DETROIT – Michigan’s IT professionals already know about the crucial shortage of properly trained and educated Cybersecurity professionals. In fact, you can’t open a newspaper, or a browser, without seeing an article publicizing the critical shortfall of Cybersecurity workers.
Worse, the gap shows no sign of diminishing because there are still far too few students in the pipeline. The obvious remedy is to popularize the importance of the exciting field of cybersecurity in K-12 education; since that is the place where career interests are formed, and choices get made.
The most important first step, is to build student awareness about the many excellent opportunities in the field. In order to be effective, that conversation needs to start much, much earlier. That is because, it is generally too late to attract anyone other than the kids who have already self-selected IT or Engineering if we wait until a student has reached high school. If we ever hope to increase the number and diversity of the students entering the profession, the solution needs to begin in the lower grades.
The National CyberPatriot program provides that necessary early exposure. CyberPatriot is a national program designed for K-12 students, sponsored by the Air Force Association. It exposes students to cybersecurity principals in the form of practical games and a 7-month competition. The K-5th grade games are free to any adult who wants to download them. These three games teach cybersecurity awareness and come complete with the talking notes for a teacher to use in the classroom.
The 6-12th grade competition teaches hands-on cybersecurity defense. It puts teams of high school and middle school students in the position of a newly hired IT professional who has been tasked with managing the network of a small company. Through a series of online competition rounds, teams are given a set of virtual operating systems and are tasked with finding and fixing cybersecurity vulnerabilities while maintaining critical services.
The top teams in the nation earn all-expenses-paid trips to Maryland for the National Finals Competition where they can earn national recognition and scholarship money. And the best part was how inexpensive it is to get into the game. For as little as $165 for a Middle School team and $205 for a High School team and the allocation of three computers, your students can participate in the competition. Teams consist of 2-5 players and can actually play and practice for this competition year around. Next to other technical competitions this is an amazing deal, not to mention the teams are provided with all of Microsoft and Linux operating systems, CISCO network academy and VMware.
Given this superb programmatic capability, MCISSE brought the CyberPatriot Program to Michigan. Initially. we had 4 teams participating. Five years later, once we had spread the word about this great program, we have 182 teams across Michigan. That represents a growth from 20 students to over 900 students (2019-2020 season). MCISSE also held eight summer camps across Michigan this summer, with 200 students from 32 cities. With your support we can expect to continue the growth of this highly effective K-12 Cybersecurity educational program.
Tamara Shoemaker, Director for the Center of Cyber Security & Intelligence Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy. Co-founder of MCISSE and Founder of the Michigan CyberPatriot Program