Arkansas Teachers Learning to Educate Students in Cybersecurity from UA Little Rock and ADE

Philip Huff, assistant professor of cybersecurity, and Sandra Leiterman, managing director of the UA Little Rock Cyber Gym

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock, along with Arkansas Tech University (ATU), has been selected as a co-host for the 2022 Arkansas Computer Science and Computing Educator Academy (CSCEA).

The program, which is overseen by the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) Office of Computer Science, will provide free tuition for up to 60 Arkansas educators to complete a graduate certificate in cybersecurity education at UA Little Rock as well as advanced computer science training from the ADE.

A grant in excess of $800,000 from the ADE will provide tuition and fees for teachers to take 18 graduate-level hours in computer science and cybersecurity. Participants must be Arkansas residents who are employed by an Arkansas public school district or intend to teach within an Arkansas public school district.

“We are excited that UA Little Rock has joined Arkansas Tech University as a partner for the 2022 Arkansas Computer Science and Computing Educator Academy,” said Anthony Owen, state director of computer science education for the Arkansas Department of Education. “UA Little Rock’s cybersecurity track adds a greatly needed focus area. We are eager to work with the educators engaging in this opportunity as they take this knowledge back to their schools, communities, and students to develop the cyber literate workforce required for today’s constantly connected world.”

The CSCEA provides Arkansas residents with a starting point for new teachers to be successful by learning basic computer science; receive preparation for passing the Computer Science Content Knowledge Praxis exam; gain approval to teach high school computer science courses; earn up to 18 graduate-level credits in cybersecurity; and expand skills in specialized areas.

The CSCEA expands the number of Arkansas high school teachers who can receive support for graduate-level coursework in teaching cybersecurity. UA Little Rock will be one of the first universities in the country to offer a graduate certificate in cybersecurity education through the National Cybersecurity Teaching Academy, a collaboration of 10 institutions in nine states. It is funded by a $750,000 grant from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity, located within the National Security Agency (NSA). UA Little Rock’s graduate certificate is pending approval by the UA Board of Trustees, the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and Higher Learning Commission approvals.

“The National Cyber Teaching Academy is the first of its kind in the nation,” said Sandra Leiterman, managing director of the UA Little Rock Cyber Arena and co-principal investigator on the grant. “The state of Arkansas is providing an incredible opportunity for its teachers to earn graduate education in computer science and cybersecurity. UA Little Rock’s graduate certificate will provide teachers with the content knowledge they need to teach dedicated cybersecurity courses in high school, as well as courses for high school concurrent credit. This education will help teachers prepare so many of our high school students for future careers in the in-demand field of cybersecurity.”

The ADE Office of Computer Science will provide 90 hours of training for participants. This consists of 60 hours of content for candidates who haven’t passed the Computer Science Content Knowledge Praxis exam and 30 hours of advanced training that varies based on the participant’s interests and needs. Participants who complete the initial 90 hours of training will be awarded six hours of graduate-level computer science credit and are eligible to have tuition and fees covered for 12 additional graduate hours at their selected public university partner.

“This initiative demonstrates UA Little Rock’s commitment to partnering with ADE and other state leaders in education and the cyber industry to create a coordinated ecosystem of cybersecurity career and educational pathways for P-20 (pre-K through graduate school) learners,” said Dr. Erin Finzer, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. “As we work with educational providers, government agencies, non-profits, and industry to grow Arkansas’s knowledge economy, UA Little Rock will implement this model in other high-demand, high-paying fields as we work with partners in education, government, non-profits, and industry to grow Arkansas’s knowledge economy.”

Educators who attend UA Little Rock in this program will become part of the National Cyber Teaching Academy, the first NSA graduate certificate program for high school cybersecurity educators in the country. Graduates will receive a graduate certificate that will allow them to teach high school concurrent credit courses for cybersecurity and computer science in Arkansas and beyond.

“This grant will put Arkansas at the top in the nation for the percentage of high school students choosing a cybersecurity profession,” said Dr. Philip Huff, assistant professor of cybersecurity at UA Little Rock. “We have the potential to develop a network of over 60 schools in Arkansas that can offer an advanced course in cybersecurity for college credit. It’s another example of Arkansas becoming a national trendsetter in computer science education.”

Educators who choose this track will begin classes at UA Little Rock either in the summer or fall, depending on their schedule, and will complete the graduate certificate by December 2023. Courses will include Teaching Cybersecurity, Foundations in Cybersecurity, Cybersecurity Operations, and Cybersecurity Practicum.

Members of the Arkansas Cyber Teaching Academy will also have access to a network of more than 100 high school cybersecurity teachers nationwide, receive practicum experience in a real cybersecurity operations environment, and have access to the UA Little Rock Cyber Arena and its library of hands-on attack and defense scenarios tailed to the curriculum.

“Both the breadth and depth of the cybersecurity initiatives that Dr. Huff and Ms. Leiterman are leading for the Department of Computer Science establish UA Little Rock as a national leader in cyber defense,” said Dr. Albert Baker, chair of the Department of Computer Science at UA Little Rock. “Along with outstanding and well-funded research, they are developing programs to serve UA Little Rock and Arkansas K-12 students, Arkansas teachers, the Arkansas workforce, and the economic development of the state.”

Any teachers who would like to apply for the 2022 Arkansas Computer Science and Computing Educator may visit this link.

The ADE Office of Computer Science will host an informational webinar with representatives from UA Little Rock and ATU for interested participants from 3-5 p.m. Feb. 24. Those interested may register for the event via this link.

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