First, the pandemic postponed the launch of our program. Then, the restrictions forced us to conduct the program in a hybrid manner and so we held 16 Zoom sessions throughout a couple of months. But finally, we made it to the US and back! Here is how the two groups of cybersecurity specialists spent their time in New York City and Washington D.C. and what they have learned on the way.
25 cybersecurity experts representing universities from 8 countries + 3 Fulbright staff members visited the US East coast in March/April in two cohorts: on March 12-24 and March 26-April 7, 2022.
Thanks to Matt Brown from World Learning and Diane Murphy from Marymount University, both groups had an opportunity to take a closer look at the organization of teaching cybersecurity in a variety of universities in the U.S., as well as discuss current challenges, including those related to cybersecurity workforce development, with fellow experts.
The main premise of this program was to visit a number of higher education institutions in Washington, D.C. and New York City that range from private to public, including those serving minorities or underrepresented communities. The first stop for each group was a tour of the campus of the program partner, Marymount University, where they met with faculty, doctoral students and external experts to further discover how cyber security and cyber threats can be taught in higher education institutions.
At George Washington University, representatives of Cyber Security and Privacy Research Institute shared their knowledge on and discussed the structure of their cyber curriculum. Participants could reflect upon how the students can shape the programs they are enrolled in by choosing elective courses and were interested to learn that writing a thesis is not always required to obtain a BSc or MSc degree. By meeting with the University of Maryland Global Campus representatives, the groups learned about online degree and non-degree programs in cyber security. Because these programs have a mostly asynchronous format of teaching, which makes them available for people who are in various time zones (e.g. military personnel during deployment), participants had a chance to find out more about learning platforms, cloud-based virtual labs and online assignments for students.
One of the questions ceaselessly explored during the tour visits was workforce development and the practical application of teaching cyber security. Presenters gave numerous examples of both government-funded, as well as business-driven initiatives that help students cover university tuition and then obtain their first job placement. These included CyberCorps® Scholarship program and Cybersecurity Apprenticeship (often based on the principle of service requirement for a period equivalent to the length of scholarship). A member of the faculty from Howard University shared her experience of an academic-public-private partnership established at this institution and highlighted its positive effects also in terms of giving practical experience to students from underserved communities. As Arnis Paršovs, a member of the first group noted: “Howard University has a very positive experience running courses where companies give to students their data (under NDA) and tasks that match the learning outcomes of the course. This, of course, requires the company to delegate a person that has weekly meetings with the students.”
While in New York City, the groups also visited New York University at their Brooklyn campus, City College of New York and Columbia University. The meetings were yet another opportunity to further discuss how teaching is organized (both from students and faculty perspectives), see lab presentations, discuss how additional educational projects, such as competitions can facilitate (or discourage) the buildup of cybersecurity skills, and how intersectionality is important in thinking of cybersecurity. Learning more about both online and in-person university cybersecurity programs, one of the participants noted an interesting fact: For an admission to some technical cyber security MSc programs it is not always required to have a technical background or even a BSc degree from a technical field. „Bridging” courses are offered to improve/obtain technical skills, which facilitates career changes and helps to close the workforce gap.
Discussions extended throughout the evenings. While still in the U.S., some of the group members were already sharing their insights and ideas for future cooperation, such as: a joint roundtable in Europe; joining regional initiatives and local opportunities for research and educational mobility; or signing Erasmus agreements between universities represented in the programs.
Besides the official program, there was also plenty of time to explore American culture through sightseeing, visiting museums, going to concerts and sport events. Everyone returned home safely, satisfied with the program and with the opportunity to finally meet in-person.