CSU Partners with School District to Earn NSA Grant for Middle School Cybersecurity Education

COLUMBUS, Ga. — In what may be a first for Georgia, Columbus State University is partnering with the Muscogee County School District on a National Security Agency (NSA) grant to develop and implement a course in cybersecurity education specifically designed for middle school students.

The $50,000 NSA grant allows CSU’s TSYS School of Computer Science and its developing TSYS Center for Cybersecurity to work with Rothschild Middle School Leadership Academy to develop and implement a course in cybersecurity education specifically designed for 7th and 8th grade middle school students.

“We do not think that a cybersecurity curriculum of this magnitude has been attempted at the middle school level in Georgia,” said Tom Hackett, chair of CSU’s Department of Counseling, Foundations, and Leadership and executive director P-12/University Partnerships. “This STEM project is expected to raise interest in cybersecurity and will encourage students to continue learning about cybersecurity, a field very much in-demand by today’s workforce.”

The course will be structured on the National Security Agency (NSA) Cybersecurity First Principles but will be broken down into age-specific topics understandable by 7th- and 8th-grade students, Hackett said. The NSA Cybersecurity First principles include: domain separation, process isolation, resource encapsulation, least privilege, modularity, layering, abstraction, data hiding, simplicity and minimization.

He said the course will facilitate a learner-centered classroom with numerous hands-on exercises that provide opportunities for middle school students to apply their newly gained knowledge of cybersecurity education.

This program is just one example of what will be many developing partnerships between the Muscogee County School District (MCSD) and Columbus State University. Hackett, CSU President Chris Markwood and MCSD Superintendent David Lewis are working on more ways to develop programs and education goals to benefit P-12 students, university students and the local businesses that will be hiring these graduates.

“We are proud of this unique partnership with CSU and excited for the opportunities it will afford our students as they begin exploration in this high-demand field,” said David F. Lewis, superintendent of the Muscogee County School District.

About 140 7th and 8th grade students at Rothschild Middle School will have the appropriate prerequisite to take the year-long elective course on cybersecurity education during the 2017-2018 school year.

“Whether you are 6 or 60 years old, cybersecurity is important to us all,” said Wayne Summers, professor and Distinguished Chairperson of CSU’s TSYS School of Computer Science. “By teaching the elements of cybersecurity in middle school, we will encourage safe computing practice as well as expand the pool of candidates for future cybersecurity professionals. Based on a comprehensive study supported by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, there are nearly 13,000 cybersecurity job openings in Georgia and nearly 350,000 openings nationally.”

The TSYS School of Computer Science, its TSYS Center for Cybersecurity and Muscogee County School District will ensure the cybersecurity education course will provide age-appropriate and performance based cybersecurity education in a safe environment for middle school students and will meet Georgia curriculum standards.

Hackett said the course curriculum will be available for download on the projects’ website and the course can be replicated in other middle schools across the nation.

The Rothschild teacher developing this fall’s course – to be called Business Principles & Computer Science – is enrolled at CSU this summer in the Information Security course in the TSYS School of Computer Science, which is designated by NSA as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education. Additionally, CSU is part of a consortium of seven University System of Georgia (USG) institutions to develop the USG’s capabilities in IT and cyber security as well as significantly increase the number of IT and cyber security industry qualified graduates coming from USG institutions.