Houston, Texas, Nov. 22, 2021 – Two Houston Baptist University (HBU) cyber engineering teams took home first and second-place awards in the Capture the Flag (CTF) competition on Nov. 17 at the annual AFCEA Alamo Conference in San Antonio, Texas.
The AFCEA, formerly known as the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, is a professional association for individuals engaged in defense, security and related technology disciplines. It is a member-based, non-profit association that provides highly sought-after thought leadership, engagement, and networking opportunities. The organization offers military, government, industry, academic organizations, and individual memberships worldwide with over 1200 members in San Antonio, the home base of the Air Force Cyber Command and other cybersecurity-related military and academic programs.
The annual conference brings cybersecurity professionals who are focused on the defense of the nation’s cyberinfrastructure together from around the country. The CTF contest, sponsored by Deloitte, one of the world’s largest auditing and accounting companies, is a competitive event where undergraduate and graduate college students compete to solve challenges related to different areas of cybersecurity, including forensics, cryptography, reverse engineering, web and network attacks, and more.
HBU seniors, Nicholas Belbas, Brian Davis, Alberto Macias, and Shaif Salehin, walked away with the competition’s first-place award and are among the first class of students to pursue the University’s new Cyber Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science degrees. The team will be among the first cohort of students to graduate from the programs in May 2022. Prior to the competition, each student has taken part in internships, received specialized certification, and taken academic courses designed to prepare them as cyber defenders. They also took part in the National Cyber League annual competitions which equipped participants with additional hands-on experience in cybersecurity.
Belbas spoke on behalf of his team and described the competition as “a really good experience” that enabled team members to use their existing knowledge and learn new concepts.
Second-place team winners included Caroline Gillaspy, Olachi Ajawara, Ethan Schellingerhout and Ariel Lee. The team practiced various cybersecurity principles during the contest and learned problem-solving skills and strategies through their collaboration.
Schellingerhout called the experience a “great opportunity” that enabled him to practice his cybersecurity skills as well as get to know his fellow teammates. “I look forward to competing again next year and scoring even higher,” said the HBU sophomore.
Gillaspy, an HBU senior, valued the opportunity to gain new knowledge and problem-solving strategies through her own discovery process and as a member of a dedicated team. “I got to learn about new tools and methods on how to approach digital forensics challenges,” shared Gillaspy.
Dr. Katie Evans, HBU Dean of College of Science and Engineering, expressed immense pride in the University’s winning teams.
“To place 1st and 2nd in their first Capture the Flag event is a huge achievement for these eight students and a testimony of the outstanding teaching and mentorship of our faculty. God is richly blessing our academic programs as we seek to infuse the importance of good moral character and ethical standards in our students as they learn to guard against the cybersecurity threats facing our world,” said Evans.
Contest participants were mentored by faculty members Dr. Melissa Carlton, Dr. Marian Zaki, and Lester Leonares, Director of Project-Based Labs.
In previous years, AFCEA contest winners hailed from Texas A&M University and St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.