Perhaps no group of people are better prepared to embrace remote learning than the Cyber Defense Team at ECPI University’s Richmond/Moorefield campus. Year-round, they compete in a wide range of hackathons, many of which take place in a virtual environment. Such is the case with the National Cyber League Tournament which began its preseason competition during the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Last season, ECPI University placed an impressive 49th in the nation out of more than 700 teams. In this year’s individual preliminaries, Software Development student Robert Biesser was ranked 18 out of approximately 4,800 competitors. Two other teammates were ranked in the Gold category, meaning they are among the top 15 percent.
“I think my biggest challenge as a coach is just trying to keep them on the team until they’ve finished school. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve lost team members because an employer has scooped them up before they’ve even graduated. They end up working full-time and going to school at night, so they don’t have enough time for the team. I suppose that’s a good problem to have!”
– Richmond/Moorefield Campus Cyber Team Coach David Conrad
During the regular season, unforeseen circumstances related to the pandemic limited the number of team members able to compete. Nonetheless, the Richmond Cyber Team finished 90 out of 930 competitors, placing ECPI University squarely in the top 10 percent.
“We’re having a lot of fun.” says Robert. “I think the reason we’ve done so well is because we really work together as a team. We come in with an open mind, do a lot of research, and share everything we learn with one another.”
Coach David Conrad says competitors are always underestimating his team. “Because of ECPI University’s accelerated program, our members are only on the team for about two years, compared to other schools that have team members for twice as long. Many of our folks are veterans and over 40 years of age and did not even know how to use a computer before they enrolled.
“What they are able to accomplish in such a short period of time is amazing. They bring a great deal of grit and determination to the process and I think that’s what makes them such formidable competitors. I think my biggest challenge as a coach is just trying to keep them on the team until they’ve finished school. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve lost team members because an employer has scooped them up before they’ve even graduated. They end up working full-time and going to school at night, so they don’t have enough time for the team. I suppose that’s a good problem to have!”
In fact, being members of ECPI University’s Cyber Teams makes students especially attractive to employers. Team members throughout ECPI’s campuses often find themselves with offers long before they graduate. “Companies want cyber professionals who don’t just click buttons,” says Robert. “Being part of a team like this really develops your critical thinking skills. That’s something you can take anywhere.”