When President Barack Obama discussed how the government would protect the nation's critical infrastructure from cyberattack, he also pledged renewed commitment to science and math literacy. He said such investment was critical to creating a competitive U.S. digital workforce for the 21st century.
"Because it's not enough for our children and students to master today's technologies -- social networking and e-mailing and texting and blogging," he said, "we need them to pioneer the technologies that will allow us to work effectively through these new media and allow us to prosper in the future."
Steve Hawkins, vice president of Information Security Solutions at Raytheon, one of the nation's top defense contractors, couldn't agree more. That's why Raytheon has committed itself to pushing math literacy and cybersecurity training long before Obama's recent call, he says.
The company has two programs aimed at keeping it's cybersecurity business competitive and constantly refreshed with new talent. One is aimed at making the good, even better, while the other program hopes to convince middle-school students how important math is to their future.
Both are concerned with creating the cyberwarriors of today and tomorrow.
Hawkins says that most computer science graduates out of college have the talent but not the training to do cybersecurity work. Because of this, Raytheon puts their new engineers through a grueling, yet exciting, training program.
The training regimen includes red teaming, or acting like an enemy to uncover vulnerabilities.
"We like to say it's almost like hand-to-hand combat in the cyberworld, when you're trying to go up against hackers and trying to defend against them," Hawkins says.
All the training has paid off too.
In a recent "capture the flag" competition, where teams defend their computer networks from attack and try to penetrate their adversaries' networks, Raytheon won the team category as well as first and second place in the individual category. The competition was sponsored by the Air Force and the Defense Intelligence Agency at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
"It's good validation that the training programs are working," Hawkins says.
Paul Woeppel of the Air Force's Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Agency went further, saying in an Air Force press release that Raytheon's performance "demonstrated the need to continue our great relationships we have with our Department of Defense community and partners."
Keeping government clients impressed is good for business as the Obama administration's new focus on cybersecurity is expected to pump billions of dollars into this growth industry.
The other part of Raytheon's plan to keep itself and the country as a whole more competitive in the technology marketplace is its MathMovesU program. The program shows middle-school-aged children the connection between math and high-paying and exciting careers.
Without more children staying with math and science through college, Hawkins says the United States will give up its scientific and technological leadership.
"If you look at the number of graduates coming out each year with math and science and engineering technology degrees, it has plateaued at a level less than what our country needs in general."
That judgment fits what the Business Roundtable said in its report last year, "Tapping America's Potential." Fearful that the United States was losing its scientific and technological edge, the group set a goal of graduating 400,000 students with science, technology, engineering, and math bachelor degrees by 2015. The effort has stalled, however, with only 225,660 students graduating with any of those degrees in 2006.
Hawkins also observes that both China and Russia invest heavily in math and science education, two of the United States' biggest competitors, and not surprisingly, the source of many cyberattacks directed at U.S. networks.
In other efforts to bolster the nation's cybersecurity, Raytheon has strategic partnerships on cyber research with ten universities, including the University of Texas-Austin and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
But the intelligence on science and math graduates coming out of these partnerships isn't encouraging, says Hawkins.
"One of them told me that they're graduating class this year, in a very large university, was about 800 engineers," he said. "If you went back to the middle of the dotcom boom, it was 2500."
♦ Photo of Steve Hawkins by Raytheon
♦ Raytheon photo by jaycross/Flickr