NSA Program Helps Build the Next Generation of Cyber Professionals

It’s not the scarcity of skilled individuals to fill current and future cybersecurity workforce needs that keeps Loyce Pailen awake at night. For the director of the Center for Security Studies at University of Maryland University College (UMUC), it’s the issue of children growing up without understanding the nuances of cybersecurity—and the high paying cyber careers that are available to them—that tops her list of concerns.

“We are not raising our children with the cybersecurity awareness and education required for the digital age in which we live,” said Pailen. She is doing her part to educate students about Ransomware. phishing, the Internet of Things, cyberbullying, cyber careers and other topics with a series of books she has written titled “Super Cybersecurity Grandma.”

Pailen, who addressed her concerns in a recent Facebook Live interview, said she is “adamant” about helping to grow the next generation of children who understand cybersecurity and the wealth of career opportunities the field offers.

“If students are not aware of careers, they don’t seek them,” she said.

Enter the National Security Agency (NSA).

The agency sponsors the nationwide program—NSA Day of Cyber—launched in October 2015 to raise the “national IQ” for STEM and cyber-science education paths and inspire the more than 40 million elementary, secondary and college students in the U.S. to pursue a career in cyber, one of the fastest growing STEM fields.

The initiative is a free, online, self-paced interactive cyber-career exploration experience that runs on the LifeJourney platform. It allows students to take a seat beside the NSA Cyber Threat Director and “test drive” a day in the life of six NSA cyber professionals—each performing a distinct cyber role.

Students will work through challenging real-life scenarios in network defense, mission targeting, and as a cyber linguist, exploitation analyst, intelligence analyst, and data scientist. Along the way, participants will discover the skills and tools used by NSA cyber professionals and explore the breadth, depth and diversity of career choice that the cybersecurity field offers.

The program’s name, NSA Day of Cyber, is a bit of a misnomer. Students can participate any day they choose throughout the year. It requires only a small commitment of time, about three hours, to learn first-hand about the diverse cyber career field.

Emma Garrison-Alexander, vice dean of UMUC’s Cyber Security & Information Assurance program said that, as an educator, she values the importance of helping students develop the skills they need to prepare them for the in-demand digital workforce.

“We’re encouraging colleges and universities, K-12 schools, institutions, and students young and old to participate in the NSA Day of Cyber so they can become more aware of what a career in cybersecurity might entail,” Garrison-Alexander said.

STEM education has become a national priority, and industry experts agree that the explosive growth in cyber-related careers is creating unprecedented workforce opportunities. Tens of thousands of cyber jobs in banking, mobility, healthcare, government and other sectors are available.

For education leaders, who are increasingly focused on finding ways to bring cyber into their classrooms to introduce students to this rapidly expanding field, NSA Day of Cyber presents an engaging option.

Watch a short promotional video about the NSA Day of Cyber here.