Hello all, thanks for visiting this article. I am Yansi Keim (former President of WiCyS Purdue University Chapter). Today, I am sharing my experience and advice on running a successful and engaging Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) Chapter. My intended audience is
- someone who is just starting a WiCyS chapter at their school/university,
- or someone who is in the middle of running their chapter and looking for advice on retaining women/better engagement/fostering connections,
- or someone transitioning their Presidency role to someone new/old and want to pass on all nitty-gritty of running their chapter.
Regardless of wherever you are studying geographically on the globe, if you can think of starting a chapter, you can absolutely do it. Nothing can hold you back. Your motivation to start a WiCyS chapter can come from anywhere. It could be through WiCyS mission, their or other’s social media, WiCyS annual conference, exchanged in-person stories, or through this blog. Just don’t let that thought go away quickly. I joined Purdue’s chapter as an international Ph.D. student who had just come to the United States, migrating from an Indian educational system. If you’re from India, you know we don’t have a massive culture of cybersecurity (CSEC) clubs, and almost none exist focusing on women’s gender in this domain. So, having a space like that gives you an instant feeling of belonging. I also found that WiCyS Purdue had a faculty advisor (Dr. Ida Ngambeki) backing the chapter’s effort, which enhanced my confidence in the chapter’s credibility. Therefore, go lookout if your school has a WiCyS chapter. If not, find and convince a faculty mentor and start one in your school!
But you will ask why I should take so much pain in starting something like that, not just join CSEC clubs on Discord or Slack? You’re right. I am a member of at least 100+ cybersecurity clubs worldwide on Discord, Slack, LinkedIn, and Twitter combined. But, do you have a zest for contributing to the CSEC domain? Technical avenues consist of sharing your knowledge on CSEC tools such as Wireshark, John the Ripper, Metasploit, etc. Are you good and willing to share your everyday CSEC knowledge gained from classes, news, Google, and Twitter articles with others? Do you seek to ask/share your advice on what CSEC classes to take/drop at your school? Do you want to share the methodology you devised to solve a critical CSEC problem in a Capture the Flag (CTF) competition, or just came across your friend solving it? Every single thing you can possibly imagine in this domain is worth sharing with others. As girls/women, we tend to keep questions/doubts to ourselves, but guess what? With a club like this, you can openly ask things even remotely associated with CSEC. In the end, people will remember you for creating something extraordinary, your desire to create a safe space for women in your school, something they always thought of initiating but couldn’t. Trust me on this; there’s no better feeling than to help people. Sometimes it could be a single person, but that’s okay; you got to start somewhere. The appreciation you’re going to get along the way is all worth it because you have established yourself as a President/leader. You only need to get the ball rolling!
Perk #1: Did I mention that the President of a WiCyS club gets a guaranteed scholarship to attend their annual conference? PS: You still have to apply.
Established a WiCyS chapter, what’s next? Events!
Congratulations!!! on your first steps towards awesomeness. Now, time to make this even bigger. Find a partner, the more, the merrier. It’s in my nature to work with at least one or more people; I thrive that way. Find a person interested in leadership or organizing events. Someone who has a general interest in cybersecurity and believes we’re here to put a dent in this universe (Steve Jobs). Next, schedule a call-out and design a poster, get creative with it and circulate it over campus and on your social media (if at that time exists). Take inspiration from other chapters’ Instagram accounts. Purdue alone designed more than 50 posters in the last three years. Call women from all the tech majors who have the slightest interest in CSEC. This call-out would enhance women’s engagement and act as an initial attempt at women’s retention.
“I feel that we should always put a little art into what we do. It’s better that way.” ― Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon
You can keep this call-out casual, fun, introductory, and welcoming. Introduce yourself and your board (if at that time exists), describe the agenda and end it with socializing, playing games, etc. Your agenda could either be looking for women members to join your club in leadership/member positions or could be a monthly scheduled call-out that happens every semester for the newer and existing batch of first-year undergrads/grad students. It is recommended to have two to three call-outs in the first two months of every academic semester.
Perk #2: WiCyS provides monetary funds to help establish your chapter. It’s a decent amount of money, so start planning your events and submit your plan when applications are open! In our case, we got them twice because we strategically planned and executed events on time.
Perk #3: Every WiCyS Student Chapter can request exclusive WiCyS SWAG for free.
Plan more diverse events once you get the ball rolling and have sufficient members to take things forward. For example,
- Invite professional speakers from the industry,
- Do cross-collaborations with other chapters,
- Online coffee chats with professionals who cannot visit your school in person, WiCyS Speaker Resource (details below), Twitter, and Linkedin are your best friends to connect with professionals.
