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California Cadets Learn NETLAB+ at Summer Camp

A group of students from the California Cadet Corps had a new alternative at summer camp this year — something far different than mountaineering, marksmanship and other activities offered.

NETLAB+ was the backbone of the cyber track at the California Cadet Corps Summer Encampment, which was held June 23-30 at Camp San Luis Obispo. This was the first time community colleges were involved with the cyber track, and making it happen involved a partnership between the South Central Coast Region and the Bay Area Region.

About 15 high school students participated in the cyber track, which was modeled after the CyberPatriot program created by the U.S. Air Force. Chris Akelian, an Engineering and Technology Instructor at Cuesta College, lead the training. 

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Shawn Monsen, the California Community Colleges NETLAB+ User Group Lead, provided technical support for Akelian in the weeks leading up to the camp. The collaboration was facilitated by Paula Hodge, Deputy Sector Navigator for Information and Communication Technologies & Digital Media in the South Central Coast Region with support from Richard Grotegut, Deputy Sector Navigator for the same sector in the Bay Area Region.

Akelian said the students were initially interested in hacking but did not realize exactly what that meant from a technical perspective.

“One of the labs was dealt with cracking passwords using Linux commands, and one of the students asked when they were going to start hacking, and I said that they already were doing hacking in that exercise,” Akelian said.

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Students split their time between classes at Cuesta College and classes held at Camp San Luis Obispo running virtual machines using NETLAB+. Akelian used the CyberPatriot framework, but added some additional instruction using NETLAB+

“The students really enjoyed working with virtual machines,” Akelian said. “We used some of CyberPatriot curriculum and started using NETLAB+ to have them do different things to show what it would be like to protect their own network.”

Akelian was initially apprehensive about whether the students would be able to grasp the concepts in such a short amount of time, but they ended up exceeding his expectations and picking up things more quickly than his college students.

“We spent several days up front trying to give them a understanding to do the NETLAB. If they just jumped right in, they wouldn’t know what they were doing,” Akelian said. “I was shocked at how young they were, but they turned out to be really good kids and they learned a lot of different things that I sometimes see college students have trouble learning.”

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Survey results from the training were positive and Akelian expects that the cyber track will be offered again at next year’s camp. The results also represent a positive collaboration between the South Central Coast Region and the Bay Area Region to utilize NETLAB+ across sectors.

Akelian learned about the summer camp from a fellow Army National Guard member and fell into it by chance this year. He hopes to make it even better with more time to prepare for next year.

“It was really a heartwarming thing for me, “he said. “By the time it was done, I really felt that we gave the kids a lot of insight and understanding.” 

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