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Learning Tracks Hone High-Demand Emerging Technology Skills

By Kay M. Upham

MITRE Interns

"In my eyes, the learning track was easily one of my favorite experiences at MITRE," says Shrinath Iyer, a high school student from Virginia.

Iyer's reaction isn't unique. More than 300 summer interns—ranging from high school students to Ph.D. candidates—completed our new learning track program, which scored top marks among participants.

Angie Morris, who heads up MITRE's Student Programs, concurs. "Based on the feedback we received, I'd say the program was a huge success." Two-thirds of the participants said they would pursue more education in the track they participated in because of the program.

The goal of the intern training was to provide students with increased knowledge in three emerging technology fields: artificial intelligence, positioning/navigation/timing systems, and cyber warfare. The tracks support MITRE's Student Program's mission to "develop students to meet MITRE's and our nation's future workforce needs," Morris says.

Each track's curriculum included three phases. Because of the pandemic, the program's organizers shifted each to modules that could be done remotely while also including active participation.

In the first section, MITRE experts hosted virtual presentations on the basic technologies and their impact on the safety and security of our country. The second phase prioritized hands-on learning and training in virtual labs. In the final segment, interns completed a project challenge and presented their solutions.

Supporting the Next Generation of AI Expertise

Developing a technical workforce with strong AI skills is critical. But since AI permeates many fields—from computer systems, to healthcare, to finance—it's vital that students from all disciplines have a basic understanding of AI and data science. They both will play a critical role in our future economy.

Taught by MITRE staff, the AI track focused on developing interns' understanding of how to sift through the vast amounts of information generated by the systems we use today. From there, the students learned how use AI to stitch select pieces of that data together to create new ideas or identify patterns.

"My biggest takeaway was learning that there are so many intersections between data and other fields," says Jazmin Dunlap, a Harvard University chemistry major.

Iyer liked the AI and machine learning dual focus. "For me it was an  excellent opportunity to apply and actively learn concepts in relation to machine learning," he says. "During the final AI competition, I gained deeper insights into the learning algorithms that we applied."

Hacking for Fun and Not for Profit

Our staff designed the cyber warfare learning track to teach students the tools, techniques, and methodologies of hackers, how to apply them, and how to defend against them. This track also included a particular focus on embedded systems—the special-purpose electronic devices that are embedded in almost everything around us.

Elijah Heilman, an undergraduate cybersecurity major at Rochester Institute of Technology, liked the real world applicability of the program. "I loved the format of learning and then applying because, while learning it is fascinating, being able to implement the techniques was both fun and beneficial."

He adds, "I learned a lot from the presentations and the experience that came with completing the cyber challenge. But for me, the best part was having the chance to explore the cybersecurity field with MITRE professionals as my guide."

Protecting Precise Time Synchronization

Positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) technologies—satellite-based systems such as GPS are the predominant PNT delivery service—are built into thousands of applications. In some cases, GPS has become so integrated into our technology that systems designers and implementers may not recognize their dependence upon it. Users expect, and at times cannot function without, the PNT that GPS provides.

MITRE's PNT learning track started with a broad introduction to PNT and GPS processing. Andrew Moore, a graduate student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, appreciated "the valuable, big picture perspective."

MITRE's Brady O'Hanlon, one of the PNT instructors, says, "Students got to see how abstract concepts they’d learned in school are applied in a real system. Seeing their engagement, enthusiasm, and curiosity was a real pleasure."

—by Kay M. Upham