DETROIT – CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Education Program created by the Air Force Association. Its goal is to inspire students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines critical to our nation’s future.
CyberPatriot consists of four programs, the middle and high school cybersecurity competitions, summer camps, a free three-game series for elementary students (K-5), senior citizen awareness training modules, and a series of storybooks for children.
The Michigan CyberPatriot program was organized to help increase the number of students studying the exciting career field of cybersecurity. It exposes middle and high school students to the concepts of cybersecurity in a fun virtual competition that can be easily dropped down into the classroom. It has a low barrier to entry, three levels of play with a session that runs from October till April each year.
You can’t have read the news and not know that we have a critical shortage of properly trained and educated cybersecurity people in our workforce. It is estimated that the United States currently needs over 520,000 cybersecurity professions to fill the current talent gap. And according to Cyberseek.org Michigan needs over 7,800 which is roughly one-third of the essential cybersecurity workforce required to secure the businesses of our state.
Incorporating CyberPatriot into our schools is a critical step and I am happy to say that we are working with leadership in Michigan to spread awareness of this program. But a key element is missing from the solution, which is industry support.
Recruiting mentors from industry gives me the opportunity to present our program to countless businesses in Michigan. While many of their employees feel duty-bound to volunteer as mentors it is rare for Michigan businesses to lend financial support. This is what has inspired me to write this article. It’s a paradox. Businesses who are fighting over the few cybersecurity professionals available in Michigan agree that CyberPatriot is a wonderful learning program. But they are not providing any of the critical funding that is necessary to ensure its survival and growth across the state?
Higher education partners have put this K-12 learning program together and support it year-round. At the policy level, our Michigan government has supported it for the last 6 years. Yet, our needs are still a well-kept secret among Michigan industries. Like all non-profits, the Michigan CyberPatriot program needs funding to survive. It costs money to hold summer camps across the state, it costs money to hold an award event, it costs money to train coaches and mentors, host websites, and buy awareness materials like the amazing magazine ‘Start Engineering: Cybersecurity Career guide put together by the wonderful folks at https://start-engineering.com/cybersecurity-cybercap/.
Over the last six years, we’ve built this program with very small amounts of state funding, volunteer hours, and hard work. We’ve increased the number of teams from 4 in the entire state to over 180 by 2020. But reality has set in, without corporate donations we will not be able to offer summer camps or an award celebration for the schools that have played this year.
And what a year they’ve battled through, while CyberPatriot has always been a virtual competition, teachers and students have had to struggle with delivering all of their materials on-line. So instead of having their after-school competition (CyberPatriot) be the only thing that they do virtually, their whole day is spent online, and yet they persevere.
So Michigan businesses, it is time to invest your money in educating your future workforce. In fact, we are not only educating your cybersecurity workforce but every student that is exposed to this program comes away with a better concept of how and why we need cybersecurity in the first place. With these educational tools, we are creating a new culture of safety, like wearing a seat-belt while driving. You have an opportunity to help us educate our young people about the dangers that lurk online.
We cannot do this alone; it will take a team effort. Therefore, ask yourselves how important it is to have a cyber secure workforce? We know that times are tough but if Michigan businesses can follow the DTE Foundation example, we can continue to bring our students this wonderful program. Please go to our website www.micyberpatriot.com and hit the “PayPal” donation button to effortlessly contribute a tax-deductible donation. We are a team and without everyone in this fight, the bad guys lurking on the net win.