High schoolers in Huntsville, Ala., may become the Army’s next cyber warriors.
Students at two city high schools are learning about network defense, cryptography and physical security as part of a partnership with Army Cyber Command signed in May.
The unique deal gives students a leg up if they seek high-paying computer science jobs and gives the Army a way to compete early for the high-tech expertise it needs.
“We’ll not only be able to educate our own students — 24,000, as well as 700,000 students from across the state — [but] build their interests, build their aptitudes,” said Huntsville Schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski. “That gives the Army tremendous reach inside a state in our union.”
The Army has a challenge recruiting directly from high schools because many students lack the interest in cybersecurity, as well as preparation in ethics, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The Army and the Huntsville school district will create a curriculum for students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, as well as the state’s first high school cyber academy in Huntsville and online courses for students outside Alabama.
The school district plans to work with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, as well as local cyber experts to serve as mentors. The curriculum will include computer languages and skills tailored toward the certifications the military needs.
Educators and the Army worry that students with hacking skills could commit a crime that later excludes them from a security clearance if they aren’t channeled into so-called “white hat” hacking programs early on.
“They need to understand this is precious information they’ve been given and respect it for what it is,” said Huntsville teacher Christine Sutton.
Huntsville high schooler Matthew Rogers acknowledged that, as a cybersecurity student, he is an anomaly. Typically, his classmates’ only encounter a firewall when they attempt to access Facebook or forbidden games on school networks.
“Whenever I mention that I’m studying cybersecurity in high school, I get quite a few confused looks because many people just don’t have a foundation in cyber technology,” Rogers said.
Skilled cyber experts ultimately will be attracted to the Defense Department for the access, not the money, said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Metzger, Army Cyber Leader Development, Training and Education chief.
“If I was going to go into a high school, I’d ask, ‘How would you like to be in Delta Force, but it’s a different kind of Delta Force?’” Metzger said. “If you look at the number of attacks we have on a daily basis, you will be on the front line of defending our nation.”