South Orangetown Central School District

Tappan Zee High School students Joseph Gregory and Kayla Ng achieved National Cyber Scholar status and were awarded $2,500 scholarships for their performance in the National Cyber Scholarship Competition. Gregory and Ng were among just 600 seniors and juniors nationwide to qualify for the scholarships, which may be used to pursue cybersecurity training at any U.S. college or university. In addition, they are invited to participate in the Summer 2021 Cyber Foundations Academy, an online training and certification program, as well as enrichment and career exploration activities.

Gregory, a senior, will begin the Accelerated Masters Program for Cybersecurity at Stevens Institute of Technology this fall and is eager to take advantage of the school’s cooperative program to combine work experience with academics. He began studying computer science as a freshman in the AP Computer Science Principles course, when teacher Karen Connell persuaded him to join the school’s FIRST Robotics Competition team, SO BOTZ. As a member of the software subteam, he focused on mapping autonomous pathways and strategy.

“I’d known that I’d wanted to go into computer science since ninth or tenth grade, but it’s a huge field. So, I worked a little bit on app design and other areas throughout high school and earned my Microsoft Technical Associate Java certification as my final project for AP Computer Science A junior year. For my Computer Science Capstone course project this year, I decided to study cybersecurity and found that it was really fun and interesting,” Gregory said.

At Connell’s suggestion, he signed up for the CyberStart America program, a free online game challenge program for high school students, and qualified for the 48-hour National Cyber Scholarship Competition, a Capture the Flag-type contest, this spring. “The competition challenges were much more difficult. I would work for four hours, take a four- to six-hour break, then get back to work,” recalled Gregory. Ultimately, he scored in the top eight percent of entrants.

Ng, a junior, is vice president of the high school’s Computer Science Club, secretary of its recently-founded Computer Science Honor Society and is also a member of the SO BOTZ software subteam. She used the Computer Science Capstone course to complete a number of projects connected to her interests–what she termed “a major learning year.” “I started with web development in the first quarter, then switched to CyberStart. I saw Joseph doing it and thought it was so cool. It requires you to think outside the box more,” she noted.

With the competition over, Ng has moved on to a new project: learning about artificial intelligence to create a new skill for Amazon’s Alexa. “I’m building a music skill to help users tune their instruments on the go,” she explained. “A lot of the ones I’ve seen are limited to a specific instrument. I’m looking to make a universal one.” She plans to continue exploring AI through a second round of the Capstone course next year.

Congratulations, Joseph and Kayla!

National Cyber Scholars Joseph Gregory and Kayla Ng