REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama – Students and mentors are coming together to find new solutions to critical issues for U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command and other Department of Defense organizations.
USASMDC is currently serving as a sponsor for the University of Colorado Boulder during its Designing for Defense course this spring. The course is the former “Hack for Defense” program at the university and is a capstone competition course where government agencies provide a problem set they are interested in having solved and student teams are assigned to find a solution.
“Our office has presented the (University of Colorado Boulder) team with a problem for detecting anomalies in communications among satellites and ground stations in a mesh network,” said Terry Carlson, SMDC G-6 command chief cyber strategist. “A team has been assigned to work this over the course of the current semester. The results and recommendations they provide will either feed additional research on the topic or, with some tweaks, be provided to the appropriate group within SMDC for consideration on current or future projects.”
Carlson said the initial contact with the university was meant to find interest in participating in the SMDC Underserved Community Cybersecurity and Engineering Education Development, or SUCCEED, program. The contact turned out to be the lead person for the Designing for Defense program, and Carlson said he asked for some information for this program.
“We are working with a number of schools to have them assign problem sets to students for their senior capstone projects and decided that Designing for Defense aligned with this effort, so we asked to be part of the program,” Carlson said. “We defined our problem set, and it was accepted by the reviewing board and a team was assigned.”
The Designing for Defense lead has also provided SMDC with the opportunity to work with the university to provide opportunities for internships for the underserved community through the command’s SUCCEED program.
“We anticipate that we will be a repeat sponsor for this program every year as SMDC will receive the benefit of having new sets of eyes taking a hard look at relevant and current problem sets we may be facing across the cyber landscape,” Carlson said. “Our office is committed to providing students with opportunities to work real-world tasks through internships and capstone research projects to give them a taste of the kind of work they might expect in a career with the department of the Army or with one of our defense industrial base partners. It is important for SMDC to have a stream of talented individuals interested in pursuing a career with the government so we have an opportunity to recruit the best and brightest as we encounter them in these programs.
“We are pleased that our first attempt to have a problem addressed was accepted and are looking forward to a long and beneficial relationship with (the University of Colorado Boulder),” he added. “We are looking at launching similar efforts for capstone courses at our other partner schools as we believe the young minds out there are going to have some great inputs into helping SMDC improve the cyber hygiene of our systems.”
With Designing for Defense modeled as a semester-long capstone course, students from a variety of disciplines will work together as a team to research and develop a solution on a SMDC-sponsored topic regarding detecting anomalies in satellite systems.
Student teams are assigned mentors who are senior leaders in industry to help shape and scope the project as they work with the command throughout the semester, said Chase Golden, cybersecurity specialist, SMDC G-6 Cyber Strategy.
“In the short term, it builds a relationship with the University of Colorado at Boulder and offers students real-world problems to tackle and gain valuable experience,” Golden said. “In the long term, it provides SMDC fresh perspectives and research on topics that can then be further developed or integrated at the appropriate level to enhance SMDC’s competitive edge.”
SMDC, as the problem sponsor, will work to define constraints, provide requirements, and make subject matter expert resources available to the students as they work diligently to deliver a tailored solution. The students, who are in the top 10% of their respective classes and from many different backgrounds and degree paths, bring unique experiences and perspectives to the creative process. This provides SMDC with new methods of analyzing and solving difficult problems.
Golden said the command is thinking ahead and working hard to ensure it is a leader and providing meaningful opportunities for the next generation of talent to enter federal employment. He added that Designing for Defense provides an exceptional opportunity to further that goal and creates an enduring relationship with a remarkable university in the greater-Colorado area.
“Designing for Defense is an outstanding program that provides valuable opportunities to bridge the gap between academic curriculum and real-world application of skills learned and knowledge acquired, all while working with the DoD to solve some of the toughest problems the community faces in defending our country,” Golden said. “We are extremely excited to join the Designing for Defense team.”
By the end of the course, student teams will conduct as many as 100 stakeholder interviews and develop a minimally viable product that addresses the needs of their DoD sponsors’ problems.
For students, Designing for Defense represents an opportunity to work on real-world national security problems in close collaboration with DoD personnel and agencies. For problem sponsors, involvement in Designing for Defense is a force multiplier for their toughest problems.
Student applicants to the course come from both graduate and undergraduate programs in business, engineering, computer science, and arts and sciences. Teams are formed with students of different majors and areas of expertise to create the strongest cohorts.
Andy Meyer, University of Colorado Boulder instructor, said the process of selecting the best students from the applicant pool ensures the teams assigned to each military sponsor are the best the university has to offer.
“We are particularly pleased to be given the opportunity to partner with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command in working on a solution for the exciting problem they have offered our students,” Meyer said. “We look forward to getting to know the individuals in that organization much more closely throughout the course of the coming semester.”