CyberCougs place first at regional competition

Washington State University Cougars logo.

A team of five Washington State University computer science students earned first place in the Spokane Mayor’s Cup, a regional cybersecurity competition that aims to foster emerging cybersecurity talent to meet the growing demands of a developing technological landscape.

The third annual event invited regional high school and college students to participate in a “capture the flag” style competition, requiring participants to collect ‘flags’ of short phrases or lines of code. 

Guinevere Fish, Alex Hagood, William Heinecke, Zachary Werle, and Erick Pairault made up team CyberCougs, which won the competition’s lower division, among high schoolers and first- and second-year undergraduates. Industry professionals coached students over roadblocks and provided advice throughout the event.

“This event was a great way to really dip your toes into the world of cybersecurity because you get to try the challenges, and because of coaches, it’s very beginner friendly,” said Guinevere Fish, a sophomore in computer science. 

“This event was a great way to really dip your toes into the world of cybersecurity because you get to try the challenges, and because of coaches, it’s very beginner friendly.” 

Guinevere Fish, sophomore in computer science
Washington State University

Fish and her teammates are learning about cybersecurity through their involvement in the Northwest Virtual Institute for Cybersecurity Education and Research (CySER) and WSU’s Cyber Security Group (CSG), a student club.

CySER is a Department of Defense funded program that trains ROTC and defense-aligned civilians to enter the cybersecurity workforce, and is a partnership between WSU, Montana State University, University of Idaho, Columbia Basin College, and Central Washington University. The CySER Institute supports students in cybersecurity research and professional development through competitions, research projects, seminars, and hands-on summer workshops.

“Cybersecurity is extremely important as a field and in how it can impact society. We need to have that basic knowledge,” said Assefaw Gebremedhin, associate professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and research lead of CySER. 

Hagood and Werle, sophomore computer science students and leaders in CSG, have begun using foundational skills they learned in computer science courses and CySER seminars to begin tackling complex technical challenges. 

 “Cybersecurity requires so much pre-requisite knowledge,” Werle said. “You can’t secure what you don’t understand.”

Getting involved in cybersecurity activities early on is crucial to increasing public awareness, Gebremedhin said.

“It’s important for those going into the profession and even for those who are not in the cybersecurity area. All professional people should have some level of awareness,” he said. 

Team CyberCougs plans to participate in national cybersecurity competitions within the next year while continuing involvement in CySER and CSG. The organizations are anticipated to grow as WSU launches its new cybersecurity degree program in fall of 2023, a response to the nation’s need for cybersecurity-educated computer science professionals. 

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