Freeport Girls Code Their Way to Finals 

As the computer-savvy become a more and more heavily sought-after breed of employee, young women across the nation are getting a head start in this growing field. GirlsGoCyberStart, a competitive, multi-leveled program, is teaching them the ins and outs of cybersecurity before they even graduate. Through various games, teens are honing skills in cryptography, web vulnerabilities, Python, Linux and forensics—and learning teamwork and determination along the way. 

“Cybersecurity is a growing and critical field. It is more important than ever before to train skilled experts in Maine and across the nation to defend our national and financial security,” said Governor Janet Mills at the launch of the program’s second year in February. Last year, almost 200 students from the State participated. “This program will help young women pursue the education and training they need for lifelong careers and leadership positions in cybersecurity.” 

Several Clubs from Maine entered the CyberStart competition. Each group of skilled teens would code their way through three levels of increasingly tough competition. 9,500 girls from across the nation entered the ring at the first stage back in February. Two participation challenges were also run, to encourage more girls to get involved. For every five girls registered to a Club who completed at least two challenges, their school would be entered once in the running for a $1,000 prize. At the end of the ‘Assess’ stage, in which girls are evaluated for their aptitude with code and security through a series of challenges, the three Clubs in each State with the most girls registered (having completed at least one challenge) will receive prize money by place in totals of $1,000, $750, and $500. Those winners from Maine this year were, in order: 

  • Hancock County Technical Center (1st) 
  • Deering High School (2nd) 
  • Sanford High School (3rd) 

The top schools in each state are decided by the second round, and those then proceed onto the Championship ‘Capture the Flag’ round. The CyberGEMS of Freeport High School were among the 120 schools to make it to the Championship, placing 87th in this final round. The team was comprised of four precocious teens who were nominated by their Club: Dena Arrison, Leah Rusecki, Taylor Harris, and Rachel Packard. 

Rusecki, a sophomore, commented in a press release prior to the Championship, “My class schedule is quite full, but having the chance to explore computer technology outside of regular classes is a great opportunity for us. Solving the cybersecurity puzzles and challenges has been really interesting! I hope to take a computer programming class next year.” 

Each member of the CyberGEMS took home $100, as well as an additional $100 for their school. More than that, every girl who participated in some level of the competition developed skills vital to the rapidly growing cybersecurity field—and with results from last year showing that number of students interested in cybersecurity doubled after playing, these students show promise at filling more of these high-paying, challenging jobs in the future. 

This story was written by Maine DOE Intern Emmeline Willey. If you have a story idea or would like to submit a written story for the Maine DOE Newsroom, email Rachel Paling at rachel.paling@maine.gov.