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GREENWOOD — Students are jumping at the chance to learn about the vast world of cybersecurity with a new class at Center Grove High School.
Summer Ehresman is the instructor. This first-time computer science course is a large class with 33 students. Ehresman said the curriculum is part of Project Lead the Way and allows students to work on a virtual lab from the program rather than working off the security on the school's network.
Project Lead the Way is all about getting students ready for careers in science and technology by using real-world experiences in a real-world environment. The cybersecurity class is hands-on learning.
"I feel like every day there's a different puzzle," said Ehresman, who attended a training over the summer ahead of teaching this class. It is part of a grant awarded to the Johnson County high school by the state.
Blake Seslar, a junior, is one of the students taking this first-time class at the high school.
"So we've started to you know, look at malicious files and how they are encoded and encrypted in emails and stuff like that," Seslar said. "Classes nowadays you know, they are based off of what you are going to do in a real-life application like for example this class, it's based off of real stuff you do as a cyber security manager. You learn how to decode phishing emails and you learn how to see what is fake and what isn't fake."
Part of the class focuses on personal security like passwords, what makes a strong password and how accounts get hacked. Another part of the class looks at cybersecurity in a more broad sense. Students learn to work with firewalls, find encrypted text in emails and websites, look for viruses, and more.
Students also will take part in a "Capture the Flag" type challenge nationwide, where students are tasked with finding the flags or viruses in documents and texts.
"Keeping yourself secure, it changes almost every day," Ehresman said. "And I also think from a personal aspect, it just makes you so aware because every career that you are going to go into, you are going to use technology."
Ehresman said some of her students want to go into careers where they will be hired by companies to hack into their systems or send emails to test how well their network holds up against attacks.
"Also, some of them want to do digital forensics," Ehresman said. "If a crime happens can I look at somebody's phone and see what they've done and look through those files."
Meredith Fain, a senior, wants to be hired to test the security for companies when she gets older.
"My ultimate goal would probably be to go into penetration testing which is like where companies hire you to hack them," Fain said. "I think its like super fascinating."
Fain is preparing early for her career by taking lots of computer science courses in high school and also taking part in the school's robotics team. Fain knows this is an industry with a lot of potential for growth in the future.
"Security is only becoming more and more important so it's really critical to be able to have that like secure base for your company, so that people you don't want in cannot get in," Fain said.
Students also sign a code of conduct when they start this class and they discuss ethics. They are essentially learning to hack to protect people and companies from hackers and with that knowledge comes big responsibility.
Josh Stevenson, a senior, is taking the class for a different reason. He wants to study computer science in college with the hopes of becoming a software developer.
"All of the colleges I am looking at had cybersecurity branches of their computer science," Stevenson said. "I didn't really know much about it, so I decided I wanted to take it in high school and just get a feel for what it was."