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Hacker bootcamp: Penn State alumnus creates cybersecurity experience for students


By David Schwartz
Published: July 7th, 2020

Across the country, many college students suddenly found themselves without professional summer experiences when the coronavirus pandemic prevented companies from offering in-person internships.

For students in Penn State University’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), the IST Alumni Society and the Office of Career Solutions and Corporate Engagement have stepped in to help. An e-mail sent to all college alumni asked them to help IST students find meaningful summer experiences.

When he saw the email, 2016 graduate Aaron Wilson had just earned his master’s degree in cybersecurity online from Western Governors University. He said that during the start of the pandemic, one of his instructors started giving away free subscriptions to his online hacking program. This inspired Wilson to help others as well.

“I figured [I could] provide people with some unique experiences,” Wilson said. “I could take this opportunity to teach others and provide the course materials [from the program] to them as well.”

Wilson decided to combine his career experience as a penetration tester for home improvement retailer Lowe’s with his education to create a hacking bootcamp for College of IST students.

“This is kind of the combination of what I’ve learned from the theoretical side from my master’s degree and the practical hands-on side that I got from cyber competitions and capture the flag exercises [at IST],” said Wilson.

The hacker bootcamp is an eight-week hands-on online program taught by Wilson. Four interns pursuing bachelor’s degrees in security and risk analysis or cybersecurity analytics are participating in video lessons, reading various textbooks and completing online hacking workshops through platforms such as TryHackMe. Security industry professionals also have been invited to join the class as guest speakers. The goal for the end of the bootcamp is for students to be able to pass the Certified Ethical Hacker exam.

“I could not be happier with how this experience has been so far,” said Daniel Rodgers, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity analytics and operations at University Park. “I got the offer to participate in the hacker bootcamp after losing my initial internship due to the pandemic, and it has kept me focused on my interests and field of study.”

Wilson stressed the importance of IST’s internship requirement, which helped him immensely in his career. He completed his IST internship in the information technology department at Lowe’s and was hired by the company full time after graduation. Wilson said he is motivated by the prospect of helping fellow IST students and wants them to get the same meaningful experience he did when he was in their shoes. His internship experience led him to a job, and he hopes to give the same possibility to other students.

“What would be the greatest takeaway for me is if anyone that does this program gets a job in information security — at any company — because this helped them,” Wilson said. “For me, it’s about giving back to IST. I just want to give [these students] the opportunity to learn.”

Source: Penn State News

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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