(TNS) -- In order to attract youth into careers such as cybersecurity and other high-tech fields, young people have to be exposed to them at an early age.

As part of an effort to attract girls, Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Business Administration hosted more than 130 girls at its CyberGirlz 3 competition on Oct. 3.

The girls, middle school and high school students enrolled at Los Angeles Unified schools, spent the day participating in a variety of activities, including a resource fair where they’ll meet professionals from companies such as Facebook, CyberPatriot, Cisco and Ernest and Young.

The girls also took part in a competitive game of “Capture the Flag,” where they searched for vulnerabilities in multiple computer operating systems.

“We know that between the ages of 12 to 17 is an important time in developing passions,” said Dan Manson, chairman of Cal Poly’s computer information systems departments. “By the time they enter college, it may be too late. That’s why it’s imperative to foster their interest and passion for technology now.”

Manson and L.A. Unified have collaborated since 2011 on projects designed to inspire thousands of high school students to participate in CyberPatriot, a national cybersecurity competition. CyberGirlz came about after the two noticed less than 25 percent of participants nationwide were female.

Yenny Yi, coach of Franklin High School’s CyberPatriot team, has been one of the event’s key organizers since its inception. Seeing the negative impact a lack of diversity in the tech industry can create, she decided to get involved.

“I felt that an event like CyberGirlz is necessary given than so many young girls are interested in the tech field but don’t realize it’s something they can do as a career,” Yi said. “Creating a place to facilitate discussion, encouraging exploration of knowledge and challenging stereotypes is an integral part of the process to create change. We hope to start that conversation.”

CyberGirlz 3 is part of L.A. Unified’s Beyond the Bell program and the National Science Foundation, which provides grants that help fund CyberWatch West, a non-profit organization that promoted the development of a cybersecurity work force. Cal Poly Pomona is an academic partner of the consortium.

©2015 the San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.