From awards to competition rankings to speaking engagements, Lakota’s Cyber Academy for developing young talent in the field of cybersecurity is drawing national attention this school year.
Lakota East High School was ranked the top high school cyber program nationally in the National Cyber League (NCL) Fall 2022 Power Rankings. Schools are ranked based on their top team performance, their top student's individual performance, and the aggregate individual performance of all their students in NCL’s national competitions, which challenge students to perform real-world cybersecurity tasks. Over the course of 48 hours, students had to identify threat actors from forensic data, pentest & audit vulnerable websites, recover from ransomware attacks and more.
East’s top ranking was elevated by the school’s Cyber 3 team, which placed fourth in the high school field of 482 total teams. The team finished No. 61 overall in the larger field of 3,900-plus teams, mostly made up of college and cyber professional teams. The team included seniors Elijah Badgley, Ian Balfour, Alexander Chen, Aidan Ethier, Sean Huggins and George Kolks. Huggins’ individual performance landed him eighth out of 207 high school students in the individual competition.
“Our students continually rise to the occasion when presented with very challenging cybersecurity scenarios,” said Ben Dougherty, the Lakota Cyber Academy teacher who helped build the niche program when it first launched in Lakota’s high schools in 2019. “I’m so proud of the work our students did in the fall and I’m excited to see what they accomplish in the spring season of National Cyber League. Their accomplishments are especially impressive given that they are competing primarily against college cybersecurity students.”
Earlier this school year, Dougherty was named one of just two recipients of the 2022 Presidential Cybersecurity Education Award (PCE) by the U.S. Department of Education. Dougherty received his award at the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) K12 Cybersecurity Education Conference in St. Louis on Dec. 5. He also led his own session titled “Teaching Adversarial Thinking in the High School Classroom” and was part of a special fireside chat with this year’s award winners.
Joining Dougherty on the national stage at the NICE conference was Moriah Walker, a 10-year teacher who began teaching Lakota’s Cyber 1 course this school year. Her session was titled, “English to Cyber: The Story of My First Year As A Cyber Teacher.”
“Cybersecurity is a vast and rapidly growing field with a major need for cyber talent as well as cyber teachers.” Walker said. “I feel incredibly lucky to be able to work with our talented and driven students each day, and it was great to be able to share some of their insights on a national stage.”
A group of Lakota East and Lakota West Cyber students made up a panel at the NICE conference led by Keith Koehne, Lakota’s executive director of curriculum & instruction. The panel included: Leslie Alonge, Jamie Kemp, Lorenzo Karuppan, George Kolks, Kira Thornsburg and Joshua Oehler. Kemp also participated on a second national student panel.
Also representing Lakota was West senior Christopher Barber. He was one of just eight students recognized at the National Cyber Signing Day event, which celebrates high school students and recent graduates who have made their commitments to some of the state and country’s top schools and companies in their pursuit of a cybersecurity career. Barber has been an intern at Standex Electronics and plans to study cybersecurity at the collegiate level while playing basketball.
“Many of the things I’ve encountered on this journey have been new opportunities for me, so I just wanted to go into it with a positive attitude and hope for the best. And now the best is happening,” Barber said. “I knew as a freshman that I could be interested in this computer science thing, but to see the plans I set for myself back then actually work out is still surreal.”
With more than 200 students enrolled, Lakota’s Cyber Academy is the largest high school cybersecurity program in the midwest. Since its inception in 2019, nearly 100 students have been the recipients of national cyber scholarships and over 40 graduates of the program have continued on to a college or university to major in cybersecurity. The curriculum is guided by a Cyber Advisory Board, which helps secure mentors and paid internships for all students. The program also boasts one of only two high school chapters nationally of Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS).