High School Students Get Hands-on Computer Forensics Lesson

High School Students Get Hands-on Computer Forensics Lesson
Diamond Bar High School students Eunice Chee and Ashley Wang work on a problem during a computer forensics lab at Cal Poly Pomona.
Dan Manson talks with high school students about computer forensics.
Chad Harrington, a senior CIS major, Manson and high school student Max Hung work together during the lab.

Jherray Babida, 15, thought working in high-tech career meant staring at computer code all day.

Then, he visited Cal Poly Pomona and met with professors and students in the Computer Information Systems (CIS) department.

“It kind of opened your eyes to make you see what's out there,” said Babida, a sophomore who has tinkered with computers and played video games since he was in middle school. “Before I used to always think 'Oh, software engineering that's all I'm going to do. That's all I can hope to be.' I've seen careers like computer forensics and I think it's pretty cool.”

Earlier this month, the CIS department invited Babida and 35 of his classmates from Diamond Bar High School to visit Cal Poly Pomona. The students are enrolled in the Brahma Tech program that offers specialized curriculum in math, science and technology. Students must have a 3.0 grade point average to be admitted into Brahma Tech and, in order to stay in the program, they must earn A or B grades. Essentially, they are some of the brightest students in their high school.

Last year the CIS department hosted more than 50 students from Alta Loma High School in Rancho Cucamonga. These visits help dispel misconceptions that students like Babida have about computer-related careers.

“Dr. Dan Manson and I speak with many students and realize there isn't a clear understanding of the different computing disciplines,” said CIS lecturer Anna Carlin. “We strive to explain the disciplines and encourage students to choose the right one for their area of interest.”  

The Brahma Tech students also got a chance to show off their skills during a computer forensics exercise where they searched for incriminating evidence on a fictitious drug dealer's computer.

“You need to find the digital needle in the digital haystack,” Manson, interim chair of the CIS department, told the students.

For more than an hour, students combed through deleted files searched behind computer code to find information about the drug dealer including where he lived and where he sold drugs.

Brahma Tech teacher Lynn Wan said she was impressed how quickly her students learned the computer forensics software.

“Through most of the exercise you could see them keeping up very well,” Wan said. “They're smart, they're hard-working, and they love a challenge.”