Packed house for Roane State’s second cybersecurity competition

Gracie Davis, a student at Clinton High School, works to unravel a cyber puzzle during Roane State Community College’s second-annual cybersecurity competition.
The computer lab in Roane State’s Goff Building on the community college’s Oak Ridge campus was packed for the college’s second-annual cybersecurity competition as students from three area high schools worked to solve fictional cybercrimes.

The huge increase in student participation -- nearly 50 students, or three times more than the inaugural event -- is likely “a reflection of the demand for cybersecurity professionals in general,” said Daphne Douglas.

She said there are now 2,000 job openings in the high-paying field in Tennessee, and 500 just in Knoxville.

Douglas, who teaches cybersecurity at the Anderson County Career and Technical Center in Clinton, said five of her students attended the first event last year. This time, 17 students turned out Nov. 15.

Students of educators Amanda Brown of Clinton High and Andy Holmbeck of Harriman High also participated in the hours-long event as they competed to be one of three teams to win gift cards and bragging rights.

The students investigated cyberattacks, searched for a mirror-flipped photo hidden in a document and unraveled a mysterious email intercepted during a fictional police investigation. They also demonstrated expertise in programming and encryption, or keeping others from reading private messages.

“It’s a good learning opportunity,” said Harriman High student Noelle Cannon.

“I think this is a very fun event,” added Chase Kirkland, a Roane State student who asked to assist in the event. “It’s very challenging.”

George Meghabghab, director of Roane State’s Computer Information Technology program, is the mastermind of the competition.

“I’m overwhelmed with the participation,” he said. “This is a great event, and at the end of the day, we can tell these students that Roane State has a place for you.”

Meghabghab in the first years of the new program has taken students to national competitions, and three of them won bronze medallions in the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference last summer.

Watching the kickoff of the latest cybersecurity contest were Roane State President Chris Whaley, Diane Ward, vice president for student learning, and Bruce Cantrell, interim dean of sciences and mathematics.

The top three teams were awarded gift cards of $50, $25, and $10, respectively, courtesy of IIA, or Information International Associates, which Meghabghab said is also offering internships to cybersecurity students.

Roane State is a two-year college providing transfer programs, career-preparation programs and continuing education. Founded in 1971, the college has campuses in Crossville, Harriman, Huntsville, Jamestown, Knoxville, LaFollette, Lenoir City, Oak Ridge, Wartburg and Clinton.

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