Building a cyber-smart workforce

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The intersection of higher education, business and government agencies in the cybersecurity arena is key to development of the 21st century workforce, according to a panel of experts in the United States, and the topic reverberates in Cayman as well.  

Developing a workforce to meet the needs of cybersecurity demands, whether in healthcare, aviation, social services or any range of industries requires collaboration, the panel agreed, particularly collaboration between business and education to develop a robust curriculum in higher education. This curriculum focuses on STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

In one such effort, Cayman Enterprise City recently partnered with the University College of the Cayman Islands to further promote the college’s STEM educational efforts aimed at the next generations of Caymanians.  

CEC anticipates that technology companies in the special economic zone will, over the years, create a significant number of jobs. To help encourage students to follow the path to these jobs, CEC sponsors the college’s Ambassador’s Club, a STEM student organization.  

“We will need to meet the demand for skilled workers to fill jobs in the zone in the years to come,” CEO Charlie Kirkconnell said. “We need to capture the interest of our young people and keep them engaged in learning science, engineering and math – the fields linked to technology.”  

When CEC signed on as a sponsor of UCCI’s STEM conference last year, “We were struck by the enthusiasm, not only of the students in the STEM program, but also by the lecturers [in the Ambassador’s Club breakfast session], Kirkconnell said. “We are excited by the prospects the special economic zone presents …and we said, ‘Let’s see how we can build on this. Enthusiasm is key.’” 

Kristel Galimba-Sanchez, coordinator of the Ambassador’s Club, said the group, which just started meeting in October, has accepted 28 high school students and 32 college students and is scheduling meetings once a month during the academic year. UCCI was only looking to fill 25 slots for either age bracket, she said, but because of the overwhelming response to the recruitment campaign, the club has expanded.  

From its inception at UCCI’s STEM conferences in 2012 and 2013, the club has included both high school and college students, Galimba-Sanchez said, and was seeking a sponsor so that the program could grow from being a breakfast gathering at the conferences to an annual program. 

That is when CEC stepped up to help.  

“We designed the curriculum first and worked with CEC to fill in the gaps,” said Galimba-Sanchez, adding that CEC is going to provide speakers for the STEM conference in March 2015. 

“The end goal for this year is for the students to create a presentation for the conference, and our topic is ‘The Next Big Thing.’” 

She stressed that one of the main reasons for the club – and the curriculum – is for Cayman’s students to see that STEM can lead to a viable career on island; that it’s time to realize there are opportunities in fields other than accounting and law.” 

CEC’s target, Kirkconnell said, “is to create in excess of 5,000 jobs in the special economic zone – that’s our long-term goal. And while not every job will be a tech job, he said, “the majority will be tech-oriented. 

“There are young Caymanians who are very interested in STEM careers, but when they get to the point of decision, do they find a job in Cayman or do they leave to pursue a career of their choice?  

“The ideas behind the special economic zone is that people who want to pursue a tech career can do so in the Cayman Islands,” he said, and that there will be a full complement of careers in the cluster of industries across the economic zone park.” 

The problem in the Cayman Islands, he said, is that there is a limit to the number of tech careers on island. “There is a narrow scope of what you can actually use your skills for…CEC will expand that significantly. 

“The competition for these [tech] enthusiasts is very fierce,” he said. “These are the jobs of the future.”
 

Recognizing the trend  

Roy Bodden, president of UCCI, said, “As an educator, I well understand the trends modernity has taken…there are 7 billion people in the world, and the number is growing, which means more and more we are going to be facing fundamental challenges” in such areas as providing food, water and energy, among others. 

“More and more, our survival and our lifestyle and well-being are going to depend on our ability to adapt and to understand STEM-related subjects.” 

Bodden said when he first arrived at UCCI, he noticed that course offerings were more heavily skewed toward business and that few were related to science, particularly what he calls the natural sciences. One of his goals, he said, was to achieve more of a balance in the curriculum. 

“I think that STEM is very important to our development in the Cayman Islands, as it is in the world,” he said.  

For those students enrolled in STEM subjects, whether in the bachelor’s or associate’s programs, Bodden said, “I see the opportunities literally as endless.”  

Among other efforts, he cites the college’s “two-plus-three” program, which for several years has partnered with New England Institute of Technology, in which students spend two years studying in Cayman and the following three years pursuing an engineering degree in the U.S.  

Further, Bodden likes to emphasize to students that they can become entrepreneurs.  

“What’s to say that we cannot produce another Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?”  

Bodden points to rapid success already in Cayman: “Since this [STEM] initiative began, our science students have tripled. During the next year, we expect to surpass the number of students studying business. 

“Our only drawback is being a small university college,” he said, adding that he is continually seeking to collaborate with larger colleges that have the appropriate laboratories and facilities. 

As far as job opportunities go, in addition to the tech firms attracted to Cayman’s special economic zone, Bodden says construction firms and engineering technology firms on island are already interested in those with backgrounds in STEM. 

“We’re really glad that so many companies in Cayman, even if they are not STEM-related, are looking at this as an important area,” said Galimba-Sanchez. 

The Ambassadors will not only learn about current trends in STEM fields and related industries as they prepare for their future careers, she said, they will also thrive in the company of like-minded peers and will benefit from interactions with local and international STEM experts, including astrophysicist and TED Fellow Dr. Hakeem Oluyesi, as well as partners within the special economic zone.  

 

Early enthusiasm key  

Tapping into student interest and enthusiasm is to be encouraged long before college, however, according to panelists at the Wilson Center forum in Washington on Oct. 16, and requires engaging young students who have grown up in a digital world. 

“When I think of young people and STEM, I think of elementary and middle school children,” who are very much in tune with Facebook, Instagram and other social media and online platforms, said Diane Miller, who is director of Operations for Northrop Gumman’s Cybersecurity Group and also program director for the national high school defense competition called CyberPatriot. 

“A real challenge is, how do we take that enthusiasm and show them how that can lead to STEM opportunities? [We need to] let them experiment with their intellectual curiosity and a get a sense that they can do that. Early excitement is key. By the time the students are in college, it’s probably too late. 

Miller says it’s when students are in grades five through seven that they are deciding whether to “go down the STEM path.” 

“The idea is to spark their interest early, teach them how to protect themselves on different platforms, and hopefully excite them enough to pursue [this area as a career].” 

Panelist Renee Forney noted that “Students are somewhat unaware of the cyber opportunities that are available. At the middle school level, they are very heavy consumers of technology, but there ends their interest.  

“Adults and children need to realize how much technology is woven throughout their daily lives,” said Forney, executive director of the CyberSkills Management Support Initiative at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

Once middle schoolers are made aware that their smartphones are much more than a way to communicate with friends and actually contain data and technology that can be manipulated or stolen, they become quite curious and interested, she said. 

To nurture that enthusiasm, “universities have to produce K-through-12 teachers and a curriculum so they can excite students about STEM,” said William Kirwan II, the chancellor of the University System of Maryland, which includes 11 colleges and universities. 

“Universities need to do a better job of teaching. We need to do a better job of helping students be successful in pursuing STEM careers. They need to see early on what subjects in these areas can lead to. It can be done, but it can’t be done by people working in isolation.” 

To that end, two years ago, industry giant Northrop Grumman partnered with the University of Maryland by providing $1.1 million for an undergraduate program aimed at “bridging the vast divide between the technical skills taught in college classrooms and those needed by modern industry,” the Washington Post reported at the time. 

Kirwan says in recent years there has been a huge increase in STEM enrollments in the University of Maryland system. He also pointed out, however, that there are currently 18,000 vacancies in cybersecurity – and that’s just in the state of Maryland. 

It’s a basic issue of supply and demand, said Pat Keran, a senior director at UnitedHealth Group in the Innovation, Research and Development area. “We need to train people. We need to start early and show them how to bring it into a career. Cybersecurity really is broader than the geek who’s coding to keep our websites safe. How do we show this [to students]?” 

Forney, of Homeland Security, said cybersecurity is many different things to many different people. “It’s a struggle because it is so broad. Trying to figure out what it means to you in a specific area is important.” 

“Cybersecurity,” said Kirwan, “is about trying to find ways of taking advantage of information about the Internet but also protecting it.” 

Miller referred to a boiled-down description of cyber, which involves the storage and transmission of data over systems and networks. “It can be intercepted anywhere along the way.” 

In the cyber world that is critically important to business and to governments, as well as to consumers, the panelists stressed each sector’s vital interest in promoting learning and developing a workforce for the future that can meet the ever-increasing demands for security. 

Among the initiatives cited by the panelists:  

  • Cyber tours at the Department of Homeland Security for students and faculty. “Professors were excited to see firsthand some of the things that were taking place,” said Forney. 
  • The Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for students at the University of Maryland. ACES, the first and only undergraduate honors program in cybersecurity in the U.S., is funded by Northrop Grumman. Representatives from industry help teach courses, Chancellor Kirwan said. “It’s partnerships exactly like this that are going to help us with developing a workforce and developing programs like this at other universities.”  
  • Homeland Security recruited students at two-year and four-year colleges and offered them unpaid internships. Some 1,600 students applied for 70 slots. 
  • The University of Maryland enhanced its online course offerings by creating four degrees related to cybersecurity and brought in experts in the industry to help build the curriculum. 

According to a 2014 report from Burning Glass Technologies, and provided by the U.S. Business-Higher Education Forum, from 2007 to 2013, the national demand for cybersecurity professionals grew 74 percent. Further, the report says, the growth of cybersecurity jobs is more than twice that of all information technology jobs. 

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Members of the Ambassador’s Club are described as enthusiatic in their pursuit of STEM subjects.

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Ambassador’s Club members met recently with Dr. Pavlov Rameau, associate professor in UCCI’s Math and Sciences Department, standing..

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Charlie Kirkconnell

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Roy Bodden

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