Biz Talk: Preparing high school students for cyber careers

This article was written by Sindy Yeh, Senior Business Ambassador for Arlington Economic Development.

Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing industries in Arlington and Virginia. The Commonwealth has emerged as a national leader in cybersecurity and is at the forefront of talent development in the industry.

In 2018, Virginia established the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI), a statewide initiative focused on research, innovation, and workforce development at the intersection between cybersecurity, autonomous systems and intelligence.

CCI is divided into four regional nodes, each a network of highly connected organizations led by an institute of higher education. The Northern Virginia CCI node is comprised of Northern Virginia’s universities and colleges, nonprofits, federal agencies and companies, all sharing a commitment to build capacity in cybersecurity.

One of CCI’s workforce development initiatives is the High School Summer Internship program. It was created to expand the cybersecurity talent pipeline by reaching high school students who are 17 and above and interested in exploring cybersecurity as a possible career option.

2023 CCI High School Summer Interns Visiting Appian Headquarters

The internship includes professional skills training conducted by the Children Science Center followed by placement with Northern Virginia cyber-related organizations to prepare them to enter the cyber workforce of the future. The internship includes a program stipend at the successful completion of the 7-week program and is open to rising high school seniors and rising first-year college/university students.

SHIFT5, one of Arlington’s fastest growing cyber companies, is an industry partner this year. SHIFT5’s software and data platforms defend commercial and military fleets as well as weapons systems against operational failures and cybersecurity risks.

VP of Policy and Government Affairs, Jessica Carroll says, “Shift5 participated in the CCI summer high school internship program in order to support a critical STEM initiative in the Northern Virginia region: connecting highschoolers to tangible, accessible, real-world opportunities to foster curiosity and inspire learning in the pursuit of technology-forward field. We elected to go beyond the traditional coding aspect of such a CCI program and requested that the interns be ‘cyber-adjacent’ so they could work with and within the policy (and regulatory) environments governing the development, fielding, and programmatic implementation of unique emergent technologies such as those operational technology (OT) cyber capabilities unique to Shift5.”

Sara Ahmad, a rising senior at Washington-Liberty High School, was selected to work at SHIFT5 this summer.

“My time at Shift5 was an immensely valuable experience. The welcoming atmosphere fostered a sense of value and belonging right from the start. Despite my limited knowledge of policy and cybersecurity at the start of the internship, everyone at Shift5 made me feel appreciated and included… I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet Congressman Don Beyer, a moment that added tremendous value to my experience. Learning from his extensive expertise across a wide range of issues was truly invaluable.”

Programs like these, combined with Virginia’s $2 million investment in education, ensure Arlington companies will continue to have an impressive pipeline of talent from which to hire.

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