August 21, 2019

NSA officials visit GenCyber camps at DSU - Daily Leader Extra : Local News

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NSA officials visit GenCyber camps at DSU

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Posted: Friday, June 21, 2019 3:38 pm

Judith Kain Emmel raved about the Beacom Institute of Technology as she strolled through the collaboration center on Wednesday morning.

"It's certainly above and beyond my expectations," said the director of state and local affairs with the National Security Agency.

Emmel was in Madison with Tina Ladabouche, NSA GenCyber program director, to see the Dakota State University GenCyber program in action. As one of the first eight universities in the nation to receive a grant in 2014 to offer GenCyber camps, DSU continues to offer the camps free of charge.

Funded by the NSA and National Science Foundation, the DSU camps are among the largest in the nationwide program and are unique in offering a residential experience for those who attend.

"There's a true passion for wanting to expand the knowledge of the students," Ladabouche said when asked what she had observed. "It's a great experience."

This year, DSU offered three camps -- one designed to help teachers incorporate cyber security into STEM classrooms; a co-ed camp to offer high school students hands-on sessions to learn about programming, networks and the way cyber security impacts their everyday lives; and a CybHER camp for for middle school girls that focuses on cyber security concepts.

"Dakota State is on the cutting edge of so much," Emmel noted.

The NSA GenCyber program was developed to increase the number of students studying cyber security. The goal is not only to increase interest in cyber security careers but also to increase diversity in that workforce. This year, 122 camps are being offered across the nation.

"We're only limited by the funding," Ladabouche said. "We have many more programs we could fund."

While an NSA visit isn't uncommon, primarily because the agency seeks to identify best practices, Emmel and Ladabouche are not usually among the staff making those visits. However, they were invited by DSU President Jos‚-Marie Griffiths, whom they heard speak at a conference recently -- and they were curious.

"The reason I came is I keep hearing `Gold Standard' with Dakota State," Emmel said.

The NSA officials were favorably impressed. The DSU facilities and the energy of the staff were especially noteworthy, but they also commented on the advocacy efforts of elected officials.

"It makes a difference when a community supports what's being done," Emmel explained.

She discussed the importance of GenCyber camps in terms of the nation's need. Currently, the gap between the number of jobs in cyber security fields and the number of individuals qualified to fill those positions is growing. In addition, not nearly enough individuals are qualified to teach in those areas.

"We cannot keep up the pace of what is needed in the country," Emmel said.

With summer camps, the goal is to interest young people in those career fields, in part by dispelling myths. For example, cyber security involves more collaborative activity than is widely believed.

The camps help young people understand how integral cyber security is to the world in which they live. With the Internet of Things, "there's nothing you touch" that doesn't contain some degree of risk, according to Emmel.

"We're in a world different than I grew up in," she said.

Emmel, who has been with the NSA for more than 30 years, continued, "I don't think my grandmother could have imagined it."

Experiences that spark the imagination are key to the success of the GenCyber camps. Ladabouche noted that by middle school, most girls are deciding on a career path. The camps allow them to actively explore cyber security.

"You have to see yourself in it -- the possibilities," Emmel said.

The camps are strategic in doing this.

"If you can relate it to their lives, they can understand the need for security," Ladabouche said. "It's part of everything we do today."

The women were especially excited about the Teacher Camp offered at DSU from June 10-14. It included participants from as far away as Texas, Florida and North Carolina.

Helping teachers learn how to integrate cyber security into their STEM classes "multiplies the opportunities," Ladabouche said. With the skills and tools they learn, teachers are able to expose even more students to the field.

Ladabouche said the growing popularity of the camps is a strong indicator of success. Students who have attended GenCyber camps are entering colleges in that field.

"The schools all let us know the results," she explained.

However, since this is a long-term investment -- especially with camps that target middle school students -- the effects won't be known for a decade or more. Students who attended the first camps are just now graduating from high school and entering colleges and universities, Emmel said.

Recognizing this, they allow the short-term gains to give them confidence in the future.

"We truly believe this is an important program," she said.

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