CybHER receives grant to honor high school girls interested in cyber fields

Feb. 28, 2020

This paid piece is sponsored by Dakota State University.

Here’s a statistic that seems hard to believe, but it’s true:

When it comes to female cybersecurity students, Dakota State University has seen an incredible 595 percent increase in undergraduate students studying computer science, cyber operations, and network and security administration at DSU.

That’s thanks in large part to the CybHER® Security Institute — a huge success story that’s about to write its next powerful chapter.

Formally created in 2013 by Dr. Pam Rowland and Dr. Ashley Podhradsky, CybHER’s mission is to empower, motivate, educate and change the perception of girls and women in cybersecurity. With a reach of more than 21,125 girls, CybHER also ensures that young girls and women get the educational tools and resources they need to succeed.

CybHER complements other new additions at DSU including The Beacom Institute of Technology, The Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences, and the Madison Cyber Labs. All have led to the presence of cyber on the DSU campus continuing to rise.

For five years, CybHER has hosted the Aspirations Award event for the North Dakota and South Dakota regions, sponsored by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, or NCWIT. Grant money received allows CybHER to honor 45 regional high school girls and two educators on their efforts to explore and grow cyber education.

Most recently, NCWIT awarded CybHER with the 2019-20 NCWIT AiC Affiliate Capacity Building Fund. This grant, or collaborative partnership, allows CybHER to promote and host regionals for the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing for the South Dakota and North Dakota regions.

“There are many young women in our region who may not have opportunities to showcase their interests in cyber. This award is based on their aspiration, what they’d like to do, what they’d like to explore and who they’d like to be,” Rowland said.

The Aspirations Award honors ninth through 12th grade female students for their computing-related achievements and interests. It recognizes how crucial skills in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields are and the need to break barriers for women within these fields.

The award encourages young women to pursue their cyber passions and achieve their dreams.

“The grant allows us to host and support these wonderful young women while sharing the exciting opportunities DSU has for them. It truly supports the mission of DSU to provide knowledge about our programs, our initiatives, our mission,” Rowland said.

Destiny Thunder, a 2020 Aspirations Award winner, participated in the GenCyber Girls camp when she was an eighth-grader, and in the spring of 2019, she attended the Rocket Girls summer camp.

Since elementary school, Thunder has explored many elements of the cyber field. Her computing achievements include creating websites and website layouts, writing loop codes and random generators, and building a computer. Because of her efforts, she is set to receive the 2020 Aspirations Award.

“Receiving this award is shocking, exciting and surreal,” Thunder said. “This award gives me extra incentive to keep pushing towards my goals within the cyber field and keeps me highly optimistic. I want to do this award justice.”

Another recipient of the award is Annabelle Klosterman, who learned about DSU through her brother and has been heavily involved with DSU cyber camps since 2016. She works as an information systems assistant, is a dual-credit student, has been employed in the information technology field and has competed in CyberPatriot.

Klosterman has been a recipient of the award from 2016 through 2020 and credits it for recognizing the efforts of young women in STEM fields. She said her award designation has been nothing short of empowering, encouraging and motivating.

“When I first received this award, I wasn’t aware of the vast cyber community. But now I know I can meet phenomenal women who are experts in computing and engineering,” Klosterman said. “I look to them to expand my knowledge and experience.”

She also has taken advantage of the benefits the award has presented, such as meetings, computing outreach opportunities, hands-on activities, scholarships, internships and other job opportunities.

For information, students can contact DSU, consult their schools or get in touch on social media. Eligible students may apply yearly throughout their high school career.

Applicants for the Aspirations Award must demonstrate achievements and interests in computing-related fields. Award recipients are based on their aptitude and aspirations in technology and computing, as demonstrated by their experience, activities and leadership.

DSU Aspirations Award ceremony

Editor’s note: This event has been cancelled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

CybHER will host the Aspirations Award ceremony at 1 p.m. March 27 in the Beacom Collaboration Center at DSU. The  event, which is open to the public, features keynote speaker Diane Janosek, the 2020 CybHER Warrior and commandant for the National Cryptologic School.

Aside from the ceremony, attendees will be in for a treat as CybHER also plans to incorporate the launch of Rocket Girls into the ceremony. Rocket Girls is a partnership among CybHER at DSU, the Women in CyberSecurity Mid-Atlantic Affiliate and CyberSpace Camps, sponsored by AT&T. Rocket Girls is for high school juniors and seniors interested in a cyberscience degree.

Additionally, CybHER is teaming with DSU’s AdapT Lab and LifeScape to engage the campers with the myriad ways in which technology is used to assist, entertain or alleviate difficulties for people with disabilities.

This often involves “hardware hacking” devices originally designed without accessibility in mind or for other purposes. One nationally known movement famous for hardware hacking is Go Baby Go, which modifies electric ride-on cars to better suit children with disabilities by adapting them to an individual child.

CybHER campers will have the opportunity to meet two children, understand the modifications they need and then modify and customize two powered cars. They will be advised by experts from DSU’s AdapT Lab and LifeScape who brought the Go Baby Go program to the region.

To view the livestream for the NCWIT ceremony or to learn more about CybHER, please visit

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CybHER receives grant to honor high school girls interested in cyber fields

When it comes to female cybersecurity students, Dakota State University has seen an incredible 595 percent increase. This program is a big reason why.

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