Teaching Kids to Hack – CIT’s Continuing Support of the Next Generation of InfoSec Warriors

CIT is proud to be a part of McClintock Partners in Education and share our passion for Information Security and technology as a whole with the community and most importantly the next generation of Cyber-Professionals. Our work has helped hundreds of students to find a love of Information Technology and engineering disciplines.   

In 2007 a local Charlotte resident learned that less than 5 miles from her church in the SouthPark area was a middle school (“chronically low-achieving school”) that was plagued with poverty, hunger, homelessness, and in many accounts, desperation by their students. For this Charlotte resident it was the beginning of something far greater and a great opporuntity to reach into the community.. This event birthed McClintock Partners in Education, McPie; One of the most well respected nationally recognized public-private partnerships dedicated to enabling, equipping, and empowering the students of this middle school to create their future stories. This public-private partnership was, and is, so radical that its story was featured in a TEDx talk. It has been widely credited as having “Saved McClintock Middle School from being shutdown”.  

 McPie supports McClintock Middle School primarily through a one-day-per-week evening program that delivers over 30 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) clubs to its students for 28 weeks of the school year.   

Each club, led by a qualified volunteer, is unique and introduces concepts and skills not found anywhere else. CIT became involved with McPie in 2008 under the leadership of its President, Lawrence Cruciana, through the founding and creation of a club that taught the basics of computer hardware, assembly, and operation to students. This club introduced the concepts of the CompTIA A+ certification to middle school students while also allowing them to build and take home a computer. For many, this computer was the first in their household. It enabled them to do schoolwork and, more importantly, experiment and explore in ways previously unattainable without a computer in their home. Through the first ten years of CIT’s partnership with McPie over 200 students participated in this club and were equipped for success. The results and impact of this club on its students were fantastic and the overall impact made by McPie to the McClintock educational community was benchmarked by the Urban Institute of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to substantiate the findings ; A full letter grade improvement in Science and Math, radical decline in unattended absences from school, and dozens of students applying to college with the intention of pursuing engineering and computer science disciplines. With such impressive results, it’s not surprising that it was recognized by North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center (SMT) as the leading partnership program throughout the state in 2013.   

As technology and the broader needs of the IT community changed, CIT shifted its focus and partnership from Computer Building to CyberSecurity.   

In 2017, CIT founded a new club that was dedicated to teaching middle school students real-world hacking skills. Through the lens of offensive computer security (“hacking”) and analyzing real cyber-attacks, students in this club learn the basics of computer networking, cloud and client-server computing models, authentication, digital trust mechanisms, and social engineering. Using these skills, the students are introduced to the concepts of digital citizenship, online persona management, responsible information use, cyberbullying, and methods relevant to safeguarding their digital identity. These students leave the club after thirteen 1.5 hour sessions with a formidable set of technical skills as well as those that will help keep them and their families safe online. For many students, they are the computer experts in their family and the lessons they learn in this club have been found to have a profound positive impact to their families’ overall vulnerability to identity theft and online account compromise.

In 2019 CIT introduced a second club to McPie that introduces software development skills to Middle School students. In conjunction with Girls Who Code (GWC), the CyberCoders club uses the exceptional program developed by GWC and adds the concepts of Secure Software Development Lifecycle, Agile and Continuous Integration and Development, Vulnerability Management, and Responsible Disclosure. Collectively, this 14 week course equips its students with an understanding of modern software development, the many diverse skillsets that are involved in application development, technical skills in application organization and assembly, and the communication concepts required when working in agile teams. These skills are widely applicable both in software development and their routine academic life.