Pay it forward: Michael Polzin trains students to fight cyber threats

Michael Polzin
Michael Polzin Credit: Lila Aryan

Michael Polzin
Chief executive officer
Leeward Business Advisors
Nonprofit served: Air Force Association’s National Youth, Cyber Defense Competition
Service: Team coach

For the past two years, Leeward Business Advisors chief executive officer Michael Polzin has coached a group of middle school students on how to ward off cyber attacks.

The Kenosha-based technology consulting and services firm has hosted teams of local seventh- and eighth-grade girls as part of CyberPatriot, an initiative of the Air Force Association designed to encourage students into careers related to cybersecurity and other STEM fields.

As part of the national program, IT industry volunteers coach students as if they were newly hired IT professionals tasked with managing the network of a small company. Students compete in a series of online competitions, where they are given a set of virtual operating systems and must find and fix cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

When Polzin first heard about the Air Force initiative, he reached out to Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum, a charter school of the Kenosha Unified School District, about taking on a team of students.

“It’s an opportunity for youth to both gain skills in the area of IT and cybersecurity as well as simply gaining overall exposure to the technology industry,” he said. “From my perspective, as we grow and seek to acquire additional staffing, a lot of youth don’t have a clear perspective on what a role in IT and tech would look like.”

Polzin said he also sees the program as a way to encourage greater diversity in the talent pipeline.

“It’s one of the least diverse industries today, which is extremely unfortunate,” he said. “Due to the rate of cyber threats, we need as much participation as we can get. The more experiences and real-life backgrounds that come into the industry, the better balanced the industry will be.”

This year, Polzin and LeewardBA operations engineer Cassese Polzin coached a team of five girls, who participated in a series of four-hour-long Saturday morning practices, along with several all-day online competitions at the firm’s office.

Polzin plans to grow LeewardBA’s participation in the CyberPatriot programs, including creating a summer CyberCamp, adding high-school teams and opening up the program to students from all Kenosha Unified schools.

At the end of the season, LeewardBA hosts a lock-in for the students, who, at the end of the sleepover, prepare and serve breakfast to their parents to thank them for sacrificing their weekends.

“It really gives the students an opportunity with their families to demonstrate what they’ve done, how they’ve grown and complete that pay-it-forward cycle,” Polzin said.

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.