REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The Space and Missile Defense Command celebrates the first anniversary of the SMDC Underserved Community Cybersecurity and Engineering Education Development program, which began Oct. 20 as a way to expand opportunities for students attending Alabama high schools and colleges.
Terance Carlson, SMDC’s command chief cyber strategist and SUCCEED program manager, said the purpose of the program is to promote interest in cybersecurity and science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, careers for students attending historically black colleges and universities and underserved high schools, as well as give those students hands-on experience working in those fields.
“SUCCEED was born out of work we were doing with UAH in another scholarship program and we saw the need to expand to other universities,” Carlson said. “We decided it was best to not just bring in other universities but also develop a more diverse and inclusive STEM workforce. So we came up with SUCCEED, and it has been very successful in its first year.”
Though SMDC has established other intern programs, Carlson wanted a program to bring more cyber-minded people into the organization to improve the cyber culture.
During this first year, SMDC has signed a charter with eight board members from Alabama A&M University, Tuskegee University, Alabama State University, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, the Alabama School for Cyber Technology and Engineering, the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, BDPA of Huntsville, and the LeBlanc foundation.
“SUCCEED really solidifies with the interns if this is really what they want to be and what they want to do,” Carlson said. “Our biggest hope is they will see that working for SMDC and/or the Army is a good thing. Our ultimate goal is to hire as many of these interns permanently as possible.”
Two types of internships are available through the SUCCEED program, one working at SMDC’s headquarters at either Redstone Arsenal or Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the other completing research while in school.
“We have had some growing pains and we have had some good things in our first year,” Carlson said. “We have more than 20 SUCCEED interns working for SMDC in various capacities. They are all working out quite well.”
SUCCEED provides interns experience and will help them grasp Army and government concepts.
Prabenjan Mayalagu, a junior attending the College Academy at Mae Jemison High School, said he is still evaluating and exploring his options but is currently planning on majoring in either aerospace, mechanical or computer engineering.
“I have always been fascinated by various subjects in the STEM field such as math and science, and I took an early interest in technology and computer science,” Mayalagu said. “So naturally, the cybersecurity aspect of this program instantly captivated my attention. I thought that participating in this program would be a great way of exercising and developing my computer science skills while gaining work experience. The SUCCEED program will benefit my future academic career and beyond in myriad ways. Not only am I gaining valuable work experience, but I am also able to learn about the fundamentals of cybersecurity and actively apply what I have learned through my work.
“I am interested in careers revolving around the computer science field, so this program will provide me with an adequate amount of experience and skills that pertain to that field," he added. "Just as the program name suggests, SUCCEED will definitely help me succeed in my future. This program is a great opportunity that allows students in high school and college to gain early work experience and fundamental computer science skills that will prove to be beneficial.”
Kiana McDougall, a communication arts major with a minor in cybersecurity at UAH, became involved with the SUCCEED program after her high school graduation coach recommended a program for those interested in cybersecurity.
“I became interested in the SUCCEED program because of my interest and enthusiasm for cybersecurity,” McDougall said. “When I was younger, I attended a STEM summer camp and absolutely loved it and fell in love with STEM and cybersecurity as a whole. I really believe the SUCCEED program will help me in my future because of its exposure to professional development, cybersecurity, and general business development.”
Intern Terry Wilson said SUCCEED is an opportunity to grow and find a great job in the industry. An accounting major at Alabama A&M University, he got involved in the program through career services at school through his career adviser.
“The fact that I was blessed with an opportunity to further my knowledge and gain some experience is what really got me interested in the SUCCEED program,” Wilson said. “I have really enjoyed being there and everyone has been very supportive of me. Learning everything that I can now will make me better off when it is time to do my actual accounting work.
“I would definitely recommend SUCCEED for other students who want the chance to have a life-changing experience," he added. "Not only do you get to learn more about your STEM field, but you also get the opportunity to build a network.”
Carlson said interns currently serve in the command’s information technology office, Policies and Plans Division, Cybersecurity Division, Network Enterprise Management Division and in the comptroller office.
“The interns who are still in school do remote research projects for us,” Carlson added. “We have students looking at artificial intelligence, advanced encryption, cyber tools, software assurance and a small group of students working on how we integrate cybersecurity into the various levels of the acquisition process, which we think is very important. We are quite busy doing a lot of good things, and this is all in the first year.”