Compass girls club leads state in cyber competition

Photo by John Roark, Post Register

Compass Academy is building up its club for computer programming after its Girls Go CyberStart team was one of the most successful in Idaho earlier this year.

Compass Academy’s team was one of the three Idaho teams who earned prize money for their schools during the national code-breaking competition, which went from February to April. The $1,000 in prize money won by Compass’ Girls Go CyberStart team was the most won by an Idaho school team, ahead of the Foothills School of Arts and Science in Boise and the nonprofit Gizmo-CDA in Coeur d’Alene.

The Compass team was built out of the Girls Who Code club that was started at the school by computer programming teacher Cathy Owen. Senior Jewel Aguilar was one of the 15 students that were part of Compass’ team during the spring and one of around eight students already planning to take part in the competition next year.

“This is what I want to do in my future, so it’s been a cool thing to get into right now,” Aguilar said.

Girls Go CyberStart is a free competition put on by the cybersecurity training company SANS Institute. Teams worked together after school or during their free time to complete as many levels of code-breaking and programming as they could during that three-month time frame. To avoid elimination players must solve a certain number of puzzles per week, which can range from decrypting ciphers to finding hints in HTML code to breaking into digital refrigerators.

Despite the name, Girls Go CyberStart is open for both boys and girls who are interested. Maddie Moody, a Compass junior who took part in the Girls Go CyberStart event last year, said that having a largely female club was a nice break from the programming classes she normally took.

“A lot of the other computer coding classes here are mostly male. So it’s been nice to have our own space and work together,” Moody said.

The CyberStart competition also plays a role in statewide efforts to increase the number of students involved in cybersecurity efforts. Last week, Gov. Brad Little announced that Idaho would renew its partnership with the SANS Institute, which oversees both Girls Go CyberStart and the Cyber FastTrack program for college students. Three college students in Idaho placed in the top 100 nationally for the Cyber FastTrack, including Brigham Young University-Idaho sophomore Justin Wilson.

Registration for the 2020 Girls Go CyberStart program opens for high school students Monday, and the CyberStart game will launch on Feb. 10.

Brennen is the main education reporter for the Post Register. Contact him with news tips at 208-542-6711.

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