Hawaiian Girl Scout Esther is part of a generation that has grown up with technology. The internet, smartphones, and being constantly connected is her norm. But she knows that’s not the case for everyone—and that not being familiar with technology can carry high safety risks for vulnerable populations.
“Our lives are becoming increasingly dependent on technology, and with this dependence comes a higher risk of cybersecurity attacks such as phishing, malware, and viruses,” says Esther. “I was first made aware of this fact during a course I took called CompuGirls Hawaii, which I heard about through Girl Scouts. I specifically remember the website threatmap.checkpoint.com catching my attention. When I saw the sheer number of attacks that were taking place every minute, I knew that I had to do something about the issue.”
According to research Esther did before beginning her Gold Award project, nearly 600 billion dollars are lost annually due to cybercrime (source: Center for Strategic and International Studies) and human error accounts for around 95% of cybersecurity breaches (source: Cybint). Senior citizens are often affected most by these attacks, so to earn the Gold Award, Esther created an online course called CyberSafety 101.
“CyberSafety 101 consists of nine original lesson videos, as well as quizzes, interactive activities, and a list of over 40 websites to help participants easily find the information they need,” says Esther. “I included skits, real-world scenarios, and relevant statistics into the lessons to ensure that they were seen by participants as applicable and important to their own lives. CyberSafety 101 is also self-paced and completely free, which not only allows older adults to access the content easily, but also gives them the option to rewatch the videos whenever they need a refresher.”
While creating her course content, Esther worked with Jodi Ito, the chief information security officer at the University of Hawaii, to ensure all her information was accurate and up to date. Once the course was completed and ready for students, Esther introduced it to residents at two senior care homes, One Kalakaua and The Plaza at Waikiki. The course was met with positive reviews.
“I was very encouraged to receive comments such as, ‘This is an attractive and well-organized course’ and that students immediately used what they learned in some lessons,” says Esther.
Because of the positive early response, Esther was able to work with major organizations, including the largest senior center in the state, the Lanakila Multi-Purpose Senior Center, and AARP Hawaii, to make her course accessible to even more seniors. At the completion of her project, more than 500 users had visited her site to check out the course.
Her project also grabbed the attention of Prudential and the Hawaii state legislature. Prudential recognized Esther as an Emerging Visionary and she was recognized during the Hawaii State Education Week.
These enthusiastic responses have turned Esther’s project into a passion she plans to continue fueling after earning the Gold Award. Her site is free and accessible for anyone on the internet to use, thanks to funds awarded from Prudential that made it possible to purchase a domain. Esther also wants to grow the website into in-person classes.
“Moving forward, I’d like to team up with classmates to update the lesson videos, create tutorials, and include additional interactive activities,” she says. “Now that COVID-19 restrictions are lifting, I'd also love to extend the course beyond the digital realm by training members of the computer science club I co-founded at my school this year to run workshops for seniors on a regular basis.”
Esther has taught a lot of seniors how to be safer on the internet but earning the Gold Award has also taught her a few things about herself.
“As an introvert, my biggest challenge was reaching out to people whom I barely knew,” she says. “However, this process has helped me to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable, especially when it comes to networking. My Gold Award taught me how to take criticism constructively. Most of all, this project helped me to become a leader.
Five years ago, I could not imagine myself creating a cybersecurity curriculum, partnering with large organizations, or co-founding a computer science club. But now, here I am. I mean it when I say that if every girl was a Gold Award Girl Scout, the world would be a million times better.”
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