Over the last several years, it’s become increasingly clear how important cybersecurity is on both a national and personal level. Think about it: Everyday we walk around with high-tech computers, chock full of personal information and data, in our pockets. We are more susceptible than ever to getting our devices hacked and having our important information stolen. Due to this this heightened need for security, the National Security Agency (NSA) has been developing and preparing the next generation of highly trained cybersecurity experts—and it’s happening in our own backyard.
On their Pleasantville campus, Pace University recently wrapped up its first ever GenCyber cybersecurity workshop for high school teachers. From July 6 to July 17, about 25 high school teachers from around the country gathered at Pace to learn the fundamentals of cybersecurity and how, in turn, to teach it to their students.
GenCyber is a national program created and sponsored by the NSA in partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF). The program provides “camps” at which both students and teachers are taught the basics of cybersecurity. Pace hosted a teacher-only camp that was attended by local Westchester teachers as well as teachers from as far away as Washington, Colorado, and Florida. The workshop was free and a $2,000 travel and expense stipend was provided to the participants. The program is similar to the CyberCorps at Pace, where selected college students studying cybersecurity get full tuition scholarships in exchange for working in a government agency post graduation.
At the workshop, the teachers learned introductory cybersecurity from Pace professors who provided classroom instruction and hands-on activities. There were also group discussions to dissect what they learned during the day’s lessons and how to apply it going forward.
Virginia Nalbandian, a Pleasantville High School mathematics and computer science teacher, said the workshop was quite helpful. “We learned about networking, cryptography, biometrics, and forensics,” Nalbandian said. “It was fascinating to learn about where the technology is today and what the future holds.”
To meet the goal of training participants to effectively pass this information down to their students, the high school teachers worked on lesson plans that would include the lessons they were learning at Pace—lesson plans that hopefully will turn into real lessons during the upcoming school year. What GenCyber and the participating teachers are all trying to do is educate high school (and, in some cases, younger) students about cybersecurity earlier on in their academic lives. That way the interest in the field will grow and more students will want to go on and study cybersecurity at college and possibly pursue it as a career path.
According to Li-Chiou Chen, the GenCyber director, the program is supposed to spread cybersecurity to beyond the collegiate level. “[We are] hoping to build a pipeline from Pace University to high school,” says Chen. “Right now we are planting the roots [of cybersecurity] into high school.”
Based on her experience, Nalbandian said she thought the program was a resounding success.
“I certainly have a better understanding of how important it is to our nation’s security to have trained and qualified people in this field. It is our role as educators to enlighten our students and keep ourselves current,” she said. “The workshop has inspired me as a teacher to return to my classroom and inspire my students. And this is what education should ultimately be about.”