More than 160 middle- and high-school students from around Augusta gathered Wednesday to test their skills in cybersecurity at a Capture the Flag event at Georgia Cyber Center.

Even at age 12, Grant Osterbuhr and Tucker Messer are gearing up to defend the country from cyber threats. The two already participate in the CyberPatriot cyber education program at Greenbrier Middle School and both are thinking about a cybersecurity career through the Air Force.

“It will only become more important as time moves on and more cyber threats emerge,” Tucker said.

They were among 165 middle- and high-school students gathered Wednesday in a first-ever Capture the Flag event for those students at Georgia Cyber Center. The event’s main sponsor was Parsons, a leading cybersecurity, defense and intelligence contractor who is expanding its Augusta operations at the center.

“Parsons definitely sees the benefit in getting this passion cultivated as early as possible in some of these kids,” said Tom Barnes, director of cyber operations for Parsons in Georgia. “We’re looking for that next spark within them and hopefully this will light a fire and turn that spark into a little bit more of a fire” for cybersecurity.

The big turnout for the event was “a pretty good testament to the interest that we’ve seen so far” in cyber in the area, Barnes said. It’s also one reason Parsons wanted to make sure recruiters from Augusta University were on hand to talk to students about the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences.

“You get people in here, you get them interested, high schoolers, bringing them in and you get them to stay here locally in Augusta University, going through their Cyber program,” Barnes said. “And then all of the vendors, not just Parsons, has the ability to recruit (and hire them).”

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