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Cyber Pride and Patriotism: Way Too Much Fun
BY ROY VESTAL · SOFTWARE ENGINEER · UNITED STATES
A few years ago, my son was looking for a community service program he could participate in. We discovered the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), a volunteer organization focused on emergency services and aerospace education.
Inspired by his grandfather, who is a retired major in the United States Air Force, it was the perfect combination of leadership opportunities and community service for him.
Six months later, I joined CAP as well because he was having way too much fun without me there!
It was the perfect opportunity to hang out with my son and to do something meaningful together. Not long after, my son was invited to join his squadron’s CyberPatriot team. CyberPatriot is a national youth cyber education program, featuring a yearly cyber defense competition where kids learn how to identify and fix network security problems as a team.
Joining the Fun
I joined the CyberPatriot team as a mentor and instructor to help with training that year. I proudly watched as the squadron competed in their first season. As I watched those five boys soak up the experience, it really struck me — I wanted to teach. I was hooked from then on.
Both of my parents and my grandmother were teachers, so you could say teaching is in my blood and I never knew it! I truly enjoy watching the light bulbs go off as the students figure out real-world problems and start to see how to apply what they have learned.
At the start of the next CyberPatriot season, I volunteered to take over the CyberPatriot coaching position. Little did I know, I’d still be that coach seven years later.
From Inspiring Instructor to Course Creator
My son began to attend more activities in robotics and cybersecurity, which took him all over the U.S. His excitement and passion drew me in too. Soon I was invited to come to cyber camps as an instructor.
During one of the Cyber Academy courses, I was asked to help develop a curriculum for the fledgling cyber program. I jumped at the chance.
Along with a colleague of mine, I ended up writing a self-study book for Network+, a certification for network technicians. It was designed to teach entry-level networking to youth through STEM programs.
We offered the curriculum to CAP to use as part of their instruction, and it’s been part of the CAP National Cyber Academy since. Over the course of seven years, I went from simply supporting my son to teaching nationwide!
My Network of Support
Initially, I was hesitant to discuss my involvement with my team and my managers. I thought they may consider my project a distraction from my work. When I finally shared and engaged my management, I learned how supportive they really were and continue to be today.
They began asking for updates on how my students and competitive teams were doing. They also allowed my team to use Cisco’s conference rooms on the weekends for classrooms and competitions. That was a huge deal.
A lot of the time, you’ll see teams having to work out of local coffee shops with free Wi-Fi. Cisco let me bring my kids to where I work and use our resources.
I even recruited co-workers to participate as instructors during CyberPatriot training sessions. They give the students a real glimpse of what it’s like working at Cisco and help the students understand why security is so vital for everyone.
And how cool is this? Not only is Cisco now a sponsor of CyberPatriot but we’ve finally made Civil Air Patrol a partner of Cisco Networking Academy! We’re bringing our Networking and Cybersecurity curriculums up from local squadrons to the national level of CAP.
Can You Tell I’m a Proud Dad?
While I was introduced to CAP because of my son’s involvement in CyberPatriot, I also love serving my community with CAP’s search and rescue team.
My oldest daughter joined CAP on her 12th birthday and fell in love with emergency services. We’ve been able to train and earn certifications that allow us to serve on missions to help find missing persons and locate downed airplanes.
As a ground team leader, you must understand how to think like a lost subject and work with incident commanders to locate whatever or whoever it is we’re looking for. I like being able to have my boots on the ground, tromping through the woods, trying to find people that are lost or hurt.
I’m so proud of the work we do together, and my daughter is now studying as part of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Just Go for It
If you ever feel hesitant to get involved in a cause you’re passionate about, just start somewhere.
One of my biggest goals with these projects was to get Cisco to partner with us. We got even more than we asked for with the Networking Academy. Our next step is to get more NetAcad students working at Cisco. I know what they go through to get their certifications. We need people with their skills here.
I’ve worked with between 300 and 500 students through the years. Some of my former students are now instructors themselves or working in cybersecurity for government agencies and large companies.
With the Cisco Networking Academy partnership, I hope to get even more cybersecurity students the skills they need for successful careers.
Think of Cisco as your partner. You have 40 hours to volunteer. Find somewhere you — or your children — want to give back and just go for it.
Roy currently works as an engineer in the operations team for UCMCloud.
Roy and his wife Keira live in Apex, North Carolina. They have three children: Toby is a sophomore studying Computer Science at the University of North Carolina, Zoe is in her first year as a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Eva is in high school.
Roy enjoys family time, teaching and exploring new technologies, and coaching softball and basketball. He especially enjoys playing music. Roy volunteers with Cisco DIRT, is in the process of finishing up Blue Belt and CISSP certification, and has been a Cisco ERT member since 2014.
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