AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – After months of planning and plenty of requests from the community, the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center is giving a whole new experience to the next generation.

“We are super excited to have Cyber Georgia STEMfest–first time we’ve ever that we’ve had it here at the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center,” said Director of Outreach and Engagement Todd Gay. “We have so many schools in the area that want to know what’s going on at this great facility.”

The STEMfest is the first of it’s kind here in Augusta. It was created after many from schools in the CSRA requested to tour the facility, along with giving their students an opportunity to learn more about the industry.

For Wednesday’s event, there were 10 local high schools in attendance, spanning across Richmond, Columbia, Aiken, and Lincoln counties.

They include Aiken, Davidson, Greenbrier, Grovetown, Lincoln County, Midland Valley, Silver Bluff, Westminster, Evans, and North Augusta high schools.

There were also attendees from a private school, magnet school, and homeschool as well.

The center broke all of the schools up into three different teams: green, blue, and orange.

Everyone started out with a virtual capture-the-flag game, and as the day went on, each team broke out into three different areas.

The activities included a rainbow fruit makerspace lab, a resident partner vendor fair, and an escape room.

On top of the activities, students got to learn about careers in the cyber industry, and got pep talks from representatives at the center, including Executive Director Eric Toler, and Dr. Tom Clark at the CSRA Alliance for Fort Eisenhower.

Those from Evans High School say this was a phenomenal experience for them.

“Being able to participate in events ran by professionals like the people here at the cyber center gives me that experience that I need to push further, and to know where I need to revise my skills at,” said Thomas Murillo-Bivins, a student at the school.

Steven Hahn teaches cyber security and computer science at the school, and he says after building the program for the last 6 years, but his students had a one-of-a-kind opportunity for learning at the center.

“It’s fantastic. I can’t duplicate this experience in the classroom. And I tell my students all the time: I can teach you something and you can read it in a book, but to come here it’s self-critiquing. So you can see what you do know, and what you don’t know,” said Hahn.

We also spoke to a few homeschoolers, and some say they heard about the event through their parents. Not knowing what to expect going in, they say it was a special treat.

“I love learning about this, I think it’s very good. It’s set up very well, they just have a lot more than I thought there was gonna be here. I thought it was just going to be a very simple thing, but it’s very interactive and they’re teaching us a lot today,” said Josiah Stanley.

“I like this a lot. I love computers, I love the idea of hacking and coding and stuff like that, so I really like being here,” said Yoshiah Spencer.

Gay says the biggest goal for those in attendance is to allow the kids to have a blast, while also preparing them for what could lie ahead.

“Part of our mission is to develop the cyber security workforce–and we need people to fill those jobs,” said Gay.

“As we’re trying to fill those jobs, these students need to know more about this industry, we need to help train them, we need to get them around innovation that’s taking place, we need to have them talk to our resident partners, and guide them along the way to show them that the future is bright in that field.”

He says that going forward, the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center will hold STEMfest twice a year.

The next event is scheduled for April 2024, and this time the middle schoolers will have their chance to get involved.

To find more information, you can visit their website here.