Science and Technology News

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Scott AFB joins community in developing cyber specialists

by Senior Airman Joshua Eikren
375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

11/18/2015 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Under the direction of the Air Force's community partnering program, Scott's Cyber Airmen have joined forces with other cyber experts in the region to participate in the newly formed Midwest Cyber Center of Excellence.

Base officials will work with the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, Southwestern Illinois College and St. Clair County Military Affairs to develop a Cyber Security community that looks to enhance education and job opportunities in the region.

"The Cyber Center of Excellence is a non-profit organization that will bring multiple independent activities from government, businesses, schools, and academia into one cohesive and concerted effort. We all have common goals so it makes sense that we could join forces to improve our community's Cyber Security resources," said Donna Davis, 375th Communications Group Technical Director.

According to the Midwest Cyber Center of Excellence, its top priority is workforce development. They will focus first on the growing cyber footprint at Scott Air Force Base, which includes new Cyber Readiness Support Squadrons that will stand up Dec. 1. Second, they want to look at the many other cyber-intensive industries operating across the St. Louis region, such as finance, healthcare, and government.

"The Southwestern Illinois community is engaged in developing an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, known as STEM, which traditionally serves as the foundational knowledge for Cyber Security related work. However, our workforce needs are outpacing the resources we have available, so we need to accelerate our efforts," said Davis.

There are several Cyber Center of Excellence working groups which are focused on improving Cyber Security skillsets in local workforce, improving community Cyber Security awareness and developing local Cyber Security economic opportunities.

Senior Master Sgt. Diane Slazinik, 375th Communications Support Squadron, said "It's essential to the success of the missions executed at Scott AFB to foster an increased capacity to develop emerging and future Cyber Professionals in the local community. The growing need to defend the U.S. against persistent cyber threats requires specific cyber skills. The available workforce nationwide is not currently able to meet the exponentially growing need for technically skilled cyber professionals."

This partnership is seen as not only a way to strengthening community engagement, but to also improve the Air Force's way of completing the mission, she added.

"I have been a cyber professional in the Air Force for 18 years, and as our profession has grown and changed it has become increasingly apparent how difficult it can be to cultivate the necessary skills to accomplish the mission," said Slazinik. "Any community initiative designed to inspire and engage people as early as possible to pursue technical careers has the potential to deliver long term benefits by increasing the capabilities of our future Airmen and community partners--and this is one of the goals of the Cyber Center of Excellence."

Slazinik said she believes the Cyber Center of Excellence will help them define the necessary training for this workforce and provide a mechanism to deliver it.
Reaching out to the community, the Cyber Center of Excellence will get involved by laying the groundwork needed for individuals to pursue and succeed in the cyber career field.

Davis added, "Scott members have a wealth of experience to draw upon as mentors in local schools, advisors concerning the workforce skills needed, and potentially as future Cyber Security workforce members, so it's important we are involved in identifying the path forward and provide support along the way."

The increasing importance of Cyber Security and growing mission needs at Scott AFB will rely heavily on the available cyber workforce.

Slazinik said, "As one of the larger consumers of this workforce, our engagement to support efforts within the local community will help to ensure it can meet the employment needs of the installation as well as those of our community partners."
Getting young Airman involved is just one way Scott can impact the community through its support and guidance.

"Our Airman have the opportunity to share their Air Force story and expertise with students in the local schools and knowledge is our best defense," said Davis. "Cyber Security information and awareness reduces the negative impacts on all of us."

Slazinik said, "I have been involved in extending STEM opportunities to K-12 students through military and community initiatives for the last 10 years. My hope, through the Cyber Center of Excellence, is to excite young students to pursue STEM careers, to reach out to under-represented populations and equalize the opportunities to be on the cutting edge of technology by opening them up to what is possible at a young age. The goal is to continue to nurture their curiosity throughout their formative years as well."

By improving cyber security awareness in young people, the Cyber Center of Excellence looks to create an interest in the growing education and awareness of employment opportunities that are available.

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