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Generation AI Reaches 10,000 Students—and Begins a New Chapter

By Bill Eidson

In 2018, MITRE launched Generation AI to share artificial intelligence practices, tools, and community with students—and over 10,000 have participated. Now MITRE is transferring ownership to the Generation AI Consortium.

“Even though it may seem ubiquitous in some ways, artificial intelligence [AI] is still at a stage much like the early days of the internet,” says MITRE’s Michael Balazs, department manager of Technology Operationalization and Early Career Programs. “And we know how much of our personal and work lives center around the web.

“But as we look to the future, too few students know how to incorporate AI into their own fields of study.”

And yet students—along with the rest of us—now use AI every day. Online searches, GPS routing, safety features on our cars, even ordering that pizza on a smart speaker—they all involve the technology, to some degree.

Balazs says this lack of knowledge puts the U.S. at a competitive and national security disadvantage. He and former MITRE senior vice president Richard Byrne recognized this gap in 2018 and launched MITRE’s Generation AI to help students learn about it.

The program grew rapidly, and more than a dozen schools have participated since it began. (The work also complements MITRE’s ongoing educational programs aimed at developing the talent pipeline in cybersecurity and quantum computing.)

“Ten thousand students using the program is a very good start,” says Keoki Jackson, senior vice president and general manager of MITRE’s national security programs. “And I expect that number of students will continue to grow many times over. I’m proud of our MITRE team for conceiving and launching Generation AI.”

We asked Balazs and his colleague Ronald Hodge, national security strategist, to share their thoughts as MITRE transfers leadership of the program to the Generation AI Consortium. Other members of the consortium include University of Texas at San Antonio, Marymount University, University of Maryland, Purdue University, and Florida International University.

Q: Why did MITRE decide to create Generation AI?

Michael Balazs: As a company focused on solving problems for a safer world, MITRE is in a natural position to organize and align the needs and resources of U.S. academic, industry, and government stakeholders. We recognized that AI is likely to be as big a factor as the internet, and we wanted to expose students to the power and pitfalls of it independent of their field of study—ideally, multiple times in their academic career.

The question became: how do we expand AI to every discipline? How do we help it enhance the entire workforce?

Q: How does Generation AI differ from other educational programs?

Ron Hodge: Because of MITRE’s objective view, we didn’t approach Generation AI from a marketing or profitability standpoint. While other AI educational programs may be excellent, they often have a business agenda. That may include recruitment or training students on platforms or tools with baked-in dependencies on proprietary software.  

With Generation AI, we wanted to give students the tools and knowledge to apply artificial intelligence to their own interests. Some may choose to become data scientists. But we want to help all students apply AI to whatever their field of interest—art, agriculture, retail, manufacturing. It’s up to them.

A historian might use AI to do a quick search of documents to pull out key pieces of information. Or a medical researcher could use it to identify cancer in blood cells. The possibilities are virtually limitless.

Early on we recognized the importance of “meeting students where they are.” So instead of creating AI programs where students would need to self-select and choose to attend, we created AI modules that professors could incorporate into their own coursework.

Q: Why is MITRE transferring leadership of Generation AI?

Balazs: Four years ago, when we considered the challenges of AI just over the horizon, we recognized this was a natural moment for MITRE to step in. It was a difficult problem, there was no profit motive, and stakeholders across academia, industry, and government needed to work together to solve it. 

So, we created Generation AI. MITRE also has a long history of technology transfer, once programs reach a point where they can thrive on their own. We’re delighted that Generation AI has reached 10,000 students, but now is the time for us to contribute as members of the consortium rather than continuing to lead.

We expect to be involved for years to come in addressing this tough challenge, including facilitating MITRE employees who volunteer to teach course modules. 

Meanwhile, the University of Texas at San Antonio recently broke ground on its new School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center—and I’m pleased to say their plans include dedicated office space for the Generation AI program.