“Don’t think twice – it’s a no brainer. To not provide these opportunities for students would be doing them a disservice. Our economy is so knowledge-based driven, students need to know how to be consumers of tech but also how to be creators and developers. It makes sense that we’re focused on the emerging career field of cybersecurity, so we can give students an opportunity to foster innovation.” ~ Dawn Morrison, Alabama State Department of Education
When Dawn Morrison, Education Administrator with the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE), heard that the state was going to be a participant of the SkillsUSA (opens new window) job and training initiative a couple of years ago, she quickly identified cybersecurity as an emerging field for Alabamians.
“Providing students exposure to cybersecurity and helping them understand what high tech jobs are available in their own back yard was of significant importance,” said Dawn. When students have the awareness and abilities to pursue careers in cyber, “it can be a life changing opportunity for them and their families…building a path from poverty to opportunity and wealth,” she said.
The overarching goal of the Alabama SkillsUSA program is to place 500,000 new Alabamians in the workforce by 2025. Dawn knew that technical skills training and building student employability through hands-on practice would be critical to meeting that objective—especially in the Information Technology sector. SkillsUSA Championships provide competitive events for students to showcase their skills and the “cybersecurity” category was one of the competition areas that students could participate in.
"My participation in the SkillsUSA Cyber Security competition was an amazing learning experience. Project Ares is a platform that was very engaging and fun while still incorporating the educational aspect. The two games I played —Trivia Loot and Port Flow— were intriguing and helped set the stage for what I would experience in the battle rooms." ~ Destiny, Talladega County Schools, Alabama.
For her students to participate strongly in the SkillsUSA Championship events, they needed to have a solid cybersecurity learning experience. Dawn saw potential for those needs to be met with Project Ares labs (opens new window). Dawn learned about the hands-on labs in the Project Ares platform at an event. She saw how easily students could use the tool to learn fundamental and specialized skills in cybersecurity with hands-on-keyboard experience.
“I was blown away by the fact that it was a gamified environment [but also] how realistic [the scenarios] were for students. That’s always important. They may be ‘playing a game’ but [the scenarios] are so real and authentic.” ~ Dawn Morrison, Alabama State Department of Education
To prep for the SkillsUSA cybersecurity event, Alabama student participants used the “Systems Integrator” lab to learn network configuration and they played cyber learning games Trivia Loot and PortFlow to learn ports and protocols, and cybersecurity concepts and history.
"Students who used Project Ares in the SkillsUSA Championship challenge in cybersecurity were exposed to real cyber practices and inspired to pursue careers in the emerging industry. This competition has expanded my knowledge and proficiency in Cyber Security. It gave me a head-start on my journey towards becoming a Cyber Security specialist in the United States Air Force." ~ Destiny, Talladega County Schools, Alabama.
The Alabama Department of Education used Project Ares to attract and introduce students to cybersecurity to dissolve any perceptions that learning cyber was boring or too challenging. The competition using the Project Ares labs helped students understand that there are training tools out there to help them build skills for cyber jobs. As an emerging hub for Information Technology, the Alabama Department of Education is taking the right steps to prepare a growing talent pool to enter the cyber workforce.
Project Ares (opens new window) is an award-winning EdTech platform that provides hands-on cyber security labs that enhance competency-based education for teachers and reinforce readiness objectives for trainers. Its library of threat scenarios is immersive and reflects contemporary threat incidents. Learners have the ability to use real security tools, tactics, and procedures in Project Ares to effectively perform offensive and defensive activities to build cyber skills and competencies. For more information, visit https://projectares.academy (opens new window).
Dawn Morrison, Education Administrator with the Alabama State Department of Education (opens new window). Dawn has been a leading collaborator on Computer Science expansion efforts across Alabama for over a decade. She serves as a member of the Governor’s CS Advisory Council, the Governor’s Advisory Council for Excellence in STEM, Governor’s STEM Executive Council, and was a member of the K-12 Digital Literacy/CS Standards writing committee. Dawn also serves as the secondary education advisor on the Information Technology Technical Assistance Committee for the Alabama Committee on Credentialing and Career Pathways (ACCCP) and she recently received an appointment on the CompTIA National CTE Advisory Council.