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Making cybersecurity a national priority

August 3, 2023

As the Biden administration unveils new cyber workforce strategy, ASU expert highlights university's efforts in this area

The United States is facing complex cyber threats to its national security. 

On Tuesday, the Biden administration unveiled a new National Cyber Workforce and Education Strategy. The first-of-its-kind approach plans to make U.S. security an imperative by solving the nation’s immediate and long-term cyber workplace needs, and preparing the country to lead the digital economy. 

Prioritizing cyber workforce and education strategies is nothing new to Arizona State University. The Center for Cybersecurity and Trusted Foundations is already active in the cybersecurity workforce and education space, through internships, industry research collaborations and support for various competitive hacking teams.

In addition, ASU's School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence curriculum has been adopted by higher education organizations around the world, including California Polytechnic State University, The Ohio State University and University College London. 

Cybersecurity expert Yan Shoshitaishvili, director of ASU’s Center for Cybersecurity and Trusted Foundations, provides some insight into the new government strategy and ASU’s efforts in this area. 

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: What do you think about the approaches outlined in the White House strategy? 

Answer: It's awesome to see a coherent national strategy in this space. The cybersecurity "skill gap" is something I talk about often, and as an educator, trying to bridge it can feel like a daunting task. 

The straightforward approach (of the Biden strategy), coupled with the impressive array of committed organizations, seems like a good building block in providing a framework under which we can move the needle in cybersecurity workforce availability.

Q: Why is this a priority at this time in history?

A: A decade ago, nearly everything had a computer chip in it. Today, nearly everything has a computer chip in it that talks to the internet. This includes your door locks, financial systems, cars, power plants, hospital beds and basically everything that drives our lives. Increasingly, adversaries are catching up and chaos reigns in cyberspace. 

Part of the reason is that there aren't enough people that can work to keep this chaos at bay, so of course it's a priority to train more of them.

Q: ASU already has cyber workforce and education strategies with a clear academic path to cybersecurity expertise. The School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence curriculum has even been adopted by higher education organizations globally, including Cal Poly, Ohio State University and University College in London. How long has this been a priority for ASU and why?

A: In some sense, this has been baked into ASU's mission ever since ASU's charter was adopted (in 2014). More specifically, ASU's has been under development since 2018 and had a full global launch in 2020.

The platform is an innovative cybersecurity learning environment created to power much of our security curriculum and is in use at close to a dozen universities around the world. We created because of a passion for practical cybersecurity education that, in turn, we developed through observing and participating in cybersecurity competitions.

Q: What makes ASU's efforts in this area unique?

A: Two things set our cybersecurity efforts apart: our practical focus and our open availability. The former sets us apart compared to many other cybersecurity programs. 

In addition to learning about security policy and past security issues, our curriculum teaches students the actual technical subtleties behind security failures. 

Going through our curriculum, students learn about security compromise and recovery at a deep enough level to reproduce examples of both, and using novel education techniques, we guide students on their learning journey through careful, gradual steps. 

Of course, this is paired with the open online platform through which students around the world can — and more than 10,000 have — use to bootstrap their cybersecurity knowledge. 

I don’t think any other academic institution operates in this space as effectively and openly as we do — not Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, MIT or any of the usual suspects. For accessible, hands-on cybersecurity education, ASU is the best game in town.

Photo courtesy iStock/Getty Images

Dolores Tropiano

Reporter , ASU News

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Professionals can get a boost through ASU CareerCatalyst

August 3, 2023

Courses include in-demand subjects such as AI, microelectronics and project management

Last year, the world was introduced to ChatGPT, an artificial-intelligence tool that allows people to have human-like conversations with a chatbot.

Not long after, Andrew Maynard, professor of advanced technology transitions in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, saw how ChatGPT would revolutionize the workplace. He began creating a one-credit course for Arizona State University undergraduates to learn how to harness the technology.

“It’s very clear that since ChatGPT was launched last year, the world has changed,” he said.

“We went from nobody having heard of this to the vast majority of people I spoke to using it in some form a few weeks later. People have been adopting it for good reasons.

“It’s like having the smartest, most insightful, kindest human on your shoulder as you’re working through a complex task. We’ve seen a massive shift toward people using this in their jobs.”

