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Photo courtesy of Cabell County Schools

Cabell Midland High School's "Cyber Knights" Air Force JROTC team was recognized by the Cabell County Board of Education and Superintendent Ryan Saxe on Tuesday, Feb. 4, after earning First Place Gold Tier in the AFA's National Youth Cyber Defense Competition.

HUNTINGTON — Future “white hat hackers” are being exposed to career possibilities in the growing field of cyber security through collaboration with Marshall University’s School of Forensic & Criminal Justice Sciences.

A team of five students at Cabell Midland High School in the Air Force ROTC, dubbed the “Cyber Knights,” earned a statewide first place-award during the CyberPatriot Air Force Association’s National Youth Cyber Defense Competition in December, with support from Marshall associate professor Josh Brunty and university students.

The CyberPatriot competition was established in 2009 to help push middle and high schoolers nationwide toward futures in cyber security and other STEM fields. The Cabell Midland students — Dylan Ashworth, Dylan Jenkins, Jackson Shouldis, Lilly Burns and Joe Savage — worked to solve real-world security defense problems during their winning round of the contest.

While the team’s success is a big deal for the school and county, Brunty said the most important part was the work leading up to it.

“These competitions make it fun, because you study all this advanced stuff, and you get out and actually see it in real-time, and it drives you crazy until you solve it,” Brunty said. “They’re learning, but they don’t realize they are.”

The students began working with Marshall two years ago. That helped them progress in the field and become familiar with university resources, said Maj. Henry Luke Jr., senior aerospace science instructor at CMHS.

“They’re learning that this is a career field that is available to them. It’s growing, and they get to see the resources that are available at the college level,” Luke said. “I think a lot of high school students are told about college but don’t really understand what the college experience is like, so working with Marshall and going there, they get to see that in action, and that’s kind of unique for them.”

The partnership is beneficial not only for the high schoolers, but for Brunty and Marshall students, as well.

“It’s been really interesting to see this happening and to be able to help out with what I’ve learned. It’s cool to see them really progress because they really do work hard and have gotten better over the course of the semester,” said Peyton Stevens, Marshall’s Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition president. “We learn new things from them, too. Sometimes we will see things that even we aren’t sure how to do.”

Brunty said he hopes the collaboration encourages participating students to stick around and continue their education at Marshall.

“My goal as a professor here is to champion them through high school and through college and into the workforce,” Brunty said. “We reap the benefits of that just by them being students.”

Long-term, Brunty said he looks to see the CyberPatriot competition expand to every middle and high school in the state and, eventually, to assign Marshall students to schools for service-based college credits.

Huntington High School has recently developed a CyberPatriot team, and Luke said the two schools and Marshall are looking forward to working together in the coming season.

Follow reporter Hanna Pennington via Twitter @hpennHD.

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