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32nd Great Computer Challenge Includes Cyber Event

By Brendan O'Hallarn

The senior Great Computer Challenge, a joint project of WHRO, the Consortium for Interactive Instruction and Old Dominion University, will be held Saturday, April 1 in Webb University Center.

The annual technology competition for Hampton Roads students has grown so much in 32 years that it is now split into two events - the senior challenge, for students from 6th to 12th grades (which is on April 1); and the junior challenge, for students from kindergarten to fifth grade. That event is scheduled for May 13.

Every year the Great Computer Challenge takes on a theme. The 2017 event focuses on a skill of vital importance to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and one that is being eagerly pursued at Old Dominion University - cybersecurity.

In addition to longstanding challenges for graphic design, desktop publishing and programming, this year's event includes for the first time a cybersecurity challenge.

At a signing event in February for an educational partnership between Old Dominion and Tidewater Community College, Gov. Terry McAuliffe noted there are currently 36,000 cybersecurity positions open in Virginia.

Old Dominion recognized this critical need in launching its cybersecurity initiative in 2015. Old Dominion hired internationally recognized scholar Hongyi "Michael" Wu as its first Batten Chair of Cybersecurity. Wu has led the creation of the University's Center for Cybersecurity Education and Research, which brings together the work of more than two dozen faculty members at Old Dominion.

Wu and graduate student Unal Tatar headed up the development of the cybersecurity challenge. Liz Smith, interdisciplinary initiatives coordinator for ODU's Office of Academic Affairs, said the hands-on nature of the cybersecurity competition makes it even more beneficial.

"Students who participate in cyber competitions like the Great Computer Challenge are sought after by employers because of their real-world experience," she said. "ODU's aim is to train our students to help fill some of these positions."

Doug Streit, Old Dominion's campus coordinator for the Great Computer Challenge, said exposing students - through fun competitions - to the opportunities available in STEM-related careers can provide an indispensable leg up.

"We have several people working in technology-related positions at Old Dominion who were exposed to campus, and to computers, through the Great Computer Challenge," said Streit, director of information security at Old Dominion. "Given the immense demand for cybersecurity skills in the workforce, it would not surprise me if one of this year's competitors is in one of these open jobs soon."

For more information about the event, see the Great Computer Challenge website.

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