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Tech student talks cyber education at Congress roundtable

Wednesday, October 16, 2019
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            Bradford Wilkie (left), Assistant Director for Stakeholder Engagement at U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Tabitha Teel (right), director of EduTech, listen to Louisiana Tech CIS major Kylie Kalinowski speak at a Congressional Round Table in Washington, D.C.

After her freshman year of high school, Michigan native Kylie Kalinowski attended a Cyber Discovery camp that changed her future plans and convinced her to pursue a career in cybersecurity.

Just a few years later, the 19-year-old sophomore at Louisiana Tech University traveled to Washington, D.C. to represent all students in cyber fields as a panelist at a Congressional Round Table conference.

Kalinowski was the lone student voice as cyber professionals, educators, members of Congress and the media gathered on Sept. 19 to discuss the future of cybersecurity education and the growing workforce shortfall in the industry.

“It was very nervewracking, but I’m very happy I did it, because there were a lot of things I was able to contribute,” Kalinowski said. “We were just trying to spread awareness about what already exists in cybersecurity education and also the problems we’re facing.

“I felt like I had to be part of the conversation, because you can have educators and lawmakers, but you need the student perspective as well.”

According to Washington think tank CSIS, the U.S. faced a shortfall of almost 314,000 cybersecurity professionals as of January of this year. That number has grown by more than 50% since 2015, and by 2022 the global shortage has been projected to reach upwards of 1.8 million unfilled positions.

These jobs encompass not just national defense but also protecting the electronic data of businesses and individuals.

“There’s a huge labor crisis going on in cybersecurity right now,” Kalinowski said. “Our nation’s security depends upon our students being able to go into that labor field.”

The roundtable served in part to inform legislators about organizations and programs dedicated to helping students do just that. That includes the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (NICERC), one arm of a not-for-profit company supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop and distribute cyber, STEM, and computer science curricula to educators across the country.

“NICERC gives cyber educational opportunities to K-12 students,” Kalinowski said.

She should know: she was one of those students. In fact, that’s how she encountered Tech in the first place.

NICERC partners with Tech and four other postsecondary institutions across the country to hold Cyber Discovery camps to introduce grade school students to cyber fields.

Kalinowski attended one such camp on the campus of Eastern Michigan University after her first year of high school, which happened to include several Tech professors among its leadership.

Not only did that one week of camp convince her to pursue a cyber education, but continued contact with Tech faculty eventually led her across the country to Ruston upon graduation.

Since then Kalinowski has taken several opportunities to expand her experience in related fields, from software development at the Tech-housed Fenway Group to currently working for Tech alumna and celebrated CEO Alane Boyd.

But all that came about because NICERC paid for her camp expenses and made exposure to STEM and cyber fields accessible for her. And it’s that accessibility that Kalinowski made sure to highlight as she spoke to Congress members last month.

“Even though my camp was free and I was able to go and have that experience, I’m thinking about all those who didn’t have that experience, and how many more cybersecurity professionals we would have if they had access to it and knew it existed,” she said.

Serving with Kalinowski on the panel were Tabitha Teel, Director of EduTech, a program in North Dakota that offers training to STEM educators, Suzanne Harper, STEM Strategy Lead at Girl Scouts of the USA and Bradford Wilke, an executive in the DHS.

The moderator was Kevin Nolten, Director of Academic Outreach for NICERC.

“Bradford Wilkie told me he hopes Kylie will one day take his job,” Nolten said. “She represented Louisiana Tech so well.”

Among the lawmakers present was Mike Johnson, U.S. Rep. for Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District.

“(Johnson was) really fun to talk to and seemed genuinely interested in the wellbeing of his constituents, wanting to make sure there was more cybersecurity education available in the future,” Kalinowski said.

With three women on the panel, questions from media members at the roundtable shifted to focus on being a woman in male-dominated fields. Kalinowski said there was meaningful discussion on how to make cyber education more appealing to women.

“Girls like more story-driven things,” she said. “When it comes to cybersecurity, the boys like thinking about the bombs and the guns — the action part of (national defense). So some educators have suggested including more story-oriented things in cyber education, focusing on the individuals you’re helping as well as the country as a whole.”

She said after graduating from Tech, she plans to either work for U.S. homeland security or take her talents to the private sector as an entrepreneur, combining her passions for technology and people.