CybHER inspires young women to engage in cybersecurity

Jan. 4, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by Dakota State University.

As its tagline says, this puts the “her” in CybHER.

The CybHER Institute at Dakota State University has become a growing force for empowering, motivating, educating and changing the perception of women in cybersecurity.

Founded by Ashley Podhradsky and Pam Rowland in 2013, it provides education and resources to girls, college students and professionals, encouraging members to develop positive relationships while discovering what it means to be part of this high-tech field.

“Cybersecurity is a foundational and high-paying career that incorporates problem solving, creativity, engagement and social elements all into one. It’s a flexible degree; you can go anywhere in any industry, academia or government,” Podhradsky said.

Podhradsky is an associate professor of digital forensics and associate dean of the Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences. She has a doctoral degree in information assurance from DSU. She’s also a national speaker whose research teams have received more than $4.3 million in competitive grants.

Rowland is an assistant professor at DSU in cybersecurity, director of the CybHER Mad Labs, director of the Center of Excellence for Information Systems and the undergraduate research coordinator. She has a doctoral degree from DSU in information systems.

Both know that jobs in cybersecurity are increasingly sought-after, with roles including operations manager, chief information security officer, forensic computer analyst, penetration tester and IT security. Those roles are in a predominately male field, making it imperative women have a strong support system.

“Having a collegiate group of mentors, relationships and partnerships make up a huge part of this program. It’s about taking initiative and getting involved,” Rowland said. “We have to be confident to pursue even when we feel we don’t belong. It’s about women supporting women, but we have support from men as well. We need everyone.”

By the numbers

Since the program began, CybHER has hosted 77 events and 89 presentations.

Members can interact with robots, connected toys, competition groups and professional development opportunities. These programs encourage young girls and women to network with external funders, while also promoting relationships with each other.

CybHER programs for girls in grades K-12 include: CybHER Seconds, CybHER Minutes, CybHER Hours, CybHER Days, CybHER Together and CybHER Camp.

At the collegiate level, CybHER focuses on the following areas: fun and community, professional and personal growth, as well as outreach and service. These programs have grown with resources, passion and a collegiate group of mentors. CybHER can visit schools across South Dakota. For a list of all programs, camps, events and partnerships, or to request CybHER at your school or organization, visit cybher.org.

CybHER has reached more than 13,000 young women regionally. And it’s making a noticeable impact in enrollment, sparking an influx of women students in the Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences at Dakota State.

From fall 2013 to fall 2018, there has been a 300 percent increase in women scholars and a 45 percent increase from fall 2017 to fall 2018.

One of them is DSU student Kelley Criddle, who credits the group with helping women and young girls become inspired to pursue cyber activities.

“CybHER is a great organization that I’m lucky to be a part of,” Criddle said. “I love this club because it encourages young girls and women to believe that they can achieve anything they think is cool or interesting. Dr. Podhradsky and Dr. Rowland have outdone themselves with this great group.”

To help further support women in their cyber studies, CybHER provided $2,500 in scholarships for the 2018-19 school year. DSU also has a new $30,000 endowed scholarship for female cyber majors, courtesy of SBS CyberSecurity and SBS president and CEO Aaron Gamewell and his wife, René.

Since the program started, an increase in passion and expansion of resources have helped it evolve, the founders said.

“It is a rapidly changing field, so the ability to learn and modify as time goes on is prominent in our teachings,” Podhradsky said.

CybHER is dedicated in memory of Aimee Tabor, a mentor for Podhradsky and a force for broadening STEM education. Tabor was the program manager for UC Berkeley’s TRUST Center as well as an advocate for Black Girls Code before her death in 2015.

CybHER inspires young women to engage in cybersecurity

This puts the “her” in CybHER. How DSU’s CybHER Institute has become a growing force for empowering, motivating, educating and changing the perception of women in cybersecurity.

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