NICERC’s GB Cazes writes about cyber-education and workforce development in the Spring 2015 edition of the United States Cybersecurity Magazine.
What do you want to be when you grow up? This is a timeless question teachers across the country ask their students. A typical response: doctor, nurse, lawyer, fireman, veterinarian. While these are great occupations, today’s workforce not only includes these professions but also great opportunities for computer and data scientists, cybersecurity directors, digital forensics analysts, cyber threat managers, and other cyber-focused careers. As a generation with empowering, educating, and developing out future leaders and workforce, our responsibility is simple: at an early age students must be introduced to and prepared for cyber opportunities, including current career fields and those that do not yet exist.
The nation and its citizens face an active and growing cyber threat and a critical shortage of cybersecurity professionals. To ensure our nation’s future security and economic growth, we must build a strong cyber workforce. Today, there are over 340,000 unfilled cybrsecurity jobs. 1 Further, a report to the President by the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology says, “The nation will require approximately one million more science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals than what will be produced at current rates over the next decade.” 2 Building a strong STEM foundation in the early years is the key to getting students interested in related degrees and careers. Today’s workforce requires students to possess STEM skills in order to be globally competitive.
The National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (NICERC), an academic division of the Cyber Innovation Center in Bossier City, Louisiana, was created to design, develop, and advance both cyber and STEM academic outreach and workforce development programs across the region and nation. NICERC’s objectives are to nationally disseminate innovative practices in cyber education; to promote a culture of educational innovation; to serve as a catalyst or future research in cyber education; and to provide a focal point for continued interdisciplinary collaboration in STEM education reform. Cyber is like a well-written essay: before we can expect students to start writing, we must teach them the alphabet — and that foundation for success is what we provide through our NICERC programs.
NICERC programs have become a national model for cybr education, focusing on teacher professional development, curricular design, and collaboration in K-12 education. Through a diverse, multi-disciplinary team of university faculty, subject matter experts, and master teachers, NICERC has developed a vertically integrated, cross-curricular, project-driven curriculum for middle school and high school classrooms. These curricula make up a robust cyber pathway rooted in strong STEM fundamentals. Cyber is the integration of STEM and liberal arts disciplines, wrapped in a societal context with a technology underpinning. Taking this broad approach provides context for the content being taught in the classroom and engages a broader group of students. A sample of NICERC curricula includes STEM: Explore, Discover, Apply (STEM EDA); Cyber Literacy; Cyber Science; Cyber Society; Cyber Physics; and Advanced Math for Engineering and Science. NICERC has created a “Cyber Interstate” that allows students to enter and exit at various points throughout their academic and professional careers. By building a strong foundation, students can compete in cyber competitions, earn industry certifications, explore new career fields, and earn a variety of cyber degrees. It’s critical that students are provided multiple opportunities to become aware of cyber issues (enhance awareness), engage in cyber education (expand the pipeline), and select cyber careers (evolve the field). Cyber impacts every aspect of our lives, and our ability to lead in this new domain is critical to our future economic and national security.
The development and enhancement of the Cyber Interstate begins with teachers. Teachers are vital players in creating a systemic and sustainable change in K-12 cyber education. Imagine a classroom of students who are on the edge of their seats, filled with enthusiasm and questions, and engaged in learning about how science, technology, engineering, math, and liberal arts all integrate. It’s a unique learning environment that many teachers strive to create in their classrooms. Jonathon Ownby, a science teacher in Louisiana, described the changes he has seen in his students: “There is an energy here that is very contagious. My students are motivated, excited, and anxious to come to school and work on Cyber/STEM modules. They have also been inspired to do independent research and testing. Students who were unmotivated and uninvolved are now key players in their small groups and have found an interest in academics they didn’t think they had.”
Through teacher empowerment, professional development, and classroom resources, NICERC aims to provide teachers with the powerful capability to connect what they’re already teaching students to the hundreds of thousands of unfilled cybersecurity jobs. And those students, the future cyber professionals, will help the nation address the growing cyber threat to public and private networks and improve critical infrastructure resiliency. The Department of Homeland Security has recognized NICERC’s efforts with a 2013 grand and funded the expansion of these programs to communities across the country.
NICERC offers professional development opportunities for middle and high school teachers that use its curricula to empower teachers and engage students. NICERC professional development programs include, but are not limited to, STEM EDA teacher workshops, the annual Education Discovery Forum (EDF) and Cyber Discovery. These professional development programs enable teachers to bring new projects, technology, and curricula into their classrooms, creating a dynamic new learning environment. The results are increased student engagement, development of soft skills, and a connection to necessary industry skills.
This is a replicable, teacher-focused, cyber education and training model created to empower teachers and transform classrooms. NICERC’s cyber curriculum is currently being implemented in K-12 schools across the country and continues to expand through a robust network of partners and contributors. NICERC is currently looking for additional partners throughout the country who may benefit from its professional development, curricular content, and programs (some of which are available at no cost). If you are interested in connecting with NICERC, visit our website at www.nicerc.org.