The Capture the Flag, hosted by the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory (MAGIC) in Westminster, Maryland, is a biannual ethical hacking cybersecurity competition designed to foster students’ interest in cybersecurity, provide them with a platform to develop new skills, and prepare them for careers in technology through experiential learning. The competition has encouraged real growth in our students, and it can do the same in your community.
At the Capture the Flag competitions, students work together in teams to solve a variety of puzzles using hacking tools, coding skills, or traditional puzzle solving to find answers, which are short strings of code called “flags.” The competition is specifically geared toward high school and college students with no prior experience so that the widest possible range of participants will feel welcome and be able to benefit from the program. The competition’s Main Arena is set up in Westminster and MAGIC simultaneously holds sister events in multiple satellite locations using a cloud-based software platform, which enables a larger pool of competitors, as well as, a more dynamic community. Since the first Capture the Flag event in April 2016, the event has grown from 12 students in Westminster to 125 students across nine locations.
Not only does the event give students a space to work on their coding and cybersecurity skills, it also supplies a unique opportunity for kids to interact with cybersecurity professionals. So far, this platform has provided a springboard for many of our students to really blossom. The program encourages students to learn and use new skills and allows for real growth into roles of leadership and ownership. We’ve had a few students complete all of the puzzles and prove that they had moved well beyond the entry-level competition. We asked them to return to the program as puzzle creators and coaches. Now they have a whole additional set of skills, and it’s clear that they are proud of the work they’ve done.
Many students have actively sought out additional responsibilities within the program. One student from a local community college asked to intern with MAGIC. He did a fantastic job with the event run-of-show, and even helped to create puzzles. Several faculty members from his college attended the most recent competition, and agreed that he had transformed from quieter and shy to shining and “in his element.” We also had a high school student who had participated in one of MAGIC’s other programs take on a social media marketing role for Capture the Flag. She excelled in the position and has since secured a social media marketing internship for this upcoming summer. I would love for the competitions to eventually be hosted entirely by high school and college students, and I believe that they’re well on their way.
In addition to providing career and technical opportunities for students, the Capture the Flag is helping Westminster to grow into its evolving role as a technology hub. The Westminster Fiber Network has already encouraged the development of new economic opportunities – a trend that will only continue. As technology companies migrate to Westminster to take advantage of our fiber network, we need a skilled workforce that’s ready to take on those opportunities. The Capture the Flag gives students the tools they need to take on these roles, or even to develop new technology companies of their own.
We’re already starting to gear up for the next Capture the Flag competition on Saturday, November 3, 2018, and we’re always looking for new satellite locations to join! Any community with a high-speed internet connection is eligible. If you’re interested in bringing the Capture the Flag event to your community, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started or for more information, and learn more at www.magicinc.org and in this video.
Amy Rupp is the Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory.