Cyber Madness strikes at Minnkota headquarters
Middle school students put their cyber skills to the test in first-ever competition.
The excitement of Master of Ceremonies John Gieser radiated throughout the room as he ripped open his button-down shirt to reveal a 2022 Cyber Madness t-shirt underneath. Nearly 40 students carried that energy throughout the day during the firstever North Dakota Cyber Madness Middle School Tournament finals in cybersecurity.
On Nov. 18, Minnkota hosted the six teams who represented the eastern region of the state while, simultaneously, Minot State University hosted the remaining five from the west via web conference. With an ever-increasing demand for cybersecurity professionals in all industries, the state-sponsored event is working to engage students at an earlier age with fun, interactive competitions. Cyber Madness provides an opportunity to use real-world security tools to help develop problem-solving skills and cyber abilities.
“K-12 is our next generation workforce in cyber,” said Chuck Gardner of Cyber.org, an event partner. “They need to know cyber hygiene, and they need to be good cyber citizens first because cybersecurity is an issue of national security.”
The championship competition was conducted inside a safe, virtual environment known as a cyber-range. The students faced a series of tests to gain points for their teams under a Capture the Flag format, where challenges were selected from a board, similar to Jeopardy. As the students solved the problems, they learned many different aspects of cybersecurity.
“With the number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs continuing to grow at a rate of 350% over the past eight years, it’s important to get our younger generations excited about cybersecurity,” said Dan Inman, Minnkota Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer. “These young men and women will be the ones to protect our nation’s critical systems and help us keep the lights on.”
The team at the North Dakota Information Technology Department (NDIT) EduTech, who organized the event, work with teachers across the state on education and training courses in cybersecurity awareness.
Andrea Leier, coach for Napoleon Public School’s team Imperial Intellect, said her team of four eighth-graders were especially thrilled to be a part of the competition.
“During the preliminary round, it was announced that our team didn’t make it into the top five,” Leier said. “When I reached out about the results, it turned out that we had been placed in the wrong region and had actually tied for fifth place.”
“We were so pumped,” said Addyson Erbele, a team member on Imperial Intellect. “We’ve learned a lot of new skills especially since this isn’t part of our curriculum. We’ve learned how to decode, a lot of encryption stuff and finding hidden messages in pictures. A lot of
interesting things I’ve never learned before.”
Leier hopes that experiences like Cyber Madness open the eyes of her students to the different careers available and encourages them to keep learning more about the cyber world. Cybersecurity is a necessity moving forward in the workforce, and Minnkota was honored to help the next generation develop their new skills.
Main Image: Master of Ceremonies John Gieser brought the energy to start the day at the Cyber Madness Middle School finals held at Minnkota headquarters. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)