DISA engages next generation in Missouri
by Russell Goemaere
DISA Strategic Communication and Public Affairs
Officials from the Defense Information Systems Agency visited with Missouri high school and university students, as well as faculty and staff, to highlight the Department of Defense’s mission in cyberspace and the boundless career opportunities available for cyber professionals.
Jason Martin, vice director, Business and Development Center and acting vice director, Cyber Development Directorate, along with Thorne Murrell from DISA’s recruiting team, engaged with the students, faculty and staff at both the Missouri Cyber Exercise at the Lake of the Ozarks and at the University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri Oct. 8-10.
“It was an honor to talk with the students and staff members at both the MOCyberEx and at the university,” said Martin. “It is clear to me the next generation has the drive, knowledge and patriotism needed to meet the cyber challenges of tomorrow head-on, but we have to do a better job of engaging them early and often on the goodness of working for the government either in uniform or as a civil servant.”
At the MOCyberEx, Martin and Murrell visited with 30 students who made it into the final round of the exercise.
The cyber challenge was a multi-round competition that tested Missouri high school students’ skills in networking, programming and operating system security.
“The exercise really put the students through their paces,” Martin said. “The students had to protect a network from an attack and develop solutions on the fly."
“I told them experiences such as this exercise will build their resume and make them more attractive candidates during any job or academic vetting they may face in the future,” he said. “My hope is I encouraged them to continue down this path and to seek opportunities to test their knowledge and skills at demanding exercises and bug bounty events.”
“It was a lot of fun and I feel we were well tested on what we need to know and most importantly it gave me an idea of what I still need to learn,” said one high school student who is thinking about a career in engineering or computer science.
Missouri Governor Michael Parson congratulated all the students at the event but emphasized it is teamwork that actually wins the day.
“It’s not about being the best, it’s about making those around you better,” he said at a ceremony honoring those who took part in the exercise.
Martin delivered the luncheon keynote Oct. 9 at the exercise and addressed faculty and staff from Missouri school systems. He explained how the local, state and federal government along with DoD and DISA work to protect the nation’s data, but he also challenged them to encourage their students to seek the opportunity to serve their nation with jobs at the federal, state and local levels.
“Cooperation and collaboration between the local, state and federal government is increasing as cyber threat complexity grows,” he said. “We need the best and the brightest students to seriously consider a job in the government to ensure our data is protected.”
At the University of Missouri, Martin was invited to talk with students in a graduate level, cloud-computing class and the senior capstone course in information technology.
MU engineering graduate students in Associate Professor Prasad Calyam’s cloud-computing class were given the opportunity to brief Martin.
"A number of my students briefed Jason Martin on their cloud-computing projects," said Calyam. "It is not often a high-level defense official visits so I didn’t want my students to miss the opportunity to get professional feedback from someone from the DoD. Fortunately my students quickly realized their work aligned nicely with current and future projects in in the DoD."
Martin was enthusiastic about the briefs.
“They are working on many of the same problems we face every day,” he said. “How to secure the data in the cloud while allowing trusted agents easy access so they can more readily do their mission. It was fascinating to hear how much intellectual effort these students were putting into their projects, and I hope the comments and observations I offered will be of some value as they move forward.”
In the capstone IT class, Martin was asked about how to apply for a job with DoD and how long the process might take.
“It can take some time to get a government position,” he said, “but we are looking to leverage new hiring authorities like Cyber Excepted Service, to hire qualified candidates on the spot.”
Following the two classes, Martin met with almost 30 additional students who were curious about job opportunities with DISA and DoD; while Murrell prepared to receive the students at the DISA recruiting area positioned outside the doors of the college of engineering.
“The students are clearly very hungry for information on what a career with DoD might look like,” Martin said. “They seemed impressed there is so much opportunity for advancement and that DoD workforce culture is based on cooperation and collaboration to do everything we can to help our warfighters achieve their mission in defense of our nation.”
The students felt DISA’s visit helped them get a better understanding of what it would be like to work for the government. "It was very good to hear about the opportunities that the federal government, and DISA in particular, have for students with technical degrees," said Rafal Al Yousuf, a doctorate student at the university. “The technical programs that Mr. Martin talked about align very closely with the skills and training we are receiving at MU.”
Murrell said a line of students waited patiently to talk with him during the time his recruiting table was set up outside of the college of engineering. “This outreach effort at University of Missouri was a great success,” he said. “Information is power, and I am glad to have been positioned to offer the students the information they need to get through the application process.”
Martin said a separate meeting with university staff and faculty was fruitful.
“They want to do what they can to build a relationship with DISA so their students are better positioned for their transition to the workforce,” he said. “They also want to see if we can develop an agreement to perhaps build a rotation where a doctorate-holding DISA employee could teach as an adjunct professor at UM or perhaps have university professors, or students, work in collaboration on an approved project at DISA.”
Martin acknowledges that more work is needed on this effort but said the enthusiasm is encouraging.
“Our security really lies with the next generation. They have to be ready to receive the baton when we pass it to them, and I think academia’s efforts in Missouri show they are getting their students ready for the handoff,” Martin concluded.
The University of Missouri is holding a formal career and recruiting event in February 2020, and DISA is planning to attend.
Posted October 29, 2019