Author: Allison Green

HackHER Gals Cybersecurity Outreach Initiative

Dr. Teshia Roby serves as the Assistant Vice President of Learning & Research Technologies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona where much of her work is outward-facing to support faculty in their research and use of technology. Having a role that works closely with colleagues in high-performance computing, cybersecurity, and big data, Roby wanted to familiarize herself more with these disciplines. However, the more she researched, she realized how few women and people of color were involved in these domains.  

In fact, “among the population of cybersecurity professionals, only 18% are Latino and just 13% are Black. Women make up only 24% of the cybersecurity workforce” (HackHER Gals Welcome page). With this understanding, Roby ideated an enrichment and outreach program to introduce Black and Brown girls to these specific STEM fields entitled the “HackHER Gals Cybersecurity and STEM Outreach Initiative”. Although the initiative ultimately serves as an education pipeline to the polytechnic university, other primary goals of HackHER Gals are to create visibility around STEM careers, impart foundational tech skills, and show much-needed representation in these fields.  

Four young girls smiling with the following text overlaying "Increasing the number of women and underrepresented people in cybersecurity."
Courtesy of hackhergals.org

With a vision for HackHER Gals in mind, Dr. Roby consulted the CIO of Cal Poly Pomona who supported the concept with funds to hire student assistants as well as the connection to faculty to begin curriculum development. While a team worked on a curriculum that would lead to a two-day hack-a-thon, Roby and associates took a step back and realized that there was value in first “introduc[ing] them to the concept of hacking and the field […], seeing representative women in this space, and plant[ing] a seed so that seed might then grow into a real interest.” Roby put together a pitch deck to apply for the Cal State Innovate minigrant with the idea of an outreach event. Upon receiving a minigrant, Roby established a giving account with Cal Poly Pomona which required seed money to begin receiving anonymous donations. 

The HackHER Gals team connected with local school counselors as well as community centers and libraries to collect a list of names of young girls to market this opportunity. To track engagement, Roby also leveraged the University’s CRM platform to keep a record of contact. “When these seventh graders or eighth graders eventually come to Cal Poly Pomona, or at least apply to Cal Poly Pomona, we can look back and see back in [middle school] we had initial touchpoints with this person.” 

Four young women of diverse ethnic backgrounds with their arms around each other smiling.
Courtesy of hackhergals.org

The first annual HackHER Gals Cybersecurity and STEM Outreach Initiative took place on Saturday, September 17, 2022, and had 125 registrants at the time of the interview. Participants included young women from middle school, high school, and even surrounding community colleges. Roby reflected, “I think people were just interested in the topic and the concept of the environment for this to really be focused on girls and young women to feel comfortable in this space, to just be explorers and inquisitive, and to be open to it. It spoke to a curiosity and a need.” The day started off with a keynote speaker to energize and inspire participants followed by cybersecurity and STEM panels, an information fair, and a hands-on coding activity to put new skills to practice. 

Following the outreach event, the HackHER Gals team has plans to expand and continue to engage the participants. “We’re prepared for scaling this and expanding it, but we could not be positioned where we are now with the grant money we have received from Cal State [Innovate].” If you would like to personally contribute to the HackHER Gals Cybersecurity Outreach Initiative, you can contribute to their development fund with a tax-deductible gift to support future events.