Sarah Cunha and Laura Wilkinson, two seniors at Brigham Young University, didn’t make it to graduation this year.
Instead, the two women spent their grad weekend, April 22-24, fighting hackers and defending a network from malware attacks at the 2016 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Championship (NCCDC).
The NCCDC, already in its 11th year, is the Olympics of college-level cyber defense. To qualify for one of the ten slots in the national competition, a school must first beat out all the local competition in a regional showdown.
Just seven women participated in the NCCDC—which hosts 10 eight-person teams—this year. BYU’s team accounted for four of those seven: Cunha and Wilkinson are joined by junior Cara Cornel and senior Whitney Winder.
“They stick out like a sore thumb,” says Dale Rowe, a BYU professor of information technology who coaches the team. And while Rowe is referring to the competition, the same could be said of the cybersecurity industry overall: A mere 10% of information security professionals are women, according to the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium.
So, what is it about the BYU team that’s been so successful when it comes to attracting women? Part of the answer can be traced to the school’s large Mormon population. Indeed, all four women on the school’s NCCDC squad identify as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS), a faith that’s known for its strong commitment to traditional gender roles, in which men are seen as the breadwinners and women as the caretakers.
Images from Laura Wilkinson’s personal Facebook page.