Training 30 Million K-12 Students in Cyber Security - Interview with National Cyber Group CEO, Philip Niedermair


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At Gula Tech Adventures, Cyndi and I get to spend time with a variety of cyber education programs at the high school, college and trade school levels. We are very familiar with the struggle to engage students in the cyber mission of programming, protecting and privacy concerns that we are going to face as a nation in the future. We invested in the National Cyber Group (NCG) to help address this problem. In this interview, we hear from the NCG CEO Philip Niedermair about his goals to help train more than 30 million K-12 students in cyber via the National Cyber Education Program in partnership with Discovery Education.
Philip, what inspired you to tackle this problem?

Two longtime legends in our community acted as inspirations – Admiral Bill Studemen and Lt. General Rhett Hernandez. A few years ago, I attended the JSA (Joint Services Academy) Cyber Cyber Summit with Admiral Studemen, I have had a long collaborative working relationship with the ACI, (Army Cyber Institute at West Point) where I have had a role supporting thier CyCon US global Cyber Security conference partnered with the NATO Cyber Center of Excellence in Estonia (https://cyber.army.mil/Events/CyCON-US/) and he impressed upon me how great the cost to the nation would be if we don’t get more people into cyber security. Shortly after that, I was with Lt. General Hernandez at the NDU (National Defense University) Cyber Beacon conference and there were two back to back panels detailing how large the cyber skills gap really was. While speaking with the general, it dawned on me that most of our focus on cyber training is college and post college. This is too late! We need to teach the principals of computing and information security at a very young age and inspire participation of our young people beyond just the kids who devour all types of computing and include more women and minority’s too. There are so many jobs in Cyber and technology which don’t involve programming....

Doing this from K-12 will help empower all students to understand the mission and problem of cyber security and create a larger demand for college cyber programs. And to do it, we need to do it nationwide. There are lots of great cyber education programs, but they’ve lacked the scale to train the numbers of students this nation really needs to stay competitive over the next few decades.

The scale issue was also impacted by lack of teachers - we have so few qualified science and technology teachers in our classrooms - how do we deliver quality classroom content and inspire the students... But Discovery Education uses technology to overcome this, they use the screen, the app and the web to deliver the curriculum in an exciting, and thought provoking way - which allows the teachers to be “coaches” and focus on the individual student's needs rather than having to worry about delivering the “wrote” curriculum they can focus on inspiring and guiding the students!

Cyber is not just about protecting our credit cards, it touches every facet of our lives, it’s our homes, our clothes, the lights we switch on and it protects and facilitates every aspect of our lives and protects the culture and security of our nation as well.

We do a terribly bad job of explaining our industry and what it really does.

This has to be part of our mission and our story to the kids....

Training 30 Million K-12 students is very intimidating and a grand number. What gives you the confidence you can do this nationwide?

At the same time General Hernandez and I were talking about the cyber skills gap and getting K-12 students to engage, I had an epiphany to engage my friends at Discovery Education. I sit on a committee for the Drug Enforcement Agency Education Foundation and created
Operation Prevention. This is a nationwide drug awareness program that has reached 30 million kids. This was made possible through DEA and DOJ funding and partnering with the Discovery Education. The Discovery Education is unique in K-12 education because their platform is both electronic and in 1000s of school systems already. They have a pipeline to the kids, the classrooms, the schools and have already negotiated on a local level curriculum approval.

Because of my success with Operation Prevention, I knew that Discovery Education was the key to teaching cyber security to the next generation going through K-12. I pitched the concept to Madeline Phillipp and Damon Jones and they instantly felt Discovery Education would be an ideal delivery mechanism to teach cyber to K-12 students from all backgrounds.

I’m confident we can reach this many K-12 students with Discovery Education because of their reach. Their network has access to 4.5 million educators which serve over 50 million students in half of all classrooms in the U.S. and U.K. and more than 50 countries worldwide. Here in the US, almost half of all Discovery Education schools are designated Title 1, are located in low-to-moderate income communities and are less than 50% white. I want the National Cyber Education Program to inspire children from across the entire nation, regardless of race, sex or affluent – cyber is that large of a problem and opportunity for us.

I’m also confident because we already have support from the White House, specifically the Vice President’s Office, the Department of Education and Department of Commerce. This allows us to leverage great cyber content from NIST and the National Cyber Education Research Center and not re-invent the wheel. We’ve also had great interest from a variety of industry partners who have a vested interest in seeing the nation have a strong cyber-capable population of potential employees and government personnel.

What type of involvement will the National Cyber Education Program have with industry?

Our goal is to roll out a K-12 cyber curriculum for free in the next 12 months. We are seeking financial sponsors so the program can remain free of charge to all students, parents and districts. We are also looking for industry partners to join our Industry Advisory Council to help guide the curriculum and determine what skill sets are needed for employment in the future. We’ve spoken with industry partners from the defense industrial base, from cyber security, from banking and many other places. I’m spending a great deal of time gathering requirements and meeting with others from industry who are concerned about this problem as I am. We will also be planning a variety of regional conferences for K-12 educators and I want to leverage cyber security thought leaders and cyber companies to participate and guide more educators in cyber.

Where can our readers go to learn more?

Our web site is
https://www.natcybergroup.com/. You’ll see some video testimonials from our team and a timeline overview of the National Cyber Education Program. I’d like to hear from you! If are interested in helping making the National Cyber Education Program a success, please contact me. I’d like to hear your concerns about cyber education and what we can do together to help train the next generation to be safe and keep us safe in cyberspace.

If we don’t have enough people to man our virtual walls - how can we defend our nation and global freedom? ….there is a lot at stake, our survival as a nation and the defense of our culture and our freedom.