Instead of swimming, surfing or horseback riding, summer camp for some Pensacola-area kids involves sitting in a room filled with computer screens and learning about cybersecurity.
Students will practice writing computer code, encrypting messages and thwarting hacking attempts in a new camp planned by the National Flight Academy in July.
“Our goal is to get (kids) interested in cybersecurity, computer programming and encryption,” said Cody Grogan, a 24-year-old University of West Florida student and Army reservist who helped design the camp.
Grogan, who is majoring in computer information systems, admitted the topic might seem a bit dull.
“That’s not the case. They will have a hands-on experience where they will test their skills against each other. It should be a lot of fun,” he said.
The three-day camp will be the first of its kind for the academy, which is housed in a mock aircraft carrier adjacent to the National Naval Aviation Museum on Pensacola Naval Air Station.
The academy normally teaches overnight campers science and math skills using problems based on naval aviation. It features flight simulators, radar screens and other advanced technology.
Among those planning to attend the new camp is Jennifer Biles’ 17-year-old daughter, McKenzi. The Pace mother saw a notice about the camp on Facebook and thought it would be a good fit for her computer-savvy teenager.
“She is thinking about a career in cybersecurity, and this is a good way for her to explore that,” she said. “She’s not a gamer. She doesn’t spend hours in front of the computer, but she is very intuitive when it comes technology.”
But Biles said her daughter won’t miss out on traditional summer camp fun. The mother and daughter plan to attend an outdoor church camp later this summer.
“That will include canoeing and all the normal stuff,” she said.
The University of West Florida also offers summer camps on cybersecurity.
The UWF camp is part of GenCyber, a nationwide effort by the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation to promote cybersecurity education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
The National Security Agency recently named the University of West Florida as a National Center of Academic Excellence for cybersecurity.
Eman El-Sheikh, the university’s Center for Cybersecurity director, said UWF was the only Florida location selected to host a GenCyber camp. Students must apply to attend the UWF day camp, which is also open to area high school teachers.
“We are teaching them good cyber defense skills, how to protect their own information and how to identify phishing scams,” said El-Sheikh, who said the new program at the National Flight Academy will benefit the entire community by increasing the number of local students with cybersecurity skills.
Pensacola-area business leaders and politicians are working to bring computer security and information technology companies to the area. The Navy’s Center for Information Warfare Training at Corry Station focuses on defense information and military security. Local leaders hope to lure defense security companies connected to the Navy.
El-Sheikh said the UWF camp exposes students to the many career paths, in the military and elsewhere, that are open to people with advanced computer skills. Although technology changes, the basic skills students learn at the camp will remain useful, she said.
Grogan, of the National Flight Academy agreed.
“We are teaching the fundamentals, the core of aspects of cybersecurity,” he said.