By 2019 there will be an estimated global shortage of 2 million cybersecurity professionals.

Given the rise in the number of cybersecurity attacks and the availability of exploits to vulnerabilities, opportunities are needed for aspiring cybersecurity professionals to engage, learn, and make contributions to a field that impacts many aspects of our society. It is critical to engage the younger generations and expose them to cybersecurity career possibilities at an early age to generate interest.

To meet this need, the Classroom of the Future Foundation (CFF) brought together several key cyber industry partners (see CFF website) to create an introductory course for students to explore a career in cybersecurity. In the Fall of 2017, the Career Discovery Cybersecurity Experience, a six-week unit of study, was developed and piloted at two schools, Health Sciences High and Middle College (HSHMC) and the Community Day Program at Sweetwater Union High School District. The project was designed to provide exposure to structured curriculum and authentic field experiences in professional settings.

The course begins in week one with students learning about the subject of cybersecurity while engaging in interactive online activities. In week two, students learn about the history of communication security, the evolution of coding systems, encryption and decoding. This is done through the lens of the USS Midway Museum.

After completing classwork on the “History of Communication Security” (developed by Midway docents), students take a field trip to the Midway visiting specific communication locations, where they are greeted by docents (many who once held these communication security positions) engaging them with a first-hand perspective on how communication security worked during the USS Midway era.

In the third week, students research and identify the kind of lifestyle they’d like to have as an adult and what income they will need to support it. This research is conducted using Inform Journeys an interactive user-interface, where students create a roadmap to a desired career.

It is crucial for students to realize there is more than one pathway to a career in IT or cybersecurity. There are college and certificate pathways in the IT industry, meaning students don’t have to go to college right away and can instead begin employment in the industry through passing certifications; this approach is in-line with the trends that are seen in the workforce. Many leave high school needing to work and prioritize work skills over academia. It is also common in the tech industry to see experience prioritized over coursework.

In the fourth week, students explore career options and the skills needed to excel in cybersecurity jobs. They learn about the knowledge, skills, and abilities you need for a career in cybersecurity and the variety of paths you might take to get there. Additionally, in this week students have the opportunity to practice communication skills, one of the highly identified “soft” skills necessary in a cybersecurity career.

In week five, students engage in a face-to-face or virtual conversation with a cybersecurity professional. In the sixth week, students create an infographic project which synthesizes their learning. This is then presented in a ‘mentor session’ to a panel of cybersecurity professionals using the virtual platform Nepris, an online platform that connects industry experts with classrooms.

One of the most valuable outcomes was the advice shared by the cybersecurity professionals, that students should follow their passion, develop their communication and collaboration skills, and learn to become a “self-teacher.”

They also stressed that students should not be afraid to fail because that’s where they have the opportunity to learn the most. They learned to never, ever pretend to know something they don’t…that cybersecurity experts are expected to say “I don’t know” when they don’t know. Rather, cybersecurity professionals don’t allow failure to stop them and instead leverage their resources and their community of peers to find solutions.

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