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Friday, July 19, 2024

Lancashire schoolgirls enjoy inspirational Lancaster University cyber security showcase

Virtual reality headsets, robotics, cyber Lego and quantum physics were part of an interactive and inspirational computing and cyber security outreach event that welcomed almost 70 Lancashire school girls to Lancaster University’s campus.

Year 9 girls from six schools around Blackpool and Fleetwood attended the event at the University’s Library and Infolab building, and got a chance to get hands-on with technology, take a look at cutting-edge science research facilities and to find out about the fantastic career opportunities available through the computing and cyber fields.

The event brought together academic experts from Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications and Physics Department, and was supported through the Lancaster University-led Lancashire Cyber Foundry and Cyber Girls First, an organisation dedicated to inspire school age girls to study computing, IT and other cyber fields.

Dr Kelly Widdicks, Lecturer in Computer Science at Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications and Chair of the school’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion group, said: “There is a significant gender imbalance in computer science and the digital technology sector more generally. As a university we want to help address this imbalance by encouraging girls into computing from an early age and inspirational outreach activities with groups such as Cyber Girls First are a key part towards achieving this.”

Following a welcome by Professor Wendy Robinson, Lancaster University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, the students enjoyed an interactive tour where they got to try out virtual reality headsets and create motorised vehicles with robotics kits. In addition, a cyber Lego activity led by cyber security Professor Daniel Prince saw them role-playing a cyber security game managing a business and taking decisions about whether to allocate resources to growing the business or protecting the business through investing in cyber security measures.

Professor Robert Young, from Lancaster University’s Physics Department, took the girls on a tour of the University’s IsoLab. This is a special cutting-edge laboratory facility where vibration, noise and electromagnetic disturbance have been drastically reduced. It is used for quantum physics research, a pioneering field in cyber security.

The students also participated in a networking lunch with businesses and heard from inspirational visitors such as Microsoft’s Marie Hamilton, a Lancaster alumna.

Rebecca Robinson, Programme Lead of the Lancashire Cyber Foundry, said: “I am passionate about helping young people and showing them that the world of cyber has many wonderful career opportunities. The cyber security role-play game shows the girls that they can be capable leaders making financial decisions about the security of their business. It is hoped that experiences like this will encourage other young people to start their journey in computing.”

Cyber Girls First’s Pat Ryan and Wendy Parmley, who is also a Lancaster alumna, attended the event.

Pat Ryan from Cyber Girls First said: “This event was what we hope is the first of many visits by girls from Blackpool schools to Lancaster University to see the amazing facilities on their doorstep. Wendy Parmley and I hoped for a positive response from the girls, but nothing prepared us for the excitement the visit engendered. This was only made possible by the generous amount of time given by the lecturers and staff to make this event so successful.”

The pupils attending the event were from Cardinal Allen Catholic High School, Fleetwood High School, Montgomery Academy, Armfield Academy, Highfield Leadership Academy, and St Mary’s Catholic Academy in Blackpool and Fleetwood.

The Charity of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists through a small grant covered some of the travel and accommodation expenses for the event and the Lancastrians in London funded the transport costs for the girls and school staff.

Lancaster University has a strong track record in cyber security. It is a National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Centre (EPSRC) recognised Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security for both research and education.

In addition, the university recently announced a £19 million investment in Security and Protection Science that will further build on and enhance Lancaster’s excellence in this area.

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