Maynard’s expertise is now available to anyone through a professional-development course called AI Foundations: Prompt Engineering. The new two-hour, self-paced online course, which costs $49 and is a scaled-down version of the academic course, is offered by CareerCatalyst, ASU’s portfolio of education programs for ongoing career skills.

The ChatGPT module is among the newest in more than 300 CareerCatalyst courses that teach in-demand skills in areas that are critical to the Arizona economy, such as microelectronics and project management.

ASU’s CareerCatalyst courses, some of which prepare workers for professional certification exams, aim to create social and economic opportunities for anyone who is starting a career or preparing to pivot in their career, according to Meredyth Hendricks, associate vice president of CareerCatalyst, which is part of ASU’s Learning Enterprise.

“Last year, more than 200,000 learners enrolled across the platform, which is nearly 25% growth since last year,” Hendricks said. 

The CareerCatalyst team tracks which industries are growing quickly and what specific skills the workforce needs to support that growth, then develops courses that teach learners those skills.

“We also look at the many areas where ASU has expertise, which creates opportunity in a broad range of topics. For example, we know that sustainability is a fast-growing industry and job postings that require sustainability skills grew 8% year over year the last five years,” Hendricks said.

“ASU has incredible expertise related to sustainability via the College of Global Futures and the School of Sustainability. We decided to leverage that expertise to create a certificate that teaches learners the skills to become a sustainability analyst.”

According to Hendricks, another popular sustainability certificate is Principles of ESG and Sustainability for Business, which includes eight individual courses. The certificate is a collaboration between the W. P. Carey School of Business and the School of Sustainability.

“We know job skills are changing incredibly quickly. The half-life of many technical skills is less than three years,” Hendricks said. “That means that learners of all backgrounds — regardless of whether they have just completed high school or have advanced degrees — need to keep acquiring skills throughout their careers.”

Individual CareerCatalyst courses vary in length from two hours to more than 10 hours. Completion of a series of individual courses can lead to a professional certificate, which can be placed on social media profiles or printed.

Hendricks said that employers value an ASU certificate because it validates that the employee or recruit has earned those skills.

Among the most popular courses is the series Professional Skills for Everyone, which include multi-course certificates in Workplace Culture for Everyone, Feedback and Coaching for Everyone, Decision-making for Everyone and others.

“These skills are relevant in every industry and across many roles,” Hendricks said. “I talk to a lot of employers who are managing technical workforces and they are able to internally offer ongoing training that keep employees’ technical skills up to date. But what differentiates employees who succeed is their professional soft skills — how they work with others, their ability to learn how to learn.”

The project management certificate also is popular because it prepares learners for the Project Management Professional Certification exam, through the Project Management Institute. “Project management continues to be a fast-growing role that has healthy geographic reach and is remote enabled,” she said.

CareerCatalyst offers certificates in a wide variety of fields, such as health care, small business management, marketing and more. Among the newest offerings is a portfolio of microelectronics courses to address the urgent need for workers in this critical field. Arizona is a major player as the U.S. works to ramp up microelectronics research, development and fabrication, and the industry will need thousands of additional skilled workers over the next decade. .

The two ChatGPT courses are also brand new. Besides the “Prompt Engineering” course, suitable for anyone, CareerCatalyst also offers “AI Foundations: Scripting ChatGPT with Python,” a more technical course for data analytics that is a collaboration with ASU’s Enterprise Technology.

For the “Prompt Engineering” course, Maynard worked with ChatGPT directly to develop the material.

“The course goes through a number of skills that people wouldn’t necessarily pick up by randomly using ChatGPT,” he said. “One is learning how to use templates within prompt engineering, which is how to create not only really good prompts but reusable prompts.”

The course also provides a way to evaluate the quality of the prompt and the quality of the responses using the RACCCA framework – relevancy, accuracy, completeness, clarity, coherence and appropriateness. “If you get poor responses, you’ll learn how to create better prompts,” Maynard said.

Jake McGrew, the director of student engagement at American University Kyiv, Ukraine, took the Prompt Engineering course. “I think it’s important to understand more about AI and learn about ways I can use it in work and everyday life,” said McGrew, who had no background in AI before the course.

Maynard said that employers will be looking for evidence of competence with ChatGPT when they’re hiring. “If you don’t have it, you’ll be at a competitive disadvantage,” he said. “ASU is ahead of the curve in how we’re preparing people to live with this incredibly powerful technology.”

Top photo courtesy iStock

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News