The next generation

Area schools meeting the challenge of training cyber workforce

There’s a rising generation that’s poised to change the Augusta area’s business landscape.

 

Technically.

At the Kroc Center downtown Thursday, hundreds of students from six counties learned about job opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – STEM – in a hands-on event sponsored by the Savannah River Site Community Reuse organization. Students handled everything from live alligators to mock-ups of hazardous nuclear material.

At the new Savannah River Site Museum in Aiken on Tuesday, students with a shared interest in robotics pitched in with demonstrations and visited exhibits. While they were programming paths for robots now, the students also were programming career paths for themselves later.

At Augusta University Oct. 12, teams of college students played Capture the Flag – but not like you might remember it when you went to school. In this game, students had to break into a computer network, then prevent others from getting in. It was the kickoff event for the school’s Georgia Cyber @ Augusta University gathering.

Future waves of high-school and college graduates will be confronted with a choice in our increasingly cyber world – they can merely live in that world, or they can help shape it.

Augusta-areas education leaders are busily equipping our students for the latter – and for an excellent reason.

Augusta is becoming a white-hot focal point of cyber activity. Fort Gordon, already home to the Army’s vast cyber training center, will be the U.S. Army’s Cyber Command home by 2020. Also, the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center – designed to promote modernization in cybersecurity through public-private partnerships – is taking shape downtown on Reynolds Street.

Specifically the concentration will be on cybersecurity – the protection of computers and electronic data against criminal or unauthorized use. With the way our lives have changed by technology – we shop online, we bank online, we pay our bills online, we store vital records online – cybersecurity is becoming increasingly crucial.

Thousands of people are expected in Augusta in the next several years to meet the demand for cyber jobs. By one calculation, there will be a shortage of 2 million cybersecurity professionals by 2019.

And Augusta’s leaders are positioning themselves to help meet that need.

“In 2020 when the Cyber Command opens, we want to have our schools not just top-notch for the families who will come, but also to build that strong workforce,” said Sandra Carraway, superintendent of Columbia County schools.

She and other educators testified Oct. 11 in Augusta at the first meeting of the state’s Senate Study Committee on Cyber Security Education, an appointed group “to study the current and future implementation of a cybersecurity curriculum in Georgia high schools.”

Augusta University is certifying current and prospective teachers’ competence to teach STEM and STEAM subjects. STEAM is STEM with an added arts component.

Richmond County schools are in their third year of teaching classes that provide a cybersecurity career pathway. School officials are examining expanding the curriculum, in some form, into elementary schools.

Columbia County schools have partnered with nonprofit agencies to train teachers in instructing computer science. The school system also works closely with Fort Gordon in CyberPatriot, the National Youth Cyber Education Program created by the Air Force Association to inspire students toward cybersecurity careers.

The demand – and the desire – among students are there. It’s now the educators’ job to foster that.

“I’d like to be a teacher, maybe teaching math and science, and this could make it more interesting,” said Joshua Jimenez, a North Augusta High School student who joined in the robotics event.

But schools can’t do this heavy lifting alone. It will require even more formidable partnerships with private enterprise to help guide educators to create the workforce needed to help Augusta’s cyber community grow and thrive.

 

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