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Cyber Prowess: Philander Smith makes historic leap in national cybersecurity

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Cyber Prowess: Philander Smith makes historic leap in national cybersecurity

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Angel Burt & Jamee McAdoo -- In a striking display of skill and determination, six students from Philander Smith University recently etched their names in the annals of cybersecurity excellence. Competing against a formidable lineup of national contenders at the prestigious Cyberforce Competition in Chicago, IL, these talented individuals showcased their profound cybersecurity expertise and brought a historic third-place triumph to their institution.

This remarkable feat, set against the backdrop of a rigorous and highly competitive environment, underscores not only the caliber of talent nurtured at Philander Smith, a historically Black college and university (HBCU), but also highlights the increasingly vital role such institutions play in diversifying and enriching the field of cybersecurity. As these six students stepped onto the national stage, they did more than just compete; they shattered stereotypes and opened new avenues of opportunity, setting a new standard of excellence for HBCUs in the realm of technological innovation.

Q: How does it feel to be able to represent Philander, an HBCU, at these national competitions?

“Representing the African American race in a way that shows that we can perform in cybersecurity competitions the same way that PWIs can, highlights the importance of diversifying the cybersecurity field,” said Ashton Cartwright (1), a sophomore majoring in computer science with a minor in math and a concentration in cybersecurity.

2. Oluwafikunayomi “Kayo” Shobande is a sophomore computer science major at Philander, who was also a part of the team. “Sometimes it feels like a bit of a disconnect between HBCUs and really big opportunities like these,” said Shobande, “Attending a small school in Little Rock, Arkansas and being able to represent Philander on such a large scale is a truly amazing experience and I’ll always be grateful and willing to participate in these type of competitions.”

Through projects and presentations, teams competing had to identify ways to mitigate cyber-attacks while demonstrating the best practices and strategies to make systems more secure in various given scenarios.

Q: What did you all have to do to prepare for the competition?

“The most important thing we did to prepare was splitting up the roles. Since we were dealing with a lot of resources, it would have been hard for everyone to look over the same resources so we broke down everything into parts and assigned roles. This made everything easier and allowed us to flow through the resources, share what we learned, and hold everyone accountable,” said Aiden Deal, a sophomore computer science major with a minor in business administration. 

4. Trent Colebrooke was another member of the team. He’s a sophomore majoring in computer science with a minor in math.

“To prepare, we looked back on previous competitions and studied other teams who’ve won. There are different scenarios for the competition, so we looked over the documents at Cyberforce and did a lot of reviewing on the past data,” said Colebrooke.  

Q: What’s the most impactful lesson you’ve learned throughout the process of traveling and competing?

5. Chinwe Uwolloh, a junior double major in computer science and math, served as the team leader for this competition.

“We weren’t expecting so many schools. There were over 100 schools there. We saw a lot of schools that had very active computer science and cybersecurity departments so they had more experience than us but we didn’t let that discourage us. We knew that we put in the work and we made the most of the experience. We did our best, we learned a lot, and we all had fun doing it.”

Q: What inspired your interest in cybersecurity?

 Zainab Gbadamosi, a sophomore majoring in computer science at Philander, was happy to join the team because of her love for cybersecurity.

“I got into cybersecurity because I found it amazing how information could be hidden online and

uncovered. It’s like a digital detective game that piqued my interest,” said Gbadamosi.

Kayo shares the same interest. “I’ve always been passionate about technology as a whole, but for me the idea of cybersecurity – which is protecting and defending systems – has always been fascinating to me,” said Shobande.

Journey to Cybersecurity Excellence

Philander Smith College's cybersecurity students have achieved notable successes in recent competitions. Last week, they participated in three events: the Cyberforce Competition in Chicago, the Be Smart competition in Dallas, and a virtual competition in virtual reality, where they advanced to the finals and are now vying for a $10,000 prize. Earlier in the semester, students Chinwe, Kayo, and Ashton represented the college at the University Industry-Partnership Perspectives (UIDP) Pitch Fest competition in Nashville, securing first place and earning $10,000 for their school. Additionally, Chinwe led an all-female team at the Southwest Region Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC), marking the first participation of an all-female team from an HBCU in this event, a milestone that paved the way for her leadership role in the Chicago competition.

In a world increasingly shaped by technology, these exceptional students from HBCUs, particularly Philander Smith University, are not just participants but pioneers. Their journey is marked by four pivotal pillars: Competition, where they challenge norms and break barriers; Creativity, as they innovate and redefine technological frontiers; Community, reflecting their deep-rooted commitment to societal upliftment; and Conquest, symbolizing their relentless pursuit of excellence. Their journey is more than an academic pursuit; it's a powerful demonstration of how young, brilliant minds can shape our world and inspire future generations.

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