Bold New Venture

March 16-22, 2006
Bold New Venture
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Rome Catholic School Offers Cutting Edge Course on Cyber Security

ROME — Friday, March 10, representatives from Syracuse University, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the U.S. Congress and Rome Catholic School gathered to announce a brand new frontier for education.
A press conference was called to announce the launching of a new cyber security elective offered at Rome Catholic School.
The course, which is the only one of its kind currently offered in the U.S., includes a broad range of skills such as cybersecurity, encryption and data protection, computer network protocols and vulnerabilities, computer and network security, firewalls and forensics, data hiding and stenography and infrastructures and wireless security.

Thirteen students at RCS signed up for the elective, which will be taught by faculty members Sandra Engle, Ed Nickerson and Thomas Potter. The teachers were trained for the course by instructors from both AFRL and Syracuse University, which also offered the teachers graduate-school credit for participating in the pilot project. The students involved in the course represent the 10th, 11th and 12th grades at RCS and classes are held for 45 minutes after dismissal four days a week for 20 weeks. Elements of the course include lectures, lab time and guest speakers.

The project is a direct result of funding secured by U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-New Hartford), who is chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology. Boehlert was the keynote speaker at the press conference, which also included brief introductions offered by Chris Mominey, RCS principal and assistant superintendent of the Syracuse Diocese Schools; Dr. Kamal Jabbour, the principal computer engineer in the AFRL’s operations branch and Dr. Eric Spina, Danforth Dean of Engineering and Computer Science at Syracuse University. Boehlert invoked history to stress what he considers to be the importance of such a project. He reminded those in attendance that the Erie Canal project was initiated in Rome in 1817, an operation instrumental in opening up development in Central New York. Boehlert drew a parallel between the Erie Canal project and the cyber security course being offered at RCS.

“We’re starting something that’s going to open up vast opportunities for young people,” he said, adding, “You will record this day somewhere down the future where we really started something big.” Mominey was the first speaker at the morning press conference, and said he believes the course will give RCS students new opportunities upon graduation as it will make them enthusiastic about new fields.

“This course opens up the imagination of the students,” Mominey said. Dr. Spina applauded RCS’s creative and forward-thinking approach to education. “They’re kind of taking a risk that is new and innovative and it’s already paying off,” he said. Later, Dr. Spina added, “This is a step change from anything else that has happened around the country.”

Boehlert said exploring new frontiers in education has never been more critical, noting that, “Competition, globally, has never been fiercer.” He illustrated his assertion by pointing out that whereas the U.S. educational system is producing just 70,000 engineers a year, China is producing roughly 600,000. Moreover, many of the engineers graduating from American schools are foreign students pursuing their education in the U.S. “We desperately need engineers,” he said. “This is about getting young people excited about engineering.”

Mominey said RCS was selected for the course because of its emphasis on integrating technology into the classroom. The room in which the press conference took place is wireless and features mobile technology such as laptops and handheld PDA’s. Boehlert added that the quality of the educational experience offered at RCS was part of the criteria. “Outstanding school, outstanding record,” he said.

In a prepared statement, Mominey said, “We are honored to be working with such prestigious organizations as the AFRL and Syracuse University. We have made it a point at Rome Catholic School to focus on technology integration in learning. Our students are well prepared for the future because we don’t shy away from thinking outside the box. Our teaching staff makes it a point to educate themselves on the use of technology in the classroom as well as trying new ideas.”

Catherine Gudatis, an 11th-grader at RCS, said, “The cyber security course is challenging for me, especially since I really don’t know a lot about computers. But the course is very interesting and I’m learning. I know that I’m most likely going to have a computer in college, or later in life, and I want to know how to protect it. This course is preparing me for that.”

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