Growing need in cybersecurity prompt educators to expose students to career field

Published 7:20 am Tuesday, July 31, 2018

As technology advances at warp speed, the need for employees in cybersecurity has reached critical levels. So, the next best thing for the future is to start exposing students early to a career in information technology.

Rachel Riley, a 15-year-old Austin teen and a Blooming Prairie High School sophomore, attended the first GenCyber Camp at North Dakota State University for a week during the summer. The camp is funded by the National Security Agency and National Science Foundation. She was one of several students who had the opportunity to learn more about the field of cybersecurity.

Rachel Riley

The camp brought 53 students from across North Dakota and Minnesota to the NDSU campus, and ranged between ages 13 and 19. During the camp, students learned about core networking, security and programming topics during the mornings, and then participated in their choice of electives going into the afternoon.

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For Riley, it was the exposure to cybersecurity that made her think about the career field for the first time.

“It was an excellent way to get your first steps into cybersecurity,” Riley said. “It was fast paced, and it kept you on your toes.”

The need at hyperspeed

While at the camp, students like Riley had a chance to learn more about computing and cybersecurity with the hope that some of these students would pursue higher education, and possibly even a career in those areas. ISACA, a nonprofit information security advocacy group, predicts that by 2019 there’d be a global shortage of about 2 million cybersecurity professionals.

“There’s a tremendous national need for people with these skills,” said Jeremy Straub, associate director of the NDSU Institute for Cyber Security Education and Research. “Cybersecurity has negative unemployment, and there’s more demand than people looking to fill it. When there’s a need, there’s also an immense need to fill those jobs with those trained in how to defend databases. That’s why there are students like Rachel.”

Acknowledging various immersive experiences students may have already had like with VEX robotics and various STEM classes—classes that focus and emphasize on science, technology, engineering and mathematics—Straub said cybersecurity has been gaining traction at some schools pursuing cybersecurity education to incorporate into their curriculum.

“Cybersecurity fundamentally forces students to solve problems that are exciting and challenging,” Straub said. “They see the problem and work on it until they figure out the solution … it gives a lot of students exposure to go on and makes them aware of their personal information, and a little bit of what the bad guys are doing, even if they’re not completely involved as an information technology professional.”

Annually, the United States has been unable to fill 40,000 jobs for information security analysts and employers also struggle to fill 200,000 other cybersecurity-related roles, according to CyberSeek, a cybersecurity data tool. With the continuing shortfalls to meet the demand for cybersecurity, educators looked to expose younger students to the field with a goal in mind to possibly fill the need for professionals.

Shawn Riley, Rachel’s father, works as the chief information officer for North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. It was through Burgum that Shawn learned about the cybersecurity camp offered at NDSU, and had registered his daughter to participate.

Shawn Riley

“Rachel is a real big science and math kid,” Shawn said. “She’s been really big into biology, evolutionary sciences, and so I’ve been trying to expose her and my sons to different things … I expected her to be coming out with a ‘hem and haw,’ but after day one, she was saying ‘oh, this programming is really cool.’”

Shawn said there was a bigger initiative that he, Burgum and Bismarck State College President Larry Skogen had done to push for more cybersecurity education. Earlier this month, they announced an educational collaboration with Palo Alto Networks to grow the school’s Cybersecurity and Computer Networks Program. Cybersecurity is an industry with a zero percent unemployment rate in 2016, and continues to be one of the most in-demand and growing career fields worldwide, he added. This partnership aligned with Burnum’s K-20 workforce initiative to boost cyber education in K-12 schools and higher education.

“We are trying to get every child in all grades throughout the state of North Dakota to be cyber educated,” Shawn said. “Cybersecurity is kind of an amazing field right now. I see a lot of interest in schools, and it’s all over the nation really to bring cybersecurity into their programs.”

As to whether Rachel would consider pursuing cybersecurity once she graduates from school, that’s left up in the air.

“My mind is set that I’m going to be somewhere in the STEM field,” she said. “I wouldn’t say I would have my job be somewhere in cybersecurity, but the knowledge I learned at camp will help me in the future where I am.”