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NSA grant will allow UNG to teach cybersecurity to 40 high school students

April 30, 2019

The National Security Agency's (NSA) GenCyber Program has awarded the University of North Georgia (UNG) a grant of $99,381.26 to host its fourth annual GenCyber Warrior Academy from June 20-29.

Thanks to the grant, UNG can offer the 10-day cybersecurity course, which features nine days in the classroom, a day trip to the NSA's Fort Gordon offices in Augusta, and lodging on UNG's Dahlonega Campus, for free to 40 high school students. Students may apply on UNG's GenCyber Warrior Academy website.

A $40,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education will allow UNG to teach cyber skills to another 60 students this summer as part of Upward Bound, a program helping high school students learn more during their summers.

Dr. Bryson Payne, professor of computer science and director of UNG's Center for Cyber Operations Education, and Dr. Tamirat Abegaz, assistant professor of computer science, were the lone instructors for the first two years of the GenCyber Warrior Academy. Diane Stephens, lecturer of computer science and information systems, joined them for the first time in 2018.

"The students who were attracted to the program were bright and motivated," Stephens said. "They wanted to learn more about cybersecurity and were driven. They kept me on my toes. That just made it fun."

This summer, four more UNG faculty will help, including Dr. Cindi Smatt, associate professor of information systems; Dr. Mingyuan Yan, assistant professor of computer science; Dr. Sara Sartoli, assistant professor of computer science; and Dr. Jianjun Yang, associate professor of computer science.

Members of the Corps of Cadets will mentor the high school students, serving as resident assistants and classroom support.

"It makes a big impression on our high school students when they see college students engaged in this and leading in the program," Payne said. "It's a terrific experience for our cadets, as well. It gives them leadership experience working with younger men and women who are thinking about cyber."

After the Academy's initial year, Payne and Abegaz adjusted their teaching approach, providing students the opportunity to take more ownership of what they learn. The NSA recommends 10 cyber principles to be part of the class, then students create something virtually to represent one of those principles.

Payne said the practicality of the GenCyber Warrior Academy benefits students in their personal lives, possible cybersecurity careers and even other workforces they may enter. Sessions about robots, car hacking and drone hacking are among the favorites of previous camp students.

"We show them how to protect their system by thinking like a hacker," Payne said. "These students will be able to defend computers from those kinds of attacks."

Payne said guest speakers from the NSA and armed forces reinforce to students the importance of ethics in keeping their security clearances, which in turn make them more attractive for military and private-sector jobs.

Rose Procter, director of UNG's BB&T Center for Ethical Leadership, and Lumpkin County Middle School science teacher Bryan Fagan also are scheduled to talk to students.

Payne and his team of instructors thrive on helping the next generation of cybersecurity employees for a couple of weeks and introducing the students to UNG's cybersecurity program.

A bachelor's degree in cybersecurity rolled out in fall 2018, and UNG placed third of 377 schools nationally in the NSA Codebreaker Challenge that wrapped up Jan. 6.

Six students have attended the GenCyber Warrior Academy before enrolling at UNG, and another 13 who applied to GenCyber Warrior Academy in its first three years have later enrolled at the university.

"When we recruit for the program each year, we're touching base with thousands of influencers and educating them on the rapidly growing cyber education programs offered at UNG," said Keith Antonia, associate vice president for military programs at UNG.

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