UMBC students, educators, and researchers advance Maryland through innovative computing partnership


Published: Aug 3, 2022
Nadja Franklin in front of the MDOT building. (Marlayna Demond '11/UMBC)

In early 2022, Nadja Franklin ‘23 was exploring summer opportunities through the UMBC Career Center when she heard about a chance to connect with tech internships at Maryland’s state agencies. As a business technology administration major, her interest was piqued. She arrived at the on-campus internship event with résumé in hand, ready to discuss her skills, and her preparation and enthusiasm paid off. 

The hiring event was hosted by the Maryland Institute for Innovative Computing (MIIC) to help state agencies expand their technical talent pipeline through intern recruitment. The MIIC is a collaboration between the University System of Maryland and partners in the public and private sectors, launched in 2021. Administered by UMBC, the MIIC addresses workforce challenges related to computing and analytics in state agencies. Students at colleges and universities across Maryland are eligible to apply for internships through the MIIC, connecting skilled students with state employers seeking fresh tech talent.

“The State of Maryland has realized tremendous value from the partnership with UMBC through the technology internship program. Beyond the contribution of the students during their internship, many have gone on to become permanent members of the team. This program helps to fill the workforce pipeline with qualified and talented workers, lessening the impact caused by the shortage of technology and cybersecurity workers.”

Chip Stewart

Maryland’s State Chief Information Security Officer

Talent meets opportunity

The MIIC is continuously growing the pipeline of tech talent ready to support state agencies in the longer term, helping them run securely and efficiently. So far, in 2022, they’ve connected nearly 40 interns with opportunities at state agencies across Maryland, including the Department of Labor, Department of Information Technology, Department of Health, Department of Transportation and the Chief Data Office within the Governor’s Office.

“The MIIC reflects Maryland’s dedication to ensuring our state agencies have the technical staffing and internal infrastructure they need,” explains Annie Weinschenk, program director of workforce initiatives in the UMBC Career Center. 

“With cyber crime on the rise, including attacks on government agencies, MIIC is helping to build a skilled workforce dedicated to service within the state of Maryland,” Weinschenk says. “MIIC internship areas range from data science, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence, to geographic information systems at seven agencies across Maryland.”

Prepared to succeed

Franklin is a T-SITE Scholar in UMBC’s Center for Women in Technology who transferred to UMBC from the Community College of Baltimore County. At the MIIC event, she connected with the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) about projects that would draw on her interests and experience, and she realized the opportunity could be a great match.

Afterward, she quickly completed her application for a project management internship in MDOT’s information technology department. She also accessed other Career Center resources to help her stand out as a top candidate, including interview prep with Weinschenk and Career Center Director Christine Routzahn.

“Students come to their internship experiences with a variety of backgrounds, levels of experience, and majors,” says Weinschenk. “We work to make sure they put their best foot forward, so they can access these unique hands-on learning opportunities.” 

Meaningful connections

Franklin’s primary project with MDOT involves radio frequency identification (RFID), tagging IT and non-IT assets for use in various projects across the agency. But she has particularly enjoyed the chance to meet with MDOT’s chief information officer and deputy chief information officer. She’s also had a chance to learn about the broad range of projects across MDOT, and how project management works, through supporting directors’ meetings. 

Student (an intern through the Maryland Institute for Innovative Computing) sits on concrete sign in front of an office building. The sign reads "MDOT: Maryland Department of Transportation" and "Harry R. Hughes Building" with the "es" in "Hughes" not visible.
Nadja Franklin. (Marlayna Demond ’11/UMBC)

Franklin also drew on her writing skills and creativity to help develop scripts for MDOT training videos, and she enjoyed a unique chance to participate in the video filming and production process. 

Beyond learning new skills, her favorite aspect of the internship has been MDOT’s inclusive, welcoming environment.

K-12 and higher ed partnerships

While Franklin came to UMBC interested in a career in tech, that’s not the case for many students who have the talent and skills to succeed in tech fields. With this in mind, the MIIC has also focused on expanding K-12 initiatives, to help prepare students earlier on