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Insights From the Experts: Collaborting in the Cyber Workforce Development

Insights From the Experts: Collaborting in the Cyber Workforce Development

November 2, 2023

In 2015, the Northern Virginia Science Center Foundation launched youth workforce development programs targeting high school and early college students. These initiatives aimed to empower students by imparting essential professional skills. The core pillars of these programs revolved around engaging our region’s experts in industry and higher education to collaborate in workforce development. Local leaders help us provide professional skill development, STEM subject matter expertise, hands-on application of newly acquired knowledge, and a commitment to continual enhancement.

One powerful example of this collaboration is the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) internship program. This seven-week summer program was developed in partnership with the CCI team at George Mason University’s College of Engineering and Computing and the Northern Virginia Science Center Foundation community engagement team. The program objective is to bolster the cybersecurity workforce of the future through direct engagement with high school students. The program kicks off with a two-week professional skills bootcamp, after which students are placed with local cybersecurity organizations.This hands-on experience in professional work environments and cyber-related fields is a pivotal step in workforce development. Identifying and securing commitments from cyber firms for intern placements is a crucial factor for theprogram's success. 

In our data-rich world, many CCI industry partners have incorporated elements of data science into their internship offerings. OCEUS Networks, a three-year CCI Industry Partner, has integrated data management andanalytics into their CCI intern concentration.

Todd Pressley, Deputy CTO at OCEUS, underscores the importance of providing young minds with complex and challenging problems, stating, "Oceus is proud to support the development of young minds in data science in collaboration with the Northern Virginia Science Center Foundation. We feel that providing complex and challenging problems is critical to capturing the excitement of young people. Starting at a high school level has been a brilliant innovation. Engaging them in real-world problems prepares them for future engagements within the world marketplace."

Through internships and coursework, students are exposed to the world of data science, laying a solid foundation in data literacy. Dr. Padmanabhan Seshaiyer, Professor and Director at George Mason University, highlights the rapid growth of data creation in recent years, stating, "Over 90% of the world's data has been created in the last two years." This data explosion has led to an increasing demand forindividuals with data-proficient skills in the workforce. Consequently, many higher education institutions are establishing new data science programs and pathways to meet this demand.

For students in the Commonwealth of Virginia, an exciting new curriculum option is emerging for high school students. Dr. Seshaiyer played a pivotal role as a lead member from higher education in the Virginia Department of Education task force that developed the state's first-ever High School Data Science Standards of Learning and coursework. This curriculum focuses on teaching students to collect, process, interpret, visualize, model, analyze, and predict using data. Dr. Seshaiyer emphasizes the significance of this effort, saying, "We hope that this new data science high school pathway will not only provide students with a multidisciplinary learning experience but also help to create a paradigm shift, moving beyond students as consumers of education to students as producers of information." 

The combination of coursework and application of knowledge through internship placements in local businesses creates stronger data literacy in the students and often leads to offers of employment. Together we are growing the workforce pipeline and better preparing our region and nation for the future.