Immersive cyber outreach event for Lancaster school pupils

School children learning about cyber in a classroom
From code cracking to cyber Lego, the pupils from year 7 and 8 took part in workshops to experience how coding and cyber security controls are instrumental in preventing and disrupting cyber-attacks.

Over 60 girls from local schools in Lancaster were welcomed to Lancaster University’s campus to take part in an immersive and interactive day of cyber security activities.

From code cracking to cyber Lego, the pupils from year 7 and 8 took part in workshops to experience how coding and cyber security controls are instrumental in preventing and disrupting cyber-attacks.

Following a welcome by Fred Binley, Head of UK Student Recruitment and Widening Participation at Lancaster University, the pupils and teachers heard from Dr Dan Prince, Professor of Cyber Security and Dr Rebecca Robinson, Programme Lead of Lancaster University-based Cyber Works. Pat Ryan shared how she founded Cyber Girls First ten years ago and was joined by Wendy Parmley, a Lancaster alumna. The University community were delighted to welcome her back onto campus.

In ‘Invest & Defend’, a cyber Lego activity led by Dr Rebecca Robinson, the pupils developed their teamwork skills whilst playing a cyber security game where they were tasked with managing a business and making it as profitable as possible. They had to make critical decisions on whether to allocate resources to grow the business, or invest in cyber security controls to protect the business.

Dr Robinson said: “One of the best ways to inspire the next generation of cyber leaders is through use of fun interactive and educational sessions. Empowering young girls with the knowledge that it’s not just about safeguarding data but instilling a mindset of critical thinking and risk assessment. By gamifying the learning process, we bridge the gap between cybersecurity and financial management, equipping them with invaluable skills for the digital age.’’

A ‘code cracking’ session was led by Christine Lester, a software engineer at JPMorgan Chase who taught the girls how to make and break codes based on The Caesar Cipher. This is a method of encoding messages using substitution where letters in the alphabet are shifted by a fixed number of spaces. In a hands-on interactive activity, the girls practiced making and breaking codes without knowing the key. Their learning was put into practice when they were tasked to devise new secret codes for Christine to crack in under 15 seconds.

Christine shared: “It’s always a joy to take part in Cyber Girls First events and help students realise that they already possess skills that will help them flourish in technology. I started my technology career with non-traditional experience, so it is important for me to demonstrate how there is room for people with a whole range of skills in this industry and demystify what a technology, software engineering, or cyber security career may look like.”

During the outreach event which aimed to raise awareness and aspirations of pupils around future careers, they heard about the diverse range of opportunities across cyber and computer science. Student ambassadors were also on hand to give them a tour of the University campus and the cutting-edge facilities including the new computer labs.

This was the second Cyber Girls First event to be held at Lancaster University and is of particular importance as the university looks to play an increasing role collaborating with organisations to create a highly effective cyber education ecosystem in the North West.

Cyber Girls First’s Pat Ryan said: “We are delighted that this event is proving once again that girls in the north west of England are eager to have more information on careers in Computer Science. The hosting of this event by Professors at Lancaster University is pivotal to the message we are promulgating throughout the United Kingdom that students have universities on their doorsteps where top class teaching is available. We are also indebted to the support of JPMorgan Chase Bank over the past ten years, not only with provision of items for the girls to wear and use for their safety online, but also the contribution by Christine Lester of JPMorgan Chase's Global Technology Centre in Glasgow to each of our events by inspiring girls to try out their code-cracking skills and to show them the career opportunities in Computer Science.’’

The schools taking part included Cartmel Priory C of E School, Our Lady’s Catholic College and Ripley St Thomas Church of England Academy. The event brought together academic experts from Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications and was supported through the Lancaster University-based Cyber Works and Cyber Girls First, an organisation dedicated to improving gender diversity in cyber security and encouraging the uptake in computer science amongst girls.

Lancaster University’s strong track-record across teaching, research and engagement places it among world-leaders in cyber security. Lancaster University is a National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Centre (EPSRC) recognised Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security for both research and education.

Find out more about Cyber Girls First by visiting its website

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