STEM BEST Model Fortifies Futures as ‘looCon IT Day’ Shines Light on Cybersecurity

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Students working in teams to compete in the CyberSecurity Competition Designed by Docent.

The Waterloo Career Center’s cybersecurity strand was awarded STEM BEST (Businesses Engaging Students and Teachers) in 2022. The CyberSecurity Program has grown exponentially through the strong partnerships forged within the community. As a result, events such as ‘looCon IT Day’ have created unique learning opportunities for not only Waterloo students but any school interested in exploring.  ‘looCon IT Day' was held at the Waterloo Career Center on March 7 with over 230 students from 29 Iowa school districts at the center to explore the emerging field of cybersecurity and learn what it takes to be a computer science and cybersecurity professional in today’s world.

A panel of Cedar Valley cybersecurity experts kicked off the day’s events and provided valuable real-world information to students. The six-person panel included Trevor Kems from Pratum, Nick Dideriksen from VGMForbin, Brandon Blankenship from ProCircular, Samantha Dahlby from NewBoCo, Tyler Coan from First Security State Bank and Todd Burzynski from UnityPoint. Students asked questions ranging from the day-to-day duties of a cybersecurity professional to what skills are needed to be successful in the field.

“I was definitely looking forward to the panel discussion the most,” said 18-year-old Waterloo senior Jack Lindaman. “I want to go into the cybersecurity field, so I wanted to hear how they got into their own positions. You could ask them anything you wanted to get a better understanding of what they do and what they needed to get there.”

Building experiences through business and education partnerships to connect students with hands-on opportunities such as looCon IT Day is what the foundation of the STEM BEST Program is all about. 

“STEM BEST models across the state are allowing students to gain exposure to experiences like ‘looCon IT Day. Those programs are showing Iowa’s students that opportunities are here in our communities today,” said STEM BEST Program Manager Tanya Hunt. 

Along with various industry professionals, students also had opportunities to connect with other high schoolers interested in computer science before participating in a Capture the Flag-style cybersecurity competition. Teams of three to five students were tasked with completing different online puzzles, which earned them points for each question. Although students from different skill levels were in attendance for ‘looCon IT Day, the puzzles were specifically aimed at beginner-level cybersecurity students.


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