ISU Professors: Cybersecurity Push Begins With K-12 Education | WGLT

ISU Professors: Cybersecurity Push Begins With K-12 Education

Dec 12, 2017

America’s search for more cybersecurity professionals may begin in a kindergarten classroom.

Two professors who spearheaded the launch of Illinois State University’s new cybersecurity major say that better computer education in K-12 classrooms will improve computer literacy and could eventually lead young people toward IT careers. 

“It’s really problematic that students are coming out (of K-12 schools) without an understanding of how computers work, given that we’re all carrying a very powerful computer around in our pockets,” said Mary Elaine Califf, director of ISU’s School of Information Technology. “That’s a good starting place, to support K-12 instruction of computing. And by that, I don’t mean how to use Word. I mean how to use the machines.” 

Mary Elaine Califf from ISU's School of Information Technology
Credit Illinois State University

Califf and Associate Professor Glen Sagers will be the featured speakers Thursday at the Economic Development Council’s BN By The Numbers event. The topic is cybersecurity education. GLT is a co-sponsor. 

ISU launched a cybersecurity major this year, now with 189 students. Its creation was in reaction to hearing from companies like State Farm Insurance that want to hire more information-security professionals to protect against countless cyber threats. 

A 2017 study from Cybersecurity Ventures predicts there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity job positions by 2021. ISU hears from those companies, Sagers said.

“It’s really a matter of, ‘More please. As fast as you can get them to us,’” Sagers said on GLT’s Sound Ideas. “They have a great need for trained cybersecurity professionals. They have positions going unfilled at many companies.”

That’s where K-12 education comes in. There are security programs and lessons that teachers can use with students as young as kindergarten, Sagers said. 

“Even a 6-year-old who’s given a computer can understand what a password is. They can further understand that a longer password makes sense, and memorizing a pass phrase—something that is several words strung together, perhaps with a number—even a 6-year-old can remember that and start forming that habit really, really early,” Sagers said. 

Califf said she’d also like to see more Bloomington-Normal businesses involved with ISU’s IT programs offered to high school students. That includes the annual High School Cyber Defense Competition and IT summer camp. 

“These are opportunities for high school students to come in and do some additional learning about security,” Califf said.

You can also listen to GLT's full interview with Califf and Sagers:

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