DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > School of Computing brings cybersecurity to high schools

Filipo Sharevski earns NSA grant to bring cybersecurity to high schools

Filipo Sharevksi
Filipo Sharevski, assistant professor in the School of Computing, presents during DePaul’s Innovation Day in January of 2020. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)
The internet reaches all parts of our society. It powers vital industries from banking to communication, and fosters learning and innovation. Securing cyberspace is a critical and collective effort, says Filipo Sharevski, assistant professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media.

“Threats of subverting the internet are everywhere and materialize daily, in forms of cybersecurity attacks such as ransomware, social media disinformation and identity theft. The earlier students learn about cybersecurity, the sooner they can partake in responding to threats in cyberspace,” Sharevski says.

To address this need, Sharevski has earned a $949,000 grant from the Nationa​​l Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity, housed within the National Security Agency, to bring cybersecurity courses into high school classrooms. Sharevski led the creation of the National Cybersecurity Teaching Academy, the first certification program of its kind for high school teachers. His goal is to support teachers, and in turn to open up future career paths for high school students.

“One of the biggest factors in student success is the teacher,” Sharevski says. “Our approach will confer cybersecurity expertise and credibility to teachers, students and schools.” 

The inaugural program will prepare 90 high school teachers to teach an advanced cybersecurity course. The academy is a collaboration among 10 institutions throughout the U.S., with Sharevski as the principal investigator.

“Filipo’s work on the National Cybersecurity Teaching Academy is DePaul’s mission in action. This work will broaden access to computer science education and have a multiplier effect for high school teachers and students,” says David Miller, dean of the College of Computing and Digital Media.

Opening doors for students

Exposure to cybersecurity in high school can open doors for students to a successful career in computer forensics, risk assessment, information security and more. Now in the United States there are nearly half a million cybersecurity job openings​, with 15,000 of those in Illinois. 

“If you know the skills, tomorrow you can start a job with a good salary,” Sharevski says.

DePaul School of Computing doctoral student Jesus Duran is one of the high school teachers making room for cybersecurity in classrooms. Duran began his career as a software engineer and went on to bring his experience into teaching in Chicago Public Schools. Now he develops computer science curricula for CPS, and he is working with Sharevski on the academy.

“In CPS we talk a lot about economic mobility for our students — opportunities that actually provide a pathway to change their socioeconomic status,” Duran says. “We see those opportunities in the field of cybersecurity. Bringing it into the classroom could be a catalyzing change.”

Duran echoes that not all areas of computer science are alike. While coding can be part of cybersecurity, it also “entails a lot of other types of skills” such as reverse design, systems-level thinking and computational thinking. Sometimes the best way to engage students is to let them try a real-life application.

“For students who don’t have a technical background, we’ve found it’s important to give them something tangible to do,” Duran says. For instance, he will ask students to log on to a computer, hide the wireless network and tell them: “Your challenge is to find the networks. Go!”

All of these elements will be woven into the academy’s curriculum, which will include a hands-on lab tailored to the latest advancements in cybersecurity. It is designed to help teachers stay current in an ever-changing field, a challenge for any computer science course.

Professional development for teachers

Before the creation of this academy, there was no​ cybersecurity certification program for high school teachers in the U.S. Credentialing teachers will elevate their professional standing, and the credits earned in the certification can be applied toward a graduate degree, Sharevski says.

Each college will provide foundational education in cybersecurity while also bringing expertise in focus areas. DePaul’s area of focus will be social engineering and social media information operations. Teachers accepted into the National Cybersecurity Teaching Academy will receive funding to cover tuition for the 12-credit hour virtual graduate certificate. They will also have an option to take an additional six credit hours to teach dual enrollment cybersecurity courses.

Teachers who are interested in applying to the program can sign up to receive more information online​

Kristin Claes Mathews is assistant director of news and integrated content in the division of University Marketing and Communications.