Brayden Faulkner, of Henderson; Chris Humphreys, of Martin; and Lucian Freeze, of Hornbeak, represented the University of Tennessee at Martin in the national 2019 Cyber FastTrack Competition, which began in April and finished the formal competitive rounds in July. All three computer science students were named quarter-finalists, and Faulkner and Humphreys both advanced to the semi-finals round. Faulkner also received one of 200 scholarships for his score in the contest.
More than 13,000 students nationwide began the competition in April, and 2,579 advanced to the quarter-finals round in May. Of these, 541 scored high enough to advance to the semi-finals and gain access to CyberStart Essentials, an online course to help students gain proficiency in a variety of cybersecurity skills.
Humphreys and Faulkner both advanced to the semi-finals, where 200 high-scoring students were chosen at random to receive $500 scholarships. Faulkner was chosen for one of these awards. Both students are now participating in the online course, sponsored by the cybersecurity corporation SANS, and hope to continue their professional skills with further training.
The contest is designed to help fill the workforce gap in cybersecurity professionals at all levels, including the health care, government, public health, corporate and other fields.
“Now, more than ever, information technology is a part of our everyday lives. Almost everything we do, from shopping to entertainment to voting to even basic utilities, is now online or digital in one form or another. This means that the world is now more vulnerable to cyber-attack than ever,” said Faulkner, who plans to enter the field after his graduation from UT Martin.
“The competition has provided me with the resources and opportunities to develop and expand a wide variety of skills and allowed me to practice these skills in a practical setting. Many concepts in cybersecurity are difficult to understand in full until you are allowed to actually use them and see how they work,” he continued. “My (UT Martin) education has not only taught me much of the technical background knowledge needed to understand many of the concepts and tools used in the competition, but also gave me the ability to learn new tools and skills on my own.”
While the competition was open to all students with an interest in cybersecurity, the challenges required contenders to learn and apply complicated computer science concepts beyond basic classroom knowledge.
“I have used tools that I have learned in all my (computer science) classes, including advanced 400-level classes, in this competition, and it pulls from all areas of computer science. The knowledge required has to be both deep and broad to do well,” said Humphreys. “We were all thrown in the deep end, and then they watched to see who would sink and who would swim. While this made it a difficult competition, it also made it extremely rewarding to solve a problem. …
“I have learned an absolute ton in this competition, everything from very low-level assembly and machine languages to web applications and networking. I really enjoy it because it utilizes everything I have learned in my time here at UTM. Our computer science department has really prepared us well to deal with competitions like these and to understand computing in general,” he said.
The UT Martin Department of Computer Science has introduced two new concentration areas this fall, allowing students to focus on either data science or digital hardware and embedded systems throughout their undergraduate studies. The department is also hosting two online cybersecurity courses this fall, which are open to all interested students, professionals and community members.
For more information, contact the department at 731-881-7391 or visit utm.edu/department/compsci.