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Academy of Arts, Sciences and Technology senior Brandon Panepinto said his time on the school’s CyberPatriot team has given him real world experience and an amazing chance to learn about networking and cybersecurity as a career.

AAST’s CyberPatriot team -- open to all high school grade levels, but made up of six seniors this year -- placed second in the state in a recent competition.

Because of the high placement, the team has been invited to participate in the 2019 Palmetto Cyber Defense Competition on April 13 at Trident Technical College in Charleston.

“Being able to participate in a competition like this is a real eye-opener for me, as it has shown which field I would like to pursue as my career,” Panepinto said. “CyberPatriot has provided me with an opportunity of a lifetime that, for me, I would not have had at another high school.”

April’s competition will pit eight teams from across the state against each other in tasks where they play the part of a newly-hired information technology professional. They must find and fix six cybersecurity vulnerabilities within virtual images and operating systems while maintaining critical services.

Blake Vaught, AAST teacher who serves as a mentor for the CyberPatriot group, said that during the six-hour competition, the team will take on the identity of a business or enterprise, possibly an online retail store or something similar.

Vaught said that the group is student-led and student-driven, and is mentored by an advisory group made up of HGTC professor Matt Servedio, local programmer Michael Siek, cybersecurity specialist Joe Stewart and Eileen Patoney from the S.C. Department of Commerce.

Senior Richard D’Anjolell is another member of the team.

“Before I joined this club, my knowledge of cybersecurity was essentially non existent. In this club, we dealt with many real-world situations, these were things such as unauthorized users, backdoor viruses, to something as simple as installing security updates,” D’Anjolell said. “It is because of this club that I now know not only how to protect my computer, but my network.”

The contest is sponsored by the Air Force Auxiliary, and the CyberPatriot program is run by the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Education Program.

The students who will participate in the competition will be: Panepinto, D’Anjolell, Gabe Resendiz Tlacomulco, Jarret Joseph, Andrew Abercrombie, and Chris Rice.

Vaught said these students are all in AAST’s computer science major, and the cybersecurity class was added just this year.

Principal Kelly Wilson said the school is looking forward to the competition.

“We’re just so excited,” Wilson said.

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