Eller Offers Early Training in Cybersecurity

July 22, 2015

Eller Offers Early Training in Cybersecurity

After a successful pilot, a cybersecurity training camp developed at the University of Arizona and other institutions in the U.S. has been expanded to dozens more this summer with support from the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation.

GenCyber, a new partnership between the NSA and NSF, is a summer camp geared toward informing youths and their teachers about the emerging field of cybersecurity. 

The UA, along with universities in several other states, offered camps last summer, designing and building programs for expanded implementation. This year, 43 camps are being offered across the nation — in states that include Alaska, California, Illinois, Florida and New York — and the NSA and NSF intend to grow the program to 200 camps by 2020. 

"This camp is about multiplying interest in cybersecurity," said William T. Neumann, a UA professor of practice in the Department of Management Information Systems, who leads the camp.

"Arizona GenCyber: A Career Awareness and Skills Capability-Building Cyber-Security Camp for Secondary Students and Teachers" will be held at Biosphere 2 from Sunday through July 18 and July 26-Aug. 1.

All told, 50 students and 10 teachers from schools across Arizona, including Tucson Unified, Vail, Sahuarita, Amphitheater, Tempe and Flowing Wells school districts, will attend the GenCyber camp. The program also will include Native American students and teachers from the Camp Verde district in central Arizona.

The UA camp, with student and faculty collaborators and mentors from computer science, management information systems, and electrical and computer engineering, provides exposure to the discipline and skills required to enter the field of cybersecurity. Participants will learn about cybersecurity theories and threats, deception, personal computing, cloud computing, privacy issues, social media platforms, mobile development and the UA's field-related programs. Students also will be organized into teams to complete experiential learning activities, such as a daily programming laboratory and a U.S. Cyber-Patriot-based competition, which will be facilitated by the undergraduate peer-mentors.

Teachers were selected to be involved in the UA camp to inform them on ways to incorporate cybersecurity in their curricula.

"Many times teachers are the front-line advisers," Neumann said. "Teachers have amazing influence on young people, so when they see that brilliant math student, they can let them know that cybersecurity is yet another choice available to them."

In addition to NSA and NSF support, the UA's GenCyber this year also received funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation and the Panhuise Foundation, allowing students and teachers to participate at no cost.

"It is very rewarding that based on our first year, both the Wells Fargo and Panhuise Foundations decided to support our program. They are recognizing what the University brings to the table and that this camp offers very important skills for young people to have," Neumann said. 

"With the support of our sponsors, we are able to offer these students thousands of dollars in scholarships to study cybersecurity. This is a very exciting opportunity we can offer to the state of Arizona."

Beyond the UA, GenCyber summer camps will be held at 29 universities in 18 states this year, reaching thousands of middle- and high-school students.

"It is important to seize the imagination of young people who have an interest in this field, showing them the challenges and opportunities that await them," Steve LaFountain, dean of the NSA's College of Cyber, said in a statement. 

Innovations in computing, networking and software development have led to significant changes in the ways people gather and document information and also engage with others.

"GenCyber camps help interested young people—from every corner of the United States and from diverse backgrounds—gain some incredible experience in this ever-changing field," LaFountain said. "High standards and the issue of compliance are equally important. In addition to preparing young people to excel in tomorrow's workforce, we are teaching students the ethics of security so they learn how to be better citizens in cyberspace."

The UA is especially well positioned to train in cybersecurity, given its research-based expertise and programs.

Neumann co-facilitates GenCyber with Salim Hariri, professor of electrical and computer engineering and UA site director for the NSF's Center for Cloud and Autonomic Computing. Hariri, whose research involves using autonomic computing to better manage and protect cyber resources, has received awards for his innovative work in cybersecurity.

In 2013, the NSF awarded Eller College of Management researchers two grants amounting to $5.4 million to address significant cybersecurity research and education challenges around the globe. Hsinchun Chen, Regents' Professor and Thomas R. Brown Chair in Management and Technology in Eller's Department of Management Information Systems, is principal investigator on both projects.

Earlier this year, U.S. News & World Report ranked the UA's Department of Management Information Systems in the Eller College third in the U.S. among graduate information systems programs. Also, the UA has been designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education since 2009 and recently had the designation renewed through 2021.

Neumann said the summer camp is also a way to acquaint students with options at the UA.

"We are part of a larger STEM initiative," he said. "If we do not get students to take interest in cybersecurity, we want them to be interested in the underpinnings of the profession — mathematics, computer science and engineering."

Top photo of GenCyber camp participants by Tim Fuller.