Women defend against hackers in exchange program

UNC Global’s partnership with Japan’s Nagoya University lets female undergraduates explore cybersecurity careers.

Large group of women posing with various signs.
Barbara Stephenson, Vice Provost for Global Affairs, smiles alongside Nagoya and Carolina students during the first part of the Women's Undergraduate Cybersecurity Engagement Program. (Photo by Walker Winslow)

UNC-Chapel Hill and Nagoya University in Japan have established the Women’s Undergraduate Cybersecurity Engagement Program. This innovative exchange is organized by the Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs and funded by the U.S. Embassy Tokyo Public Affairs Section.

The program “is a wonderful and practical opportunity for the female students from both universities to learn, experience and discuss cybersecurity with global peers,” said Tomohisa Koyama, co-organizer of the visit and executive director of NU Tech.

Seven female students from Nagoya University traveled to Chapel Hill in September for interactive workshops led by Carolina faculty, a site visit with the North Carolina Cybersecurity Task Force and a Tar Heel cultural exchange.

In December, seven female Carolina students will visit Nagoya to explore technical aspects of cybersecurity. Working in teams, they will defend against a hacking threat in a cybersecurity simulation.

Leading the Nagoya visit will be Erinn Whitaker and Tim Rose, who oversee the exchange program. Whitaker is a professor of the practice in the College of Arts and Sciences’ curriculum in peace, war and defense, and Rose is associate director for UNC Global Affairs sponsored and exchange programs.

“Our goal was to create a program that not only has valuable learning opportunities but also allows students to network, socialize and share experiences because that’s how they build lasting relationships,” said Rose.

Students from both universities said they enjoyed learning together and getting to know one another.

“This exchange program has been an amazing opportunity for me to learn about the intersection of cybersecurity and international cooperation. I am grateful to the UNC faculty and students for welcoming us. It was very inspiring to meet and talk with other women pursuing national security and computer science,” said Mariko Yoshida, a senior studying informatics at Nagoya University.

This global learning and networking opportunity was created with female students in mind, said Isabel Lucas, Carolina sophomore and student program coordinator.

“By deliberately creating an intentional space for women, we’re able to have conversations that we otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to have, and I think that’s really important,” said Lucas.” I can’t wait to continue the conversation in Japan this winter.”

Building professional relationships outside the U.S. helps students think about issues in a larger context, “outside of our classroom, outside of the University and even outside the United States,” Whitaker said. “This is a terrific opportunity to do that and to really push the boundaries of what’s possible.”

The women participating in this program represent diverse cultural backgrounds and fields of study beyond computer and data science, including engineering, medicine and nursing.

“Cybersecurity is not just a technical problem. It’s also a political and business problem that affects everyone,” said Rose. “This program goes beyond just educating students about cybersecurity. It brings women from allied nations together to work towards a greater goal.”

In 2022, the UNC Global Affairs launched exchange and sponsored programs with the goal of “bringing the world to Carolina,” one of the global goals in Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good, the University’s strategic plan.

In addition to the cybersecurity program, UNC Global Affairs has organized exchange programs with Nagoya University focused on entrepreneurship and biomedical engineering. Grant funding through the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will support additional exchanges this year. One will bring together indigenous youth from Ecuador and North Carolina, and another will foster empowerment through the arts with women from Jordan and North Carolina.

Read more about the Women’s Undergraduate Cybersecurity Engagement Program