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NSA GenCyber Warrior grant for UNG expands to include training teachers

UNG's latest grant for an NSA GenCyber Warrior Academy includes funds to train teachers for teaching cybersecurity. This photo shows students at the 2019 GenCyber Warrior Academy.

The University of North Georgia's (UNG) cybersecurity education reach during the summer continues to grow.

The National Security Agency's GenCyber Program has awarded UNG more than $169,000 in grant funds to host a fifth GenCyber Warrior Academy free for high school students in summer 2021. The grant also will fund an academy to give middle and high school educators the tools to teach their students cyber skills.

The grant, originally given for summer 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled university events, will provide cyber learning opportunities for 40 high school students — 20 females and 20 males — and 24 teachers. The academies are set for June 10-19, 2021, on UNG's Dahlonega Campus. Applications plus a cyber talent and aptitude assessment for students are open on UNG's GenCyber Warrior Academy website.

Dr. Bryson Payne, professor of computer science and director of UNG's Center for Cyber Operations Education, has led the 10-day GenCyber Warrior Academy since it first came to the Dahlonega Campus in 2016. He was grateful to be awarded the grant again, and especially the opportunity to bring in teachers who have influence in their own schools.

"They're going to make a major difference for thousands of students," Payne said.

Dr. Lindsay Linsky, associate professor of middle grades education at UNG and interim assistant director of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Leadership, will take the lead in helping teachers learn how to communicate cybersecurity with their students. She is excited to share practical tools with teachers.

"We're thrilled. We think it's going to reach a lot of teachers and bolster what we are able to do with STEM education in Georgia. There is a tremendous need for this," Linsky said. "This is another way we will be able to help with that."

Payne said the student academy helps high school kids take the cyber lessons home to their parents. He said seeking a diverse mix of students and instructors is vital.

"That helps students to see themselves in future careers," Payne said. "We want students to see what they might look like in 20 years working in cybersecurity."

Dr. Tamirat Abegaz, professor of computer science at UNG, and Payne were the only two instructors for the GenCyber Warrior Academy's first year at UNG. In 2019, they had five instructors, and they plan to have nine in 2021. Abegaz said they have learned something each year.

"Experience really matters," he said. "After five years, we've built trust with the NSA. They know that we are doing a great job."

Abegaz said feedback from NSA staffers who stop by the event annually has elevated UNG's GenCyber Warrior Academy.

"That has helped to improve the camp every year," Abegaz said. "We are adding more topics. Cybersecurity changes every year."

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