Aerospace Reaches Out to Cyber Patriots

by Heather Golden
posted March 27, 2013

Members of the four teams supported by Aerospace mentors and their coaches. At far right is Aerospace board of trustees member retired Air Force Lt. Gen. George Muellner. Second from right is John Nilles.  Photo: AFA

Members of the four teams supported by Aerospace mentors and their coaches. At far right is Aerospace board of trustees member retired Air Force Lt. Gen. George Muellner. Second from right is John Nilles. Photo: AFA

The Aerospace Corporation recently joined with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s “Beyond the Bell” program to support four Los Angeles-area teams at this year’s CyberPatriot final competition at the Air Force Association’s CyberFutures Conference in National Harbor, Md., earlier this month.

Three employees, Bradford Wilkins, John Nilles, and Michael Jett, lent their expertise to the teams as mentors and worked alongside coaches provided by each  individual school represented.

“We worked with four teams from the LAUSD as they prepared for the final competition,” said Nilles, senior engineering specialist, Cyber Security Subdivision. “There were 12 finalists from a starting field of approximately [800] teams. Competition was stiff.”

“The students have benefited greatly from the mentoring provided by The Aerospace Corporation employees,” added Carey Peck, principal analyst with the LAUSD. “The challenge is to maintain service to a site and keep out intruders. John (Nilles) spent two nights with the teams reviewing the challenge before them and preparing them for competition day.”

The teams were from the Edward Roybal Learning Center, Franklin High School, and two teams from North Hollywood High School. The corporation got involved through the efforts of board of trustees member retired Air Force Lt. Gen. George Muellner.

The CyberPatriot program’s goal is to garner interest for and help prepare high school students for future careers in cyber security and other STEM-related fields. Participating students gain an understanding of how critical cyber security is to the nation’s future. They also learn the basics of computer components, computer terminology and theory, networking, and computer forensics, through a series of college-level courses. There is a potential to have already earned up to 24 college credit hours by the time they graduate high school.

“It is incredible to think that the skills John (Nilles) and I had to learn in the workforce are now part of the curriculum in many schools,” said Wilkins, a member of the technical staff, Space Cyber Software and Tools. “Students who choose careers in cyber security will be well prepared as a result of experiences like this.”

Aerospace has an interest in helping with the long-term development of talent in these cyber security and STEM areas.

 “As a future employer of today’s high school student, The Aerospace Corporation is acutely aware of the need to create a source of diverse, skilled professionals poised for success in the 21st century workforce,” said Sabrina Steele, principal director, Corporate Communications Directorate. “Through our interactions with the BTB students, we have observed that they gain critical foundational computing skills … that will ultimately enhance their employability.”

The CyberPatriot’s annual competition is the largest national high school cyber defense competition. Each of the competing teams consists of five students, and up to five alternates, and must include one coach from the school. All students must be at least 13 years old, and enrolled in grades 9-12. Mentors or technical advisors may also be utilized, as was the case with Wilkins, Nilles and Jett.

“We had a great time working with the teams,” Nilles said. “The students were impressive and clearly enjoying themselves.”

“[One of the teams] from North Hollywood placed just out of the medals, and they will all be back next year,” Peck said. “Many other BTB teams are also warming up for the 2013-14 season. There will be no rest this summer. We look forward to coming back next year, and forward to a long association with Aerospace to win us the gold.”

Get an inside view of the competition by checking out USA Today’s profile of Franklin High School’s team at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMTPXmKU8L8.