UMGC’s Cyber Padawans Take 3rd Place at Cyber Maryland Competition

The University of Maryland Global Campus’ cybersecurity team, known as the Padawans, took third place in the Maryland Cyber Challenge on Dec. 6, competing against teams from universities from all over the country as well as the state.

With its wealth of cybersecurity students that often draws adult learners from the military, UMGC fielded two teams for the competition, said their coach, Jesse Varsalone, an associate professor of Computer Networks and Cyber Security.

“Four of the six members of the team that finished in third place are in the military or are veterans,” he said. “That separates us from other colleges that typically field traditional-age students.”

Two of the UMGC team members are active duty military, he said. Davy Moreno is also a member of the Navy’s Capture the Flag Team while Paul Chilcote serves in the Air Force. Both are undergraduates.

Chris Haller is a Navy veteran, while Ryan Kempker served in the Air Force. Both are graduate students.

The competition, known as “Capture the Flag,” invites students to test their cybersecurity skills in real-world scenarios. Teams work together on both offensive and defensive operations, testing their skills in reverse engineering, network analysis and malware analysis.

More than 20 colleges and universities competed in the Maryland Cyber Challenge, with the team from the University of Maryland Baltimore County finishing first.

“It’s a great way for people to get involved outside of the classroom to test their skills,” Varsalone said. Some of the university’s participants were there for the third year, while others were competing for the first time.

While most of the UMGC students already are employed in cybersecurity jobs, the competition also attracts employers seeking talent.

“Employers like to hire people who do this because they know this is more like a passion for the competitors,” Varsalone said. “This is something you live and breathe, you really enjoy, and you find fun.”

James Chisholm-Williams is currently interning as a Systems Administrator for Amtrak while he finishes a bachelor’s degree. John Dela Guardia has an associate’s degree from Montgomery Community College and is enrolled in UMGC’s Completion Scholarship program, which allows Maryland community college graduates to complete a bachelor’s degree at UMGC for approximately $20,000, including the cost of the associate degree.

The undergraduates are pursuing degrees in Cyber Security Policy and Management, and Computer Networks and Cybersecurity and Software Development.

“They are successful already,” Varsalone said. “This will cement that and I believe will take them to another level.”