- Talk with fellow women-eccentric CSEC organizations (not limited to) and raise awareness about your chapter, such as Women Society of Cyberjustsu, BBWIC Foundation, WISP, EmPoWE-R, etc.
- Invite professors from your school to come to talk to students. These professors can talk about classes and expectations, undergoing research projects, upcoming research projects, and tips to survive undergrad/grad school.
- University Connect Sessions, where potential recruiters come and talk about the open roles at their companies. The best time to hold these sessions is during the Fall semester as everyone is searching for the next Summer interns.
- Organize Social Events for your chapter student members. These help them relax and bond. Before finals, assemble and distribute care packages (if you have the funds). Plan painting events (WiCyS provides lovely designs that you can print and color), stress buster activities, movie nights, etc.
- Special Events — WiCyS Scholarship Guide session where past WiCyS scholars can talk about steps for drafting the scholarship application. Classes 101, where sophomores, juniors, and seniors can advise their younger folks about courses.
- Tech Talks — Organize events where individuals/groups cover CSEC topics (eg. Reconnaissance, Scanning, Access Control). It could be an introductory event like Intro to Malware to diving deep like Dissecting a Malware using Dynamic Analysis.
Perk #4: Thanks to WiCyS Speakers Resource, you don’t have to network with professionals from scratch and explain why you want them to come to talk at your WiCyS club. Barely mentioning WiCyS in your introductory message will help a ton.
Perk #5: WiCyS has a dedicated Job Board, a bi-annual virtual career, and a physical career fair at WiCyS annual conference where numerous recruiters post their open CSEC roles all around the year.
Networking is always essential to elevate your and others’ careers (academic or professional). Having given my consecutive 20+ years to academia (High School, Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, and Ph.D. (in progress)) I am filled with the wisdom of making the right set of friends, making mistakes, and learning from them, making mentors, knowing your peers, and being nice to people. Luckily, at WiCyS, we have Lynn Dohm, Dr. Vitaly Ford, Dr. Ambareen Siraj, their whole team, and fellow chapters who extend their help beyond expectation. You will never feel alone in the entire voyage of running your chapter successfully. First and foremost, join WiCyS Chapter’s Discord. The server has numerous requests incoming in the context of running a chapter, activities one can do, the kind of functional roles a chapter should have, and many more. Someone will make sure that you get your query answered.
Perk #6: WiCyS maintains a dedicated website of its WiCyS Chapters. Check this resource to know your fellow chapters, and maybe invite them for cross-collaborations.
What does a WiCyS Board look like?
Roles among a WiCyS Board depend on chapter rules at your university. At WiCyS Purdue, it was only mandatory to have three officers and two student members — President, Treasurer, and Secretary. But as our chapter entered its second year, we added dedicated roles for better recruitment and retention of women. We defined the following additional officer roles along with a description of responsibilities:
- Social Media Manager (two people) — we needed two people because our social media spanned across our Website, LinkedIn, Twitter, Discord, GroupMe, and BoilerLink (Purdue).
- Council Liaison, responsible for spreading awareness among inter-campus organizations and bringing collaboration.
- Social Outreach Manager is responsible for spreading awareness among intra-campus organizations and bringing collaboration.
- Event Coordinator
- Graduate Student Advisor is responsible for spreading awareness among graduate students and engaging in research avenues.
If you’re just starting, don’t get overwhelmed by these roles, you can begin simply with two to three members. As the club expands, feel free to add these or other roles depending on your club requirement.
Perk #7: Take photos of everything, every call-out, every board you set up, every meeting. If you tag #wicysorg on your Instagram stories, they will reshare your post. This helps your work in reaching out to maximum people.
Perk #8: They say, “create opportunities for yourself” and WiCyS is the place to do so. I was the first-ever graduate student to join the WiCyS Purdue club. A little after four months of student membership, I proposed a role for myself, “Graduate Student Advisor,” and got elected to the board. Soon after, I was elected to be the “President” of the club. 2 years later, we won “The Best Student Chapter Award” at WiCyS 2022 conference.
Diversity among Student Members of your Chapter
Remember, a university has both undergraduate and graduate populations. So, do not limit your chapter to either cohort. Grad students need an amicable environment as much undergrads do. In my experience, grad students are more than willing to deliver Tech Talk sessions (discussed above). Although I understand, finding and bringing them to the chapter could be an issue. So, reach out to teaching/research faculty at your school since they know this population well. Women professors would understand the cause, and male professors won’t mind. It’s faster this way, and if it’s coming through a faculty, there will be a sense of trust.
Today, Purdue is 150 student members strong, only because everyone believed in it and worked towards it. And I believe in you, so grab this opportunity and make something incredible. If you have any more questions regarding club formation, voting procedures, recruitment of board and student members or others, or description of roles, feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn.