The federally funded program will help prepare 25 Connecticut high school teachers to teach and promote online safety and cybersecurity in the classroom.
January 10, 2022
Mehdi Mekni, Ph.D., believes in the importance of cybersecurity education and the important role it can play in protecting the nation and promoting online safety. He recently received a scholarship – his first at the University – which will allow him to share his passion with local educators.
Funded by the National Security Agency and the national science foundation, the grant will enable Dr. Mekni to take a unique approach to cybersecurity education by turning high school teachers into students. He creates the first Connecticut GenCyber Teacher Academy, training high school teachers to teach and promote cybersecurity.
“If you teach the teacher, the teacher will shape, influence, and improve student readiness year after year,” says Dr. Mekni, associate professor of computer science and cybersecurity. “When you get into teacher training and give them the tools they need, such as teaching materials, lesson plans, and equipment to integrate cybersecurity education into their curriculum, it’s is a real value.”
“I am a builder”
Dr. Mekni, who will oversee the program and provide content, will be joined by University of New Haven professors such as Liberty Page, MS, and Amir Esmailpour, Ph.D. The week-long program will allow 25 teachers public, private, and charter high schools in Connecticut to learn how to apply cybersecurity concepts in their classrooms.
Offered free of charge, the GenCyber Teacher Academy is for teachers with a background in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Teachers are not required to have prior computer or cybersecurity knowledge or experience. The hands-on program will include lesson plan design, lectures, labs and games. Participants will also receive a Chromebook to take with them to their class, free of charge.
“I’m a builder, and this program will build bridges with high schools,” he said. “Teachers will interact with their peers, share what they’ve learned horizontally, and teach it to countless students as well. I expect the investment in teacher training to have an impact on future generations.
“I hope the GenCyber teaching and learning community will continue to grow”
Dr. Mekni’s goal is to help meet the growing need for highly skilled cybersecurity professionals to protect the nation and support its government workforce. The program will apply culturally appropriate teaching to cybersecurity education. It will cover important topics such as social engineering, Python, cybersecurity awareness and network fundamentals. Teachers will leave the program with materials they can use in the classroom, such as lesson plans.
“Since his arrival, Dr. Mekni has been a welcome positive force at the Connecticut Institute of Technology,” said Ibrahim “Abe” Baggili, Ph.D., founding director of the Connecticut Institute of Technology at the University of New Haven. “His new grant will allow us to give back to the state of Connecticut in other ways. We started with our student camp, now we will also help train teachers in the state. We thank the NSA and NSF for their continued support.
The program, which will include pre- and post-camp activities that will be offered online, will also create and foster a GenCyber teaching and learning community, the legacy of the program, in a way. Program teachers and instructors will meet virtually after camp for follow-up sessions. Teachers will report on what was successful and the challenges they faced, and they will continue to receive support as they apply what they have learned.
Dr. Mekni looks forward to welcoming the first cohort of teachers to the University in August and hopes to offer the program each summer.
“I hope the GenCyber teaching and learning community will continue to grow as new cohorts join, and we continue to build it,” he said. “We want to train them and make sure they can and will use what they learn.”
For more information about GenCyber Teacher Academy: https://gencyber.newhaven.edu/.