Many of the students Millisa Lirette teaches at rural Central Lafourche High School think about their career options in terms of just a few categories.
"Oil field. Ship yard. Medical field. Retail. Education," Lirette said, ticking off the areas most of her seniors anticipate pursuing. "And that's about it."
But Lirette joined 18 other teachers for GenCyber, the University of New Orleans' two-week intensive training for high school instructors who want to equip their students with knowledge and skills that can open up possibilities in one of the most in-demand employment fields today: cybersecurity.
"I have kids who would do really, really well at this," Lirette said. "They just need to know about it."
In its fourth year, the GenCyber program, held July 10-21, is funded by the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation. Participating teachers received extensive training from cybersecurity experts as well as a $500 stipend and a Chromebook loaded with all the tools necessary for the training. The program was free to participants, including meals, travel and, when applicable, lodging.
Joshua Barone, a senior developer at Black Bag Technologies, is a UNO alumnus of the computer science program (B.S.,'04, M.S.,'14). Barone has provided guest lectures for the program in prior years. This year, Barone worked closely with GenCyber director Vassil Roussev, professor of computer science who heads UNO's Greater New Orleans Center for Information Assurance, co-teaching the sessions and helping to shape the curriculum.
"This is phenomenal," Barone said. "There's a huge shortage of people in our field. If I can inspire the teachers who can inspire the students, it's a much wider audience."
Cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing fields in technology. Cybersecurity Ventures, a research firm that covers the global cyber economy, issued a report this year that projects 3.5 million cybersecurity job openings by 2021. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the median income for jobs in the information security field at $96,040.
If there is any doubt as to why there is such demand, even a few minutes listening to Barone summarize all the ways information security is compromised every day-and every minute-helps put it in perspective. Attackers use botnets, spam, hacking, viruses and more to access data that can help them carry out anything from lucrative pharmaceutical scams to breeches that impact international security.
"As our daily lives become ever more reliant on cyber systems, the importance of strong cybersecurity will continue to grow and expand," Roussev said. "There is an insatiable demand for trained professionals to meet the needs of both industry and government agencies. GenCyber is a unique opportunity to help prepare our high school teachers for the challenges of promoting essential cybersecurity awareness and skills among all students."
Lirette, a teacher for 32 years, said the experience has been eye-opening, not only from an instructional perspective but also as a consumer. "I feel like I'm learning a lot," she said.