Cyber Warriors

By Mary Hardbarger

elementary school teacher teaching in computer room

Radford University’s Information Technology Department is preparing teachers and students for the cybersecurity needs of the future

With cybersecurity attacks on the rise and cybersecurity professionals in high demand, Radford University is taking action to alleviate these national challenges.

Since 2013, Professor Prem Uppuluri, coordinator of the University’s Center for Information Security (CIS), along with information technology Professor Joe Chase, has been working with school systems across the Commonwealth to train teachers and students with cybersecurity skills. Specifically, the professors are incorporating cybersecurity into Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) education at the kindergarten through high school level (K-12).

“Our goal is simple. Given the ubiquitous nature of technology, we want to make cyber awareness and security skills as much a second nature to a new generation of students as reading and writing skills,” Uppuluri explained. “Imagine the recruitment pipeline of potential, highly motivated information technology majors this will create.”

This intentional training would ideally motivate students to consider cybersecurity careers. Virginia alone has 36,000 job openings in the field. Such a large number of skilled workers is needed to combat the staggering number of cyberattacks the Commonwealth faces each year. In 2016, Virginia saw 78 million of these threats.

Chase and Uppuluri sat on Virginia Department of Education-sponsored (VDE) panels to develop new curriculum in cybersecurity for K-12 school systems. The work resulted in the development of two official cybersecurity courses for Virginia public schools: Cybersecurity Fundamentals and Cybersecurity Software Operations, Advanced.

Cave Spring Middle School instructional technology resource teacher Stephanie Schilling participated in one of the classes.

“The trainings were wonderful,” Schilling said. “Each week, class was live-streamed and we are able to learn, interact and ask questions about the weekly topics and assignments. Prem took every opportunity to make teachable moments that allowed us to pass this knowledge to our students.”

Business and information technology teacher Sharon Reeves at Grayson County High School benefited from the class, too.

“Participating in Radford University’s cyber trainings have helped me broaden my skills,” Reeves said. “Radford faculty are very knowledgeable and are more than willing to help me and other high school teachers broaden their knowledge.”

Both educators realize the importance of passing along these skills to their students.

Given the ubiquitous nature of technology, we want to make cyber awareness and security skills as much a second nature to a new generation of students as reading and writing skills."

Prem Uppuluri, Ph.D.

Coordinator of the  University’s Center for Information Security (CIS)

“It is crucial for students to have access to this type of program,” Schilling said. “There are abundant opportunities for students with cybersecurity knowledge and skills. In the future, there will be a greater need for employees with cybersecurity training.”

Radford University also hosts several cybersecurity activities on campus that attract students from across the state. The RUSecure Capture the Flag (CTF) contest will be offered for the fifth time this year, providing education, motivation, competition and scholarships to the participating high school and community college teams.

“Wonderful opportunities are being created with the collaboration between Radford University and Roanoke County Public Schools,” Schilling said. “We have been invited to participate in the CTF competitions,  which help engage our students in real-world cybersecurity techniques.”

Proud alumna and computer technology teacher Jennifer Eller’s Radford High School students also participated in the contest and enrolled in the University’s ITEC 145, an Information Technology dual enrollment course. Eller also took the class.

“As an educator, I have really appreciated the support and relationships that I have gained with RU faculty,” said Eller ’99, M.S. ’12. “I admire their tenacity and passion to train the next cyber warriors. As an alumnus, I feel a large amount of pride in being a part of the University’s growth in cybersecurity training and education.”

Last fall, Eller enrolled in the University’s new competency-based education program, Innovative Mobile Personalized Accelerated Competency Training (IMPACT). The program launched Oct. 1 with a focus on cybersecurity. Uppuluri was part of the team that helped develop and is now teaching IMPACT classes designed for working professionals.

Radford’s cybersecurity outreach will continue to grow with a $140,250 grant from the National Security Agency (NSA). The grant will support the University’s collaboration with more than 20 teachers in K-8 schools and 50 teachers in 9-12 schools across the state to create cyber-focused lesson plans, assessments and SOLs and provide them the necessary knowledge and skills to teach security. Radford University cybersecurity undergraduate students will take part in this project as research assistants.

More than 50 teachers are expected to be supported through the Pathways in Cybersecurity grant. To give perspective, Uppuluri explained, “With this number, we will have taught almost 100 teachers in K-12 in Virginia over the last two years.”

Jun 5, 2018