By Dan Lafontaine, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering CommandOctober 28, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Computer networks face persistent cyber threats from the nation's adversaries. The future defenders of cyberspace, America's students, honed their skills this summer as they learned from U.S. Army scientists and engineers who are experts in the field.
Cybersecurity practitioners from across the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command joined forces to spark an interest and share their knowledge with high-school students as part of the Army Educational Outreach Program at APG.
Two RDECOM organizations -- Army Research Laboratory and the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center -- partnered to develop and deliver two Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Sciences cyber programs in July.
Dr. Lisa Marvel, an ARL electronics engineer and one of the program's instructors, emphasized that educational outreach efforts are a priority because of America's growing demand for a robust cyber workforce.
"We should do this for our nation. We may not have enough computer professionals by 2018," Marvel said. "We need a diverse pool. We don't just need the same group of people solving the same problems.
"You need creative solutions to our future problems. You get that through diversity. The more people we can impact in a positive way, the better off we'll all be."
ARL and CERDEC each presented one week of instruction for the cyber GEMS program, allowing for each organization to leverage its specific expertise. The collaboration included the Army Communications-Electronics Command, also at APG, which worked with CERDEC to design its curriculum.
APG is one of 12 GEMS sites for the Army. GEMS is an element of the AEOP portfolio of programs, for which RDECOM provides the oversight.
Erica Bertoli, CERDEC educational outreach program lead, said the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, initiatives through AEOP provide students with direct access to Army experts.
"GEMS is unique in that the instruction is led by engineers and scientists currently working in our labs. This not only creates an opportunity for students to access the latest practical information, but it also lets them network with individuals working in the field, to ask questions and get real-world answers," Bertoli said.
Stephen Raio, a CERDEC information assurance engineer and a GEMS instructor, explained that cybersecurity works well as a STEM subject because of its widespread relevance to everyday life. Computer networks touch nearly every aspect of America.
"Networks and computing equipment form the backbone of our country's infrastructure," Raio said. "Our water, power, sewage, telecommunications and food-supply chains all rely on information technology. Cybersecurity is critical to keeping everything running smoothly.
"Cybersecurity is a never-ending arms race, and the goal is to minimize your risk to the best of your ability. One of the best ways to do this is through defense in depth. Just like a castle has several layers of defense, so must our information technology systems."
CERDEC's course included sessions on basic networking, network protocols, client/server programming, firewalls, digital forensics, cyber attacks and mobile-device security. In addition to cyber, CERDEC also offered an alternative energy GEMS course.
The GEMS instructors stressed that they aimed to keep the course interesting and stimulating through hands-on activities. Lectures were out, and keeping students engaged was in.
"Our main goal was to build confidence and stimulate excitement," Marvel said. "You can do this. It's accessible. We don't come in and say, 'You can't touch this.' Let's take a computer apart. Don't worry about breaking it."
Because the Army scientists and engineers are with the students for just one week, developing a long-lasting passion for computing was the GEMS session's primary goal.
"I would like them to develop a curiosity in computing. I had a parent tell me that her son, who attended our GEMS, came home and said, 'You know that old computer we have? I think I can fix it.' That's a win," Marvel said. "She gave him a screwdriver, and he took it apart. He said, 'I need to go to the store and get new parts.' The parent said he never would have done that before this."
After a student gains an initial passion for computing, having good computer-science teachers in high school and college is vital to growing that interest, Marvel said. The Army hired a local high-school computer-science teacher for the two-week GEMS in an effort to strengthen the connections between practicing computer experts and educators.
"We're trying to further the computer-science education field so that more students choose computing as a field, and we can have a pool of future scientists for the Army," Marvel said. "Some people might be leaning toward teaching but also have an affinity for computing. You don't just have to be a scientist in the lab. You can also be a teacher. To get more people into computing, we need good teachers."
STEM outreach efforts exist not only to increase the number of students interested in pursuing science and engineering career fields, but also boost students' passion for their educations in general, said Dr. Sandy Young, a materials engineer and lead for ARL's STEM program at APG.
"We don't assume that every single student is going to be turned on to STEM by attending GEMS. Developing critical thinking is certainly an important point of Army education outreach. You want citizens who know how to make good decisions," Young said.
This article originally appeared in the October issue of Army Technology Magazine. To view a PDF of this issue, go to http://usarmy.vo.llnwd.net/e2/c/downloads/317241.pdf.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.