Cybersecurity Club Survival Guide: How to Create and Run an Effective Cybersecurity Club

It starts with two. The desire to share, connect, discuss, and express. A shared passion, a similar interest. It could begin with two students, or faculty, or a student-teacher interaction that inspires out-of-classroom interaction.

A line from The Mentor’s Manifesto reads:

This is it… this is where I belong… I know everyone here… even if I’ve never met them, never talked to them, may never hear from them again… I know you all…

And we are hackers. Not the hoodie-wearing criminal stereotypes – but curious explorers, tinkerers, and makers. We want to share our inventions, our tricks, our experiences. Maybe we want to show off a bit or gain acceptance. Why is that we have those desires?

Soon the two become four, then eight, and so on… the group forms until it becomes a regular hangout. Why do we need a formal club? We have all that we need, don’t we? What can a club do for us?

A research study by Volunteer Toronto reveals the reasons why people join formal groups:

  • 93% To make a contribution to the community
  • 77% To use their skills and experiences
  • 59% They have been personally affected by cause/mandate
  • 50% To explore their own strengths
  • 48% To network or meet new people
  • 47% Their friends/family volunteer
  • 23% To improve and increase job opportunities
  • 22% To fulfill religious obligations or beliefs

So, most people join an organization, such as a club, group, or association to make a contribution. This is important to understand if you want to have a successful organization. Volunteer groups should never lose sight of what the motives are that bring people back each week.

People like to feel needed. Some just want a change of pace, or to belong to a larger community. Some are there to help others, or make new friends and associations. Still others are exploring career options, advocate for a cause, or to learn new skills. But one thing unites all these objectives: passion.

Passion is what keeps a person coming back and inspires them to do something they have never tried before. Passion can be a hard thing to hold onto once the group transitions from an informal hangout to a formal meeting. The last thing you want to do is create another class or lecture for the students to attend, run by a faculty member. What then, can the club give them, that they don’t already have?

Throughout this series, there will be specific notes for Faculty, Leadership, Students, and Sponsors. These are the key roles that all contribute meaningfully to the health of a volunteer, student-run organization. I will often refer to this organization as a club, as that is what they were called on my campus. However, any term will do. I personally prefer the idea of a club as it suggests less formality, but each organization will find a term to suit its own needs. I do recommend picking a name for the organization that you would be comfortable putting on a resume. 31iT3 H@x0rz 5-3v3r just doesn’t have employers banging down the door to hire you.

Faculty does have an important role, however, we will come to that later in the series. For now, faculty should facilitate the discussion, and let the students decide what kind of club they want. It is important that students are allowed to take ownership of the club from the beginning. For this week, and for the first meeting to talk about the formation of a club, focus on two main objectives: Where we will meet, and when we will meet. The place and the time should be consistent. Communication within an organization in its infancy is often a kind of organized chaos.

Take note of who shows up, gather names and contact information. Don’t be surprised if not everyone wants to put their name on paper. Often, people need to establish trust before giving out such details. For those that do, this is the first step – the contact list is a commitment that they want to see more, want to know about the development of the club.

A good number to aim for is ten – you will need at least that many in order to satisfy minimal requirements to create a club. Do some research about your college requirements to make sure. If you can’t make this number, then consider broadening your purpose – include more interests and areas in the group. Sometimes, you may need to create a subgroup within an existing group until you get your numbers up, such as a security subgroup of the computer club, professional development group, computer science, or code club.

Some other objectives for the first meeting should include a general discussion about key roles, such as faculty sponsor and official points-of-contact. In our very first meeting we had an impromptu election. In retrospect, I might have waited until the second meeting for this. For one, if a person shows up for both meetings, it indicates seriousness of intent; also, it gives people some time to warm up to the idea of volunteering.

In the coming weeks, the group will draft a statement of purpose, create a charter, write a constitution, determine membership requirements, and adopt a leadership style. Organizers will need to work with several administrators from the college and student government associations, or perhaps even find a sponsor or faculty advisor. This series will walk you through each of these steps one at a time.

One last thing that I would recommend is to consider partnering with a professional organization such as (ISC)2, WiCyS (Women in Cybersecurity), NCSA (National Cybersecurity Student Association), or ISSA (Information Systems Security Association) to create a student chapter. This can simplify the process of creating a club by meeting with chapter development representative that can provide starter kits. These organizations all provide great help to startup new chapters, often providing a “starter kit”. For example, at the NCSA (where I am a Director for Chapter Development), we provide a starter kit with the following:

  • Bylaws Template
  • Meeting Minutes Template
  • Guide to Better Board Meeting Minutes
  • How-to Guide for Establishing an NCSA Chapter
  • Semester Status Report Template
  • Presentation for Student Chapters
  • Student Association Flyer Template

Chapter benefits also include access to conferences, speakers, scholarships, internships, and mentors. The club does not have to start out as a charter, they can always form a subgroup within the club to affiliate with these organizations as the club grows.

This mini series will publish over the next four weeks, we will explore the following topic together:

  • How to Create a Statement of Purpose and Draft a Charter for a New Cybersecurity Club
  • Leadership Methodologies for Running an Effective Cybersecurity Club
  • How to Organize Events and Meetings, Invite Speakers, and Attract Sponsors for a New Cybersecurity Club
  • Lessons Learned from the First Year of a New Cybersecurity Club

Please feel free to contact me with specific questions. You can send me comments @MakoMcGill on Twitter. My goal is to have a Cyber Club on every campus that participates in the NCL!

Thank you for following this series! The next post in this series can be found here:

Cybersecurity Club Survival Guide: How to Create a Statement of Purpose and Draft a Charter for a New Cybersecurity Club

‘Mako’ McGill

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