"CyberGirlz" Summit to Encourage Girls to Pursue Tech Careers

Cybergirlz participants

In an effort to encourage girls to pursue cybersecurity and other high-tech careers, the College of Business Administration's Center for Information Assurance is hosting a special “CyberGirlz” Summit July 12 on campus.

More than 100 high school and middle school girls from the Los Angeles Unified School District will attend the daylong event that includes a Women in Cyber panel discussion and a networking lunch. Panelists include:  Luz Rivas, founder and executive director of DIY Girls, an organization that helps girls explore technology; Jessica DeVita, technical evangelist at Microsoft; and Lee Ann Kline, president and founder of STEM Advantage, a group that mentors young women and underserved communities to pursue careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines.

The event also will include hands-on learning opportunities including a coding exercise led by Microsoft's Developer Evangelist Christine Matheney and a cybersecurity game known as capture the flag hosted by Facebook’s security engineers Javier Marcos and Michael McGrew.

“We know that between the ages of 12 to 17 is an important time in developing passions,” says Computer Information Systems Professor Dan Manson, who is also the founding director of the Center for Information Assurance. “By the time they enter college, it may be too late. That's why it's imperative to foster their interest and passion for technology now.”

Manson and LAUSD have collaborated since 2011 and have mentored and inspired more than 1,000 children to participate in CyberPatriot, a national program that inspires high school students to pursue high-tech careers through a cybersecurity competition.

But Manson quickly noticed that roughly 25 percent of CyberPatriot participants nationwide were girls. He and his LAUSD partners wanted to increase that percentage.

The CyberGirlz Summit is the first effort in a long-term commitment to include outreach efforts that are targeted toward young women.

Yenny Yi, who is moderating the panel discussion and coaches Franklin High School's CyberPatriot team, says that the tech industry suffers when there is a lack of diversity.

“I feel that an event like this is necessary given that so many young girls are really interested in the tech field, but do not realize it is something that they can do as a career,” Yi says. “Creating a place to facilitate discussion, encouraging exploration of knowledge and challenging stereotypes is an integral part of the process to create change. We hope to start that conversation at this event for the attendees.”

DeVita, who is serving on the panel, usually works with universities but is looking forward to impacting the lives of middle and high school girls.

“I think that's very powerful for girls to see people like them working in tech,” she says. “They need to know that this is a career for them. It's especially rewarding to support an event that will also teach hands-on technical skills.”

The event is made possible from LAUSD's Beyond the Bell program and the National Science Foundation, whose grants help fund CyberWatch West, a nonprofit that promotes the development of a cybersecurity workforce. Cal Poly Pomona is a core academic partner of the consortium.