When McQueen High School teacher Carolyn Hughes joined the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program in 2018, she had no real exposure to cybersecurity.
“I thought of cybersecurity as black hats trying to hack into systems,” she explained. “And it is that, but it is so much more than that.”
Led by Ralph E. and Rose A. Hoeper Professor Shamik Sengupta and Associate Professor David Feil-Seifer, both of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, the RET site provided six weeks of hands-on research experience on projects from organizations like the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Navy, Air Force and Army. In addition to providing teachers with continuing education opportunities, the goal of the program was to help teachers bring cutting-edge concepts back to the classroom.
And that’s exactly what happened for Hughes.
“The RET opened my eyes to cybersecurity and how important it is for students to know these concepts. You have to be savvy. There are vulnerabilities everywhere out there,” Hughes, who has taught since 2012, said. “Now, in my computer science classes, I always do a unit on cybersecurity. This unit is in addition to the state requirements for computer science, because I believe it is that important for students to understand cybersecurity.”
In addition to providing her with the expertise necessary to integrate cybersecurity units into her own classes, the research Hughes performed on drones and networking in the RET site was ultimately published, providing her with another level of professional experience.
As a result of her commitment to cybersecurity, Hughes was recently selected to a committee tasked with developing the national standards for cybersecurity education in K-12 classrooms and at the college level. Only 30 teachers across the country were chosen to review the current state standards (only some states have them at all) and to outline new benchmarks. In 2021, these recommendations will be voluntary, but by 2022, they will be required for all states to follow.
“I am so excited to have been named to this committee,” Hughes said. “Cybersecurity is a critical component of computer science, and it should be required. Our committee will determine what is critical for all students to know and focus on curriculum while writing the standards.”
When asked about the role the RET played in her being selected for the committee, Hughes’s response was unequivocal: “It absolutely wouldn’t have happened without the RET.”
She added, “Shamik is the personification of a gentleman and a scholar. Brilliant, warm, kind and considerate. He, Dave, Jay [Thom] and the graduate assistants was a marvelous group of people.”
The feeling of respect is mutual.
Of Hughes, Sengupta said, “I am extremely proud of Carolyn's achievements and wish her all the best in her new role. We always hope for such impact of our NSF RET site on cybersecurity at the national scale and I am very proud to see that happen.”
The RET site was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. In addition to the education and research opportunity, participants received a $10,000 stipend. The program is indicative of the University’s comprehensive approach to cybersecurity education, which has recently led the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to name the University a Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD).