Fort Meade: Cyber Star of Central Maryland
“There are more opportunities for economic growth in Central Maryland than anywhere else in the United States,” says Ed Rothstein (Col. Ret.), whose last military assignment was Garrison Commander at Maryland’s Fort Meade.
Rothstein, founder of ERA Advisory LLC, and newly elected Carroll County Commissioner, says, “Cyber and cyber security are the catalysts that drive the economic engine today and cyber is what’s happening at Fort Meade.”
Fort Meade is a cyber security colossus. Located between in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore and Washington, it is home to six of the eight U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) cyber defense agencies, including the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), one of ten DoD Unified Combatant Commands.
With more than 50,000 employees, Fort Meade is the largest employer in Maryland, generating about $27 billion in total output and $13 billion in wages. Ninety-three percent of the employees live in Maryland. Meade estimates that thousands of new cyber-related jobs will be created at the installation between 2018 and 2024. A recent media tour hosted by Anne Arundel Economic Development during Cybersecurity Awareness Month emphasized the critical role the installation's various tenant organizations play in safety and security of the lives of every American citizen, and highlighted special initiatives around attracting and retaining the cyber talent pool around Fort Meade.
Attracting Cyber Talent
USCYBERCOM, one of its newest and brightest stars, will attract a large percentage of that number. It is composed of Cyber Commands from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps—all the known military specialties directly involved with cyber. The new command also assumed the responsibility of the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations and the Joint Functional Component Command for Network Warfare and the Defense Information Systems Agency.
Fort Meade and CYBERCOM are becoming a regional magnet for cyber professionals. In its early days—2010—CYBERCOM was staffed solely by active military personnel; in 2015, reserve officers working in civilian cyber security work joined the staff. But by 2016, realizing the severe shortage of qualified cyber staff, the Command was given special hiring authority that has dramatically expedited its recruitment program. Basically, the new plan cuts through much of the DoD’s hiring red tape and allows CYBERCOM to compete with civilian employers vying for cyber talent: conducting public hiring events with on-site resume reviews, interviews withqualified individuals, and same-day job offers. More than 400 cyber professionals attended the first hiring event in Silver Spring and 500 more registered online.
The Fort Meade installation is acutely aware of the shortage of cyber security professionals—a recent issue of CYBERCOM’s newsletter warned that the shortage puts “an enormous risk on our national security and our ever-expanding cyber ecosystem.”
The “hub of cyber security”
The community is committed to providing much of this talent and the effort is being led by the seven Fort Meade schools, which are part of the Anne Arundel County Public School System, in partnership with area businesses, civic organizations and community colleges.
Spearheading the effort is Dr. Maureen McMahon, Deputy Superintendent for Academics and Strategic Initiatives, who oversees curriculum, advanced studies and professional growth. A STEM magnet program is one of several new McMahon initiatives over the last decade.
“I believe that Fort Meade is the hub of cybersecurity in the entire world!” the educator says. Her goal is to establish a pipeline for the cyber industry, beginning with introducing children to the cyber world in kindergarten. “It’s a K-12 learning process,” she says. “Even kindergarten students are doing visual coding.”
The schools offer students coursework and an environment that raises awareness of cyber security careers. “Courses like Coding, Security Protocol, and Emergency Management are woven into the curriculum in a very natural way,” McMahon explains. The schools recently received a $10 million DoD education grant in support of the “cyber pipeline.”
Fort Meade schools have partnerships with more than 1,000 regional organizations—colleges, businesses, police and fire departments, hospitals, and government contractors and agencies. The students work with mentors and participate in school “studios,” field trips, college classes and internships—there are 150 internships at NSA alone!
“Millennials and Gen Z want jobs that make a difference,” McMahon says. “The Fort Meade kids are meeting people in cyber jobs and seeing how they can make that difference. And, they learn what skillsets and training they need to fill those cyber jobs. We’re not just preparing kids for college, we’re preparing them for careers.”
Completing the Pipeline
Maryland’s colleges and universities are uniquely qualified to continue the pipeline to careers in cyber. More than 20 of them currently offer degrees in cyber-related fields, with many providing internships and other cooperative training programs with local employers. Six state universities are certified by the NSA as Centers of Academic Excellence.
CPAM (Cyber Technology Pathways Across Maryland) is a consortium of 14 community colleges focused on expanding career paths to the cyber workforce. They’ve received a $14.9 million grant from the Department of Labor to help connect Marylanders with high-quality employment in the cyber industry.
The University of Maryland College Park is among the top 10 U.S. universities in preparing future cyber security professionals, and the University of Maryland Baltimore County has the second highest percentage of students in STEM fields—second only to the U.S. Naval Academy.
From Ft. Meade kindergartens to graduate degrees at universities, Maryland schools are a dynamic force in meeting the ballooning demands of the cyber industry. It all reinforces Dr. Maureen McMahon’s declaration that we’re “the world’s hub for cybersecurity!”