(TNS) — Students slowly sauntered off a Norcom High School bus in Portsmouth Tuesday for an 8:30 a.m. summer camp class. But they perked up when Gov. Terry McAuliffe greeted them at the door.
"Are you ready to learn?" he asked. "Are you ready for camp?"
The teens seemed shocked, and a little groggy, but McAuliffe said he had a lot to be excited about: 17,000 cybersecurity jobs in Virginia whose pay starts at $88,000.
While visiting CyberSecurity Camp, McAuliffe cited those statistics and told students they could get one of those jobs and fight hackers if they continue learning computer and technology skills.
They'd be able to protect digital files like tax returns and health information.
"I'm counting on you," he said. "We either fill these jobs, or these jobs go to another state."
The Portsmouth camp is one of more than 30 similar programs funded by a Virginia Department of Education grant. Portsmouth Public Schools partners with Norfolk State University to help run its program. Each camp cost about $62,500.
In the three-week course, about two dozen students use computer software to track data files and crack secret codes. It's called digital forensics and is often used to solve computer crimes.
During McAuliffe's visit, which attracted several top school and city officials, students participated in a mock missing-person exercise. They decoded a secret message and looked for hidden notes in pictures using the software.
Lashonna Odom cracked part of an encrypted message as the governor peered over her shoulder. Lashonna, who will be a senior in the fall, said the camp opened her eyes to the jobs in cybersecurity.
"It's mind-blowing," she said. Now she wants to minor in cybersecurity when she goes to college.
Students Danielle Doss and Nathaniel Irving said the camp will help them in the classroom and beyond.
"We have to catch up with everyone else, with the rest of the world," Nathaniel said.
"It is important because it is a huge range of fields that you can join," Danielle added.
School leaders thanked the governor and touted the division's efforts to equip students with important skills.
"My mission is to prepare students for today's and tomorrow's careers," Norcom Principal Laguna Foster said. "That will provide a high quality of life for them, their families and this community."
©2016 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.