CSM Students – Turned CSM Employees – Advance in National Cyber FastTrack Competition, Earn Scholarships

Two previous College of Southern Maryland cybersecurity students and who now work at the college have earned $500 scholarships and guaranteed their spots as semi-finalists in the national Cyber FastTrack competition. CSM Systems Administrators and CSM CyberHawk Club sponsors Daniel Polhemus and Caleb Craft were two of 200 competitors to earn scholarships and 541 competitors tapped to continue in the CyberStart games which started earlier in the year with a field of 13,289 U.S. students.

The CyberStart games are a national competition that aims to test college students’ tenacity, curiosity and problem-solving skills – all of which are needed when they begin their professional careers.

In May, 2,579 U.S. college students were named as quarter-finalists and invited to move ahead in the CyberStart games after mastering 252 cybersecurity challenges ranging from simple cryptography puzzles to advanced reverse engineering problems. At that time, 12 CSM cybersecurity students went beyond their classroom studies to claim their position in the Top Tier – or top 3 percent – of U.S. colleges in cybersecurity aptitude. Those 12 students earned the No. 4 slot in Maryland and 36th in the nation, out of 5,200 U.S. colleges, to advance in the competition.

But Polhemus and Craft pulled ahead two weeks ago when they delivered outstanding performances in HQ, Forensics and Moon. Polhemus was one of 24 players nationally, and one of four from Maryland, who scored 100 percent on all three bases. They both agreed that their time in CSM’s classrooms were essential for learning the basics and helping them do well, and competitions such as Cyber FastTrack has provided them a way to constantly update and hone their skills.

“The people who are the best at this are the ones who do more in their spare time,” Craft said. “The challenges in cybersecurity are new every day, so you have to keep up with everything.”

The Cyber FastTrack competition is administered in multiple phases, starting with the open access competition. Subsequent levels pit the students against others across the country in games that simulate increasingly challenging real-world problems. By continuing to compete, the students get access to CyberStart Essentials, a cybersecurity foundations course, plus participants are eligible for a chance at $2.5 million in scholarships to continue their studies.

“The leadership shown by College of Southern Maryland is commendable,” said SANS Institute Director of Research Alan Paller. The SANS Institute, partnered with the 25 governors to host Cyber FastTrack and the CyberStart games.

“Without the talent being discovered in Cyber FastTrack, shortages of elite talent will put the United States at a severe disadvantage in protecting power systems, financial systems and military systems in times of conflict, and protecting businesses and personal privacy in peace time.” Paller continued. “The College of Southern Maryland has set a high bar for other schools in Maryland and in the nation.”

“It’s all about testing your skills in penetrating (hacking), and blocking penetrators (hackers) from accessing a network,” said Pamela Mitchell regarding the Cyber FastTrack competition. Mitchell leads CSM’s Business, Technology, and Public Services Division Cybersecurity Club. “The goal is to see if a student can do this and is willing to put in the time to improve, because employers prefer that you have that knowledge.”

CSM Professor Wendy Hayes and CSM student Usaamah Al-Farooq work through one of the many real-world cyber security challenges in the CyberStart Game held last fall in Maryland. The online platform featuring hundreds of hours of realistic examples and threats faced by cyber security experts in the field.

“Employers are very interested in hiring CSM cybersecurity students,” Mitchell added. “The skill level in the club is very high. The goal is to keep that speed up and keep the students interested.”

Cyber FastTrack is a SANS Institute program enabled, in part, by funding from the Maryland Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) EARN Program.

CSM is a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense. This program has been designated as a Center of Academic Excellence for two-year schools (CAE-2Y) by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). For information about CSM’s cybersecurity program, visit http://www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/cyber-center.

More information about Cyber FastTrack can be found at www.cyber-fasttrack.org.