Peraton’s Partnership with the Cybersecurity Powerhouse of the Plains

What did you want to be when you were little?

Cathy Johnston, Peraton’s vice president of mission integration in Peraton’s Defense Mission and Health Solutions sector, wanted to be president; Jeff Berlet, senior technology director of Peraton’s Cyber Mission sector, wanted to be an astro physicist; Dakota State University (DSU) President José-Marie Griffiths, Ph.D., wanted to be a physicist and Nobel Peace Prize Winner; and DSU’s Vice President of Research and Economic Development and Co-founder of CybHER Ashley Podhradsky, Ph.D., wanted to be a lawyer.

Peraton’s Partnership with the Cybersecurity Powerhouse of the Plains
Dakota State University CybHER Security Camp

Regardless of where you live in the country, your career reflects a number of influences, including what you’re exposed and introduced to throughout your life. In June, Cathy and Jeff participated in DSU’s annual CybHER Security Camp, which introduces middle and high school girls to new possibilities within the world of STEM.

“Frequently, as girls, you are fed a myth that you’re not good at math and STEM,” said Cathy during her keynote speech. “That’s absurd.”

Drenched in technology and connected at the fingertips, this next generation knows who they want to be and what they want to pursue in the future. Below are some goals from the camp attendees.

Joelle, a rising senior, wants to work in cyber like her father. She’s majoring in computer information systems with a specialization in business analytics. She spent a full year creating the confidentiality exercise to help the DSU campers learn how to protect different levels of information online. “I’m glad I found it [cybersecurity] because this is where I’m supposed to be,” she concluded.

Kanthi Narukonda was introduced to the CybHER Security Institute as a graduate student working for Dr. Pam Rowland, co-founder, where she discovered a passion for teaching cybersecurity, especially to K-12 students. Five years later, Kanthi is now an assistant professor at DSU and CybHER director. She has a master’s degree in information assurance from DSU and is currently wrapping up a Ph.D. in cyber defense through the university.

“Cybersecurity is not only what is portrayed in the media. It doesn’t have to be entirely technical,” said Kanthi. “There are several aspects of cyber that focus on softer skills as well. At camp, the middle school girls can see that cyber is fun and a place for everyone. We offer learn by doing activities to reinforce the material. Seeing their faces light up is almost as enjoyable as teaching the concepts.”

Known as the powerhouse of the Plains, DSU’s innovative spirit resulted in their reputation becoming synonymous with cybersecurity.

Peraton’s Partnership with the Cybersecurity Powerhouse of the Plains
Dakota State University CybHER Security Camp

In the city of Madison, DSU students, faculty, and staff work on projects with direct impact on real world solutions, such as cyber agriculture, Internet of Things test beds, vulnerabilities of smart houses and connected devices, and researching automated vehicles to increase security.

Campers having been coming to DSU since its founding in 2014 to learn some of these core concepts. As a kindred spirit, Peraton is helping. Since 2021, Peraton has committed an annual $25,000 contribution, which goes towards student scholarships, equipment for outreach and the GenCyber girls camp (co-sponsored with the NSA). This year—the 10th anniversary of the camp’s founding—they welcomed rising 5th graders to the cohort.

“The students who attend our GenCyber Girls in CybHER summer camp are the future of our nation. No matter what careers they choose, they need to have a strong foundation in technology to make a positive impact in the world,” said José-Marie Griffiths, Ph.D., president, Dakota State University. “With the help of industry sponsors like Peraton, this camp has been able to provide the valuable skills they need, while motivating and empowering the campers. We look forward to continuing this outreach for many years.” DSU is one of 10 universities in the country with all three designations from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in cyber defense, cyber research, and cyber operations. In addition to the financial investment, Peraton has proudly supported the camp by contributing scholarships, internship opportunities, speakers, instructors, and industry insights to camp attendees.

“Having more women in the STEM workforce is imperative to our nation’s success,” said Rebecca McHale, chief human resources officer, Peraton. “Incorporating diverse perspectives enhances our collective ability to counter, defend, and prevent the onslaught of cyber threats facing our national security. Peraton is proud to help fuel the cyber pipeline by empowering the best and bring from our next generation.”

About Dakota State University

Dakota State University (DSU) is located in Madison, S.D. Founded in 1881, DSU offers undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs through its colleges of arts and sciences, business and information systems, computer and cyber sciences, and education. DSU has a special focus on the development, application, implications, and impacts of computing, information technologies and cyber security in all areas of human endeavor. DSU has received multiple Center of Academic Excellence designations in education, research and regional resource development from the U.S. National Security Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. DSU is home to the Madison Cyber Labs (MadLabs®), a cyber R&D hub with labs and institutes that explore and advance technology application, workforce development, business expansion, economic growth, and policy improvement across multiple disciplines and fields. For more information, contact, 605-270-3816, or visit the DSU website at


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