Christopher Schafer is only a Cal Poly Pomona sophomore, but several high school students and teachers already look up to him.
The computer engineering major regularly visited North Hollywood High School and Westlake’s Edward Roybal Learning Center to help students prepare for CyberPatriot, a national cybersecurity competition organized by the Air Force Association.
The collaboration paid off. Two teams from North Hollywood and one from Roybal – all part of the Los Angeles Unified School District – advanced to the competition’s final round in mid-March near Washington, D.C. Another Los Angeles team, Franklin High School, was also a finalist. Ultimately, a Virginia school captured the top prize for all non-ROTC teams.
“There is nothing at all at my school that remotely teaches this stuff,” says Jay Gehringer, North Hollywood High’s CyberPatriot coach, who believes the competition promotes vital skills such as teamwork and technical competency. “Chris has been invaluable. I don’t know what we would have done without him.”
Schafer’s participation wasn’t accidental.
Since 2011, the College of Business Administration has partnered with the Los Angeles Unified School District. In addition to providing cybersecurity mentors, Cal Poly Pomona offers its facilities and computer labs to high school students, a major benefit for schools that lack state-of-the-art computers or the high-speed bandwidth that the university offers.
Computer information systems Professor Dan Manson, regarded as one of the nation’s most passionate advocates for cybersecurity education, initiated the collaboration. He hopes the partnership will get the most talented students thinking about cybersecurity before they step foot on a college campus.
“I want this to be as important and as popular as football, baseball and basketball,” he says.
Manson, who was instrumental in getting the university designated as a Center of Academic Excellence in information assurance by the Department of Homeland Security in 2005, plans to offer a cybersecurity boot camp for high school teachers involved in CyberPatriot, and he is working with companies to provide scholarships to cybersecurity students.
When Diane Miller (’81, information systems), director of InfoSec Operations and Cyber Initiatives at Northrop Grumman, learned about the partnership, she wasn’t surprised. CyberPatriot is the ultimate learn-by-doing experience, and Cal Poly Pomona is often a first-adapter to new learning techniques.
“I think the relationship between Cal Poly Pomona and LAUSD is a model for the rest of the nation,” says Miller, who serves as the Northrop Grumman program director for CyberPatriot. “They’re boosting students’ expectations on what they can achieve while creating a pipeline of talent that the nation so desperately needs.”
The Northrop Grumman Foundation is the presenting sponsor of CyberPatriot.
When Schafer agreed to be a mentor, he wasn’t thinking about how far his teams would go in the competition. He still does not. As a member of this year’s Cal Poly Pomona entry in the Western Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, he just wants to ensure that he’s challenged.
“I hope I see these kids at the next competition,” Schafer says. “The better they become, the more I’ll have to learn.”
(Computer information systems Professor Dan Manson works with high school students in this file photo.)