Filling the information gap: Educating educators on DISA’s mission

By DISA Office of Strategic Communication and Public Affairs
August 11, 2023

Photo of educators on DISA’s mission
Participants pose during the Academic Engagement and Collaboration Discussion held at DISA Headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, Aug. 2.

In the spirit of partnership with educators throughout the country, the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Office of Strategic Outreach and Talent Acquisition wasted no time arranging its first large-scale Academic Engagement and Collaboration Discussion at DISA Headquarters, Aug. 2.

During the event, DISA department heads and academic leaders from across the country engaged in a round table discussion designed to help education professionals understand DISA's requirements for the next generation of cyber professionals and how the agency supports the nation's warfighters.

“DISA is an unknown when I walk into a classroom at any given college or university,” said Jennifer Augustine, OSOTA associate director, “There might be one or two students who have heard of DISA. However, I guarantee you, if I queried them about our mission, they couldn't articulate it.”

Augustine explained that while critical, DISA’s mission doesn’t get mainstream media attention like some other federal agencies. As the OSOTA lead, Augustine and her team engage in talent acquisition to increase awareness by establishing talent pipelines to the agency through continual engagement with colleges and universities, trade schools and technical schools, professional and veteran organizations.

“DISA is one of the most important agencies with one of the most critical missions that no college student has ever heard of,” Augustine added, paraphrasing a statement by Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert J. Skinner, DISA director and Joint Force Headquarters-Department of Defense Information Network commander.

DISA personnel were also on-hand to educate the educators and themselves during the discussion. Augustine said that many educators, who shape curriculum, need to be made aware of how their students may serve the nation with their varying skill sets.

“Colleges and universities are graduating individuals that are not completely prepared to meet the DOD’s mission. It's incumbent upon us to identify, attract and even shape the skillsets of students currently in colleges and universities,” she said.

Augustine emphasized the presence of a significant information gap that hinders students from effectively contributing to DISA's crucial mission of combating cyber threats posed by adversaries who relentlessly attempt to compromise the DOD's information systems..

“One way we are bridging the gap is to have the faculty and the administration understand the value proposition that the agency is providing,” Augustine said.

Chaneese Martin is a talent acquisition specialist who works for Augustine. She planned and organized the event. Because she had several conversations with each of the participants, she was aware of the sentiment among the academic leaders before and after the meeting.

“I think the opportunity to witness DISA’s operations firsthand generated excitement among academia about the chance to mold the future workforce with practical knowledge,” she said. “The senior-led discussions, and the tour of DISA Headquarters facilities was definitely a hit.”

Among the attendees from DISA was Dr. Michelle Goddard-Kim, the agency’s chief diversity officer.

Goddard-Kim provided an overview of her office’s workforce initiatives, focusing on how DISA can further engage with schools and leverage best practices for talent management. The discussion provided insight into how students from different backgrounds can add value to DISA’s workforce and contribute multiple perspectives to tackle complex technical issues.

"I am pleased to participate in this event because it provides an opportunity to learn how we can better engage with academic institutions to shape student perceptions about working at a defense agency like DISA,” Goddard-Kim said. “I enjoyed hearing the best practices schools use to cultivate diverse and engaged student populations and learning how we can interest their best and brightest talent to join the DISA Team."

Augustine said DISA is currently working to partner with historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and those serving differently abled students to enable the DISA mission through workforce diversity.

“Academic leaders want to do this type of engagement again and they want to do more of it,” she added. “The universities that visited DISA this past week are not the only institutions we're partnering with. We wanted to start relatively small to keep it more personal and engaging.”

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