Shannon Hansen

Shannon Hansen

Shannon Hansen is taking classes at Crafton Hills College (CHC) to prepare for a career in cybersecurity.

But the 42-year-old mom of two teenage boys does not fit the stereotype of the hoodie-clad young hacker.

Just at the beginning of her college journey, Hansen said she is working towards financial independence in an uncertain world.

She lives with her mother, who is fighting stage four ovarian cancer.

“I wanted her to know that I would be okay no matter what happens,” she said, adding that she also wants to be a role model for her sons.

When her professor Dave Liu asked for volunteers to compete on March 13 in the California Mayors Cyber Cup, an annual academic competition open to students in seventh grade through community college, Hansen was reluctant.

“I was nervous that I would go get my butt beat by a middle schooler,” she said.

But she took the risk and signed up with three other CHC students: Rosita Moncada, Sarah Wallbrecht and Derek Moore. Together, the team took second-place among the collegiate competitors.

“Most of the team members were surprised by how much we did know,” Hansen said.

The California Mayors Cyber Cup boosts hands-on career education by asking competitors to find the flaws in computer code that provide backdoors for hackers. Jobs in the growing field typically pay at least $25 per hour, and nearly every industry needs people with the right skills to protect essential documents such as bank records and functions like voting machines or to thwart cyber pirates who try to steal personal information like medical records to demand ransom.

“This field of cybersecurity is definitely something I want to pursue,” Hansen said. “There are so many possibilities and so many businesses who need cybersecurity, especially now that people are working remotely. Hospitals need to protect patient information, so I think this is going to continue to boom.”

Prof. Liu, the team coach, said he is relatively new to CHC, so this was his first experience recruiting a team for the California Mayors Cyber Cup. Typically, it would be held in person, but due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, the competition was held remotely.

Michele Robinson, director of the Office of Information Security in the California Department of Technology, told competitors that the California Mayors Cyber Cup serves a serious purpose.

“Your participation in events like these is extremely important to filling the nation's enormous gap in cybersecurity workforce needs," she said.

The State of California has invested heavily in career and technical training, organizing the state’s community college system in regions to encourage more cooperation. The Inland Empire/Desert Regional Consortium of Strong Workforce – which covers Riverside and San Bernardino counties — partnered with the Moreno Valley Unified School District and the non-profit organization SynED to organize the competition for nearly 200 students.

Competitors were also treated to speakers from academia, businesses, the cybersecurity industry, and state and local government in the week leading up to the competition.

"So what does the FBI want?” asked Eric O’Neill, who worked in FBI counterintelligence to help capture one of America’s most notorious spies. “Cybersecurity is huge because all counterintelligence has become cybersecurity. Espionage used to be cloak-and-dagger, sneaking around and recruiting people in bars. Now it is cyber-attacks from Moscow using spear-phishing to trick you into clicking a link and opening an attachment."

Hansen said the competition tried to mimic the deadlines and the techniques that would allow a computer security analyst to find hidden messages in computer code or print out logs to find the “breach” set up by the contest organizers.

She said Liu was helpful and the CHC students worked as a team on the same computer platform, so they could see each other’s work. But they could not hear each other, which made things more challenging.

“I’m absolutely proud of them,” said Liu, a professor of Computer Information Systems. “They had less than three weeks advance notice and it was near spring break. There was real chemistry between the students,” he said.

Liu said he hopes the contest will be in person next year. “We will be back,” Liu said.

Hansen said she will be there too. “This really built my confidence,” she said.

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