Internships help cybersecurity majors apply what they learn in the classroom to real-life work challenges
BY BETH LUBERECKI
NORWICH RECORD | Winter 2022
Tyler C. Hayes ’23 has been interest¬ed in the cyber world since he was a kid. He liked playing around with computers and solving his family’s tech issues, and he built his first computer during his freshman year of high school.
The School of Cybersecurity, Data Science, and Computing was a primary reason why Hayes elected to attend Norwich, a designated Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education by the U.S. National Security Agency. Also designated a Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence by the Defense of Cyber Crime Center of the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Operations, NU’s cybersecurity programs are ranked among the nation’s best.
As he works toward his bachelor’s degree in computer security and information assurance, Hayes is learning about malware, forensics, and other cybersecurity fundamentals required in his chosen career field. But he’s already had the chance to apply his academic knowledge outside the classroom through internships. “I’m very thankful for these internships, because they allowed me to see the real-world applicability of the classes I’m taking now,” Hayes says.
Over the summer, the Army ROTC scholar interned at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, researching cyberattacks on transportation and other critical infrastructure. He also interned with the Norwich University Applied Research Institutes (NUARI) as a security analyst, monitoring client network traffic for threats and researching current issues in cybersecurity.
NU’s Cyber Institute Cyber Leader Development Program provided funding to make both internships possible for Hayes. (NU serves as the lead institution for the Department of Defense’s Cyber Institute program at the nation’s six senior military colleges, which aims to expand the country’s cyber talent pipeline. Related story.)
“Being able to take what you’ve learned in class and apply it, practice it, and work with others who have similar interests and skills helps students build competencies and a much richer resume or portfolio prior to graduation,” says retired U.S. Army Col. Sharon R. Hamilton, PhD, associate vice president of strategic partnerships at Norwich and the leader of the DoD Senior Military College Cyber Institute Program. “In our discussions with DoD hiring authorities and with private and defense industries, this is what they’re looking for. They see that someone has a degree in cybersecurity, but what does that mean and what competencies do they possess?”
Henry C. Millar ’24 recently began an internship through the NU Cyber Institute Cyber Leader Development Program conducting research with Associate Professor of Computer Science Matthew Bovee, PhD, to assess whether Vermont small business¬es and local governments are prepared for and protected from cyberthreats.
That multi-semester project will complement the experience the cybersecurity and mathematics double major gained last summer when he upgraded the technology at his Virginia high school. For that project, Millar researched what worked and what didn’t at other schools before installing new projectors, smartboards, and TVs and replacing the school’s entire wireless network.
“It was a significant undertaking,” Millar says. “You learn a lot about the physical infrastructure of a campus when you’re fundamentally replacing it.”
The sophomore says he understands the benefit of that first-hand experience. “There’s a ton of value, especially at the undergraduate level, in being able to get real-world experience,” he says. “It helps you make much better and more informed decisions about where you want your life to go.” For Millar, those future plans include a PhD in computer science and a college professorship.
Internships and other experiential learning opportunities are all but a necessity for today’s cyber majors.
“There’s base knowledge that we’re imparting,” says Prof. Michael E. Battig, PhD, who directs the School of Cybersecurity, Data Science, and Computing and the Norwich Cyber Institute. “But the actual practice is a different beast. There’s so much that we can’t simulate and can’t teach in higher education, even just simple things like office and company dynamics.”
That’s why internships that take students beyond the classroom are so vital. “Students are going to have a hard time differentiating themselves from other competitors for a job if they don’t have at least one internship,” Battig says. “If they have a degree but just worked at Starbucks for a few summers, they’re just not going to get it. Employers go for students who showed the initiative and drive to go out and pursue things.”
By doing so, students learn workplace skills that have nothing to do with a computer. Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Cybersecurity Lauren E. Provost, PhD, dubs skills like persistence and creativity “power skills.”
“Recruiters like students who can come in and get to work,” Provost says. “They’re looking for graduates to be ready to work and solve complex problems, and they look for that experiential learning piece as the skill building required to solve complex problems, which results in students who are not scared about ambiguity….It’s building that confidence and persistence to say, ‘That wasn’t the solution right now, but let’s pick ourselves up and keep going because we still have to solve this problem.’ That persistence is something recruiters are really looking for that they feel is lacking a lot of times.”
Provost is currently working with a number of student interns on research projects involving ethical hacking or leading student cybersecurity clubs and com¬petitions. The internships, which support students in the Cyber Leader Development Program, are funded by the Norwich Cyber Institute.
As the DOD’s Cyber Institute program at Norwich and other senior military colleges enters its second phase, Hamilton says she looks forward to providing even more opportunities for cybersecurity students to gain first-hand experience through internships, cyber competitions, and leadership development initiatives that will serve as stepping stones for their careers. “Our students are uniquely qualified,” she says. “They come to a senior military college because they have interest in national service, want to be leaders, and want to learn and be the best in their academic programs. We build on that by providing lots of opportunities to gain experience.”