Cyber Spartans Encourage Next Generation of Coders

During March 2019, SJSU students mentored elementary school students while teaching them about cybersecurity as part of the Cyber Spartans program at Sherman Oaks Elementary School.

The Center for Community Learning and Leadership (CCLL) and the Jay Pison STEM Education Program partnered this spring to offer a unique afterschool program to students at Sherman Oaks Elementary School in the Campbell Union School District. Through the Cyber Spartan program SJSU students engaged as mentors and teachers to underserved youth while teaching them about cybersecurity and coding.

Luan Bao Dinh, ’19 MS Applied Mathematics, served as co-program manager of Cyber Spartans while taking courses and working as a graduate teaching associate in the math department. He graduates this spring, one of 1,816 students completing a master’s degree.

“Cyber Spartans is a program that uses already available kid-friendly computer languages like Scratch to teach underserved youth the cybersecurity content with integrated computer science concepts,” said Dinh, who helped to develop curriculum for the program. “My favorite part was when I had to create different modules in Scratch. I get to create these fun games while reviewing all of the computer science concepts I also need for my master thesis.”

Dinh also appreciated seeing how much the kids enjoyed the lessons.

SJSU students pose for a photo with elementary school children who participated in the month-long Cyber Spartan after school program.

SJSU students pose for a photo with elementary school children who participated in the month-long Cyber Spartan afterschool program.

Every Tuesday and Thursday in March, SJSU students met with the elementary school students from 3:30 to 5 p.m. for cybersecurity lessons and coding practice. The program initially received seed funding from Symantec, a company that produces cybersecurity products. The month-long afterschool program culminated with a visit from Cisco professionals who shared their experience working in cybersecurity as well as the importance of attending college in their success. SJSU’s Associate Professor of Psychology David Schuster, who has a National Science Foundation Career Award to study human factors in cybersecurity, moderated the panel.

“More students than ever have daily access to computers and the internet,” said Campbell Union School District Superintendent Shelly Viramontez. “Teaching them to think more about how they’re engaging with technology is a crucial life skill that our teachers reinforce daily. The SJSU Cyber Spartans partnership enhances and extends those lessons into the afterschool hours and the kids are really energized.”

Candice Lee, ’18 Psychology, was recruited to work as part of the Cyber Spartan team through Schuster’s VECTR Laboratory. In fact, she has been accepted into the master’s program for Human Factors/Ergonomics in the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering for fall 2019.

“The program was completely new to me, and I think it is incredibly meaningful and of service to our community,” Lee said. “Teaching and Exposing STEM-related fields, especially safe cybersecurity behaviors, will not only protect our future generation but perhaps spark some interest and curiosity in the future of technology.”

Lee said she especially appreciated the opportunity to see how a younger generation that has grown up with ready access to technology interacts and learns in different modes.

“They have different attention spans and different ways or modes of learning than I did when I was younger,” she said. “So adjusting the curriculum, the presentation or the pace of the educational materials was certainly an interesting challenge.”

Joanna Solis, a CSU STEM Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) who works with CCLL and the Jay Pinson Stem Education Program, helped the SJSU team develop the curriculum and served as a liaison between the SJSU mentors and elementary students.

“As the program culminated seeing everyone’s happy faces is something I will always remember,” she said. “Seeing how close youth became with their mentors and the positive friendships that were established was very rewarding to see. Teaching youth cybersecurity concepts and having them relay back the information in their own words was a very satisfying experience.”