Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Alan Cisneros
GCU News Bureau
Ellen Mari sees her Durango Transitional Learning Center students light up when they talk about computers and cybersecurity.
So she decided to take that spark of interest and run with it.
She took an introduction to Linux class at a community college and started scouring the internet for other ways she could teach herself about computers and cybersecurity.
While on a Google search, she stumbled upon a listing for GCU’s GenCyber Summer Camp, a free weeklong boot camp for high school educators who want to teach cybersecurity.
“It’s just me trying to piece things together to try to impart some knowledge to them,” said Mari, one of 23 teachers from 17 high schools who are at GCU this week to sharpen their cyber teaching skills. “To have all of this in one format, one solid workshop … and seeing how we can apply this with our students, I think it’s phenomenal.”
It's particularly meaningful for Mari, who teaches at a juvenile detention center and takes every opportunity she can to inspire her students to reach for something better.
She’s excited to get back to the classroom and show her students the CyberSeek Supply/Demand Heat Map, an interactive map that shows the number of cybersecurity job openings per state. In Arizona alone, where the supply of cybersecurity workers compared to the demand is deemed “very low,” the industry needs 13,069 cyber professionals.
And that lack of cyber professionals isn’t unique to Arizona.
In the United States, nearly a half-million workers are needed to fill the shortage, according to the 2019 ISC2 Cyber Security Workforce Study.
“There is a huge gap of cyber professionals versus the need in the workplace,” said Dr. Brandy Harris, Assistant Dean of Technology in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology and the camp’s director. “We want to get more students trained in cybersecurity and start filling these gaps.”
The Technology Division's leaders wanted to find a way to stem that gap, so they applied for a $100,000 GenCyber grant, funded through the National Security Agency in collaboration with the National Science Foundation. They were thrilled to learn in 2020 that they received the grant, which funded the cybersecurity camp, and reached out to the University's K12 Educational Development Department to connect the college to K12's network of educators.
One thing that was important to the Technology Division was to seek teachers at campuses who might not have the same kind of technology resources as other schools.
“We really wanted to work with teachers in these areas where we could pull in the underserved communities — more minorities, more women — and get them involved in the cybersecurity profession to start closing that gap,” Harris said.
Marilou Joson, a math teacher at Window Rock High School in Window Rock, Arizona, listened on Wednesday as College of Science, Engineering and Technology faculty member Khester Kendrick told the teachers: “You guys are going to be able to hack a system with me.”
She attended the boot camp with four others from Window Rock, capital of the Navajo Nation.
“Our school is introducing a coding class,” said Joson, who wants to incorporate into her classroom some of the concepts she’s learning, particularly cyber ethics.
Dan Uttech, who teaches seventh, eighth and ninth grade technology at 91st Psalm Christian School in Phoenix, has attended the Technology Division's Cyber Saturday sessions and, over the past couple of years, has slowly added to his cyber knowledge. The boot camp is the latest in his arsenal.
Uttech said he loves how GCU teaches its students cyber ethics — to be “Hackers with Halos.” He also can't wait to share what he’s learned, such as how to keep safe on the internet.
But most of all, he said, he wants to keep his students engaged: “I want to prepare my students for the jobs that are in most need … and these guys really showed me the need for more people in cybersecurity. This is such a cool field to help people."
Harris said she was amazed by the teachers at the camp, which was postponed for a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They came to GCU passionate, ready to learn and ready to bring what they’ve learned back into their classrooms to enrich their students’ lives.
“In a year when teachers are just burned out and struggled, they gave up a week of their summer to do this,” Harris said of the teachers, who will receive a year of professional development after the camp ends. It's when they will share their lesson plans and the cybersecurity curriculum they have created.
Teacher Ellen Mari was more than happy to give up a week of her summer if it meant inspiring her students at the juvenile detention center to reach for more.
“Obviously, we make mistakes,” she said of her students.
But she sees beyond those mistakes.
“Just to have this opportunity to learn more so I can impart that knowledge to my students, it’s amazing to think about how I can use this information to continue to guide them and help them to go in a different direction for their life. To have a legitimate path for them to turn their lives around is essential.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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