For the third year in a row, a squad of Benjamin Franklin High School students will head to Washington D.C. on Tuesday to compete in Cyber Patriot, the Air Force Association's National High School Cyber Defense Competition.
This year, Franklin beat out more than 1,000 other high schools to become one of only 12 squads to qualify in the tournament's open division.
The seven-member squad goes by the name Unbreakable, a moniker that coach Yenny Yi said perfectly sums up their spirit.
"Unbreakable symbolizes our strong bond that we have built throughout the time we have had together. Unbreakable is how we view our spirits," Yi said. "No matter the obstacles placed in our paths, our spirits have remained strong and have in fact grown stronger as we have overcome them."
Through Cyber Patriot, students are challenged to locate and neutralize security threats within computer systems. The grueling competitions can last between three to six hours, with students racing against the clock to eliminate threats before time expires.
"A typical problem you see in a Cyber Patriot rounds could be something that a hacker tampered with in your system, something that poses a suspicious and really obvious security threat," said team captain William Wong, a senior at Franklin High School. "Something like a backdoor, or a virus or a misconfigured setting, which would allow any hackers to get into your computer."
Though cyber-security is an emerging field across the globe--it was mentioned by President Barack Obama during his most recent Sate of the Union address--it's not included in many schools' curricula. At Franklin, Cyber Patriot is run through the UCLA After-School Program. Though Yi, who is the director of the after-school program, provides guidance and support, the students are mostly responsible for training each other in the realm of cyber defense.
Franklin Alumnus Dante Mabin, now a student at Pasadena City College, explained that he first learned about the competition through a leadership program he was enrolled in while a senior in high school. He was intrigued by the idea, and recruited friends from his AP physics and calculus classes to form a squad.
"We just put the team together," he said. "We had barely any idea what we were supposed to do. We just spent a lot of time working really hard, and we ended up in the finals that first year."
Franklin's squad is comprised entirely of Latino and Asian-American students and includes two females, something Yi said is a rarity in the competition. Given the makeup of the squad, Mabin, who is now a team coach, said they have the opportunity to change perceptions about the ability of female and minority students to excel in the world of science and technology.
"It feels great to be representing Franklin, knowing that we're from a kind of bad neighborhood," Mabin said. "The way people are always talking about us is as 'the gang riddled depths of L.A.', I really remember that quote. I'd like to show everyone in the United States that Franklin, that Los Angeles, isn't necessarily a bunch of hoodlums. That there are things like after-school programs that really do change peoples' lives."
Update: An earlier version of this story reporter that Dante Mabin was a team captain, he is in fact a team coach.