ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The U.S. Naval Academy has seen a big increase in cyber operations majors, and a U.S. senator said Monday that midshipmen could be useful in working on cyber challenges before they graduate.

The academy’s Board of Visitors, which acts as a board of trustees at civilian colleges, received an update on construction of the academy’s $106 million cybersecurity building. The meeting was held on the third floor of Nimitz Library, overlooking an active construction site.

Vice Adm. Ted Carter, the superintendent, said classes could begin in Hopper Hall in 2020.

The freshmen class has 110 cyber operations majors, or nearly 10 percent of the class. That’s up from 22 cyber majors in the class of 2018.

“The increase in interest has skyrocketed,” said Paul Tortora, a retired Navy captain and director for the academy’s Center for Cyber Security Studies.

The first cyber majors graduated from the academy in 2016. All midshipmen are required to take two semesters of cyber studies, including a semester in the freshman year and another in the junior year.

Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who is a board member, asked academy officials to keep in mind that midshipmen who get the specialized training in a cutting-edge facility could help solve important cyber problems before they graduate.

“I just urge you to think about our current challenges that we have in cyber and the fact that your students may very well be at the cutting edge, and we can’t wait for their graduation in order to deal with some of these events,” Cardin said.

The academy already partners with the nearby National Security Agency on summer internships for students. Tortora told the board that the academy also is working with NSA on the cyber curriculum.

Andrew Phillips, the academic dean and provost at the academy, said school officials hope the building will become a center for people in cybersecurity.

“We are really hoping that people sort of gravitate our way to use the building for much more than the courses we’re teaching,” Phillips told the board.

The academy also is working to develop the capability to teach with classified content, Tortora said.

“I think in the first year as we get used to putting midshipmen in a classified environment on a regular basis, we’ll probably have some guest speakers that might talk about what’s going on in the world, and then we might build maybe an elective or research lab” for upper-level midshipmen, Tortora said.

The building is named after Grace Hopper, a pioneering computer scientist and U.S. Navy rear admiral.

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