The future of cybersecurity is in little(r) hands, thanks to a partnership between MITRE and the University of Texas at San Antonio. The collaboration—part of a broader initiative—uses an innovative K-12 program that turns cybersecurity into a game.
The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security (CIAS) has announced a partnership with MITRE to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education across all grade levels, with a focus on technology and cybersecurity.
It could hardly be timelier. An ever-growing dependence on online activities—particularly with the shift to virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic—makes good “cyber hygiene” vital for both online security and personal safety.
CIAS officially launched the curriculum for elementary-aged learners this fall. It combines hands-on opportunities to explore both how to build a strong network and protect it from a variety of cyberattacks. To reinforce concepts such as cybersecurity terminology, defense strategies from cyber threats, and cybersecurity principles, the program features the Cyber Threat Defender card deck.
The game, available in tabletop and electronic versions, is geared toward middle- and high-school students. The game’s designers recently released age-appropriate iterations for younger learners as well.
Greg White, center director for UTSA’s CIAS, says demand for the Cyber Threat Defender decks has been tremendous, and it’s thanks to companies like MITRE that the game is reaching schools on a national level, as well as in 17 different countries and counting.
“With sponsors like MITRE, we have the ability to produce more decks and expand our K-12 Cybersecurity Program to support the long list of schools requesting these complimentary educational tools.”
On Campus and in the Community
While working directly with CIAS is a new development, MITRE has partnered with UTSA since May 2019. That’s when the two entities officially agreed to team up in areas such as research collaboration, academic modules, cyber pilot programs, and an overall presence on a campus that boasts a robust school of data science. And because we’ve had an office in San Antonio for many years, we also bring strong ties with the local educational community.
UTSA has already brought MITRE’s Generation AI Nexus program̶—which exposes all college students to artificial intelligence concepts, regardless of major or course of study—to its campus. It’s part of a pilot program for coursework that will eventually be rolled out to other universities.
“This way, we can demonstrate to students how to use data science, whether you’re majoring in English, art history, or computer science,” says Patti Geppert, associate director for research development in UTSA’s Office of Strategic Research Initiatives.
Bobby Blount, MITRE’s San Antonio site lead for strategic partnerships and innovation, says the partnership has already had a significant impact on both organizations and the community.
“We’ve managed to merge MITRE ideals and UTSA’s educational initiatives to create learning and teaching opportunities in both directions,” he says. UTSA’s senior capstone project, for example, can allow soon-to-be graduates to experience a full year of working on MITRE projects and “solving some pretty unique research opportunities we really needed help on.”
The partnership promotes lifelong learning, too. To date, more than 40 UTSA faculty members have stepped up to let our researchers tap into their expertise to benefit MITRE projects.
Meanwhile, San Antonio MITRE staff members have enrolled in a comprehensive data science and engineering “boot camp” course we asked UTSA to develop. The boot camp helps our cybersecurity professionals better understand data science and engineering.
“We’re so glad UTSA has been so enthusiastic for this type of partnership,” Blount adds. “Together, we’re making a difference and getting everyone excited about learning in areas that move our nation forward.”
—by Nancy Romps