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AFA’s CyberPatriot program looking for local footing

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Photo contributed by the U.S. Air Force Association

The United States Air Force Association CyberPatriot program is launching nationally and program representatives said they hope Chattanooga jumps on board by incorporating the STEM-based program that is sweeping the nation.

The United States Air Force Association CyberPatriot program is launching nationally and program representatives said they hope Chattanooga jumps on board by incorporating the STEM-based program that is sweeping the nation.

“We think we hit on something special with the CyberPatriot program because educators across America embraced it,” said CyberPatriot Commissioner Bernie Skoch, who works with the USAFA in Washington, D.C., heading up CyberPatriot in schools across the country. “We’ve had Tennessee presence, but Chattanooga has not embraced it yet. We are a 501(c)(3) and we advocate for strong technical education in America. We want to draw students to STEM programs.”

A 2008 Congressional Research Office Study globally ranked the United States 28th in math and 24th in science, he noted.

“That’s horrible for the United States,” said Skoch. “We can’t sustain our quality of life if we don’t grow a technical workforce. And you can’t grow a workforce with those scores.”

Individual high schools can sign up for the program through the ongoing enrollment process even if their school system does not.

“We’ve reached over 150,000 students,” Skoch said. “In competitions students learn how to defend the cyber network. Every enterprise in America has a cyber network and it’s all vulnerable to attack. The students learn how to configure a router so that people can’t break into the network.”

Through the program, students also learn about password protection such as what makes a good or bad password.

CyberPatriots are then tested in competitions to see if they can find vulnerabilities on their networks.

After three online rounds, 26 teams will be selected and flown, all expenses paid, to Washington, D.C., in mid-March to compete for the best of the best. Scholarships and internships will be awarded. The program has awarded $110,000 in scholarships so far.

Students in CyberPatriot also gain excitement about science and math that leads to career opportunities beneficial to them and the United States as a whole, Skoch said. Cyber network protection will help the United States stay dominant globally, he said.

He noted that it does not take a math or science teacher to take charge of the program in each school. Successful English, French and physical education teachers are in charge of the program at some schools, he said. The teacher is there for support; the program provides all the materials needed.

“We see this as a great opportunity for students,” said Skoch. “The current program is for high school students, but we will launch a middle school program this fall too. We are on a team-by-team basis so individual schools can participate.”

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