this presentation in January (date TBD), for English-speaking girls and their families, and plans to repeat it in Spanish in the future as well. The Latinas in Tech night is part of a broader movement for equity and inclusion within the Morris School District that aims to provide equal access to opportunities for achieving academic excellence and for becoming future-ready. 

For more information about the coding courses, clubs and competitions at Morristown High School, or to volunteer to speak to students about coding careers, please contact Mariel Kolker at mariel.kolker@msdk12.net