Rock Ridge Student Wins Step Up Finale

Rock Ridge Student Wins Step Up Finale

Living in one of the internet’s most important hubs, a Loudoun County high school student has created an affordable way to further protect online security for companies and the people they serve.

As part of the 2017 Step Up Loudoun Youth Competition, Rock Ridge High School student Kriti Ganotra created “Call of Security,” a portable CPU built to combat cyber threats. With Loudoun hosting close to 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic in more than 60 data centers, Ganotra’s program could have an immediate local impact.

“If one day Loudoun County’s network would go down, the net worth in our nation would go down,” Ganotra said.

While looking for ways to secure her own online presence, Ganotra said she began researching vulnerability scanners, which find openings in a network vulnerable to hackers. She created a device that costs about $50, scans every item on an individual’s network, and identifies security risks.

A panel of judges including Loudoun business, community and education leaders saw the project’s potential impact, and gave Ganotra the first-place prize in this year’s competition, which included $1,000 for her to fund her security system.

“Put it Down!”, an effort by middle school students Freya Panchamia, Saumya Sharma, Paras Sarjapur and Lyush Hoysal to combat distracted driving, took second place among 10 finalists at the competition, held in One Loudoun on April 5.

John Champe students Palak Shah and Areej Khan took third place for “Clean Kits”, an initiative that collects and distributes feminine hygiene protects for homeless women.

“Supporting them peer-to-peer is the only thing that is going to solve these issues,” said Step Up Loudoun founder Carol Kost. “As adults, we can do programs all we want, but unless the kids endorse them as ‘cool’, they’re not going to come to a program, they’re not going to engage.”

The program started in 2005 as a way for area students to share, and ultimately help solve, issues at their schools and communities. That’s manifested in the students’ projects, which tackle issues like preventing bullying, protecting the environment and overcoming stress. Several students have formed nonprofits from previous year’s projects, and a record 225 students participated in Step Up this year, creating 80 teams of middle and high school students.

Starting in October, Step Up program coordinators assist Loudoun middle and high schools to promote the competition with guidance counselors, teachers and students. The groups then create presentations to address and help resolve issues, following by a panel selection of the top 10 projects.

Step Up is one of several initiatives sponsored by Loudoun Youth, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization started in 2005. Loudoun Youth facilitates out-of-school activities, with the stated goal of “helping teens become confident and contributing members of the community.”

Along with the county’s public school system, Loudoun Youth partners with groups including the Loudoun County Parks, Recreation and Community Services department, the Loudoun Youth Advisory Council, Leadership Loudoun and the Advisory Commission on Youth. Since 2005, Loudoun Youth has raised and invested over $1 million for youth programs throughout the county including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Loudoun Chamber, Odyssey of the Mind and the YMCA. Along with the Step Up Competition, Loudoun Youth also facilitates Loudoun Youth Leadership Program, Battle of the Bands, YouthFest, the Youth Advisory Council and the Step up Your Health Challenge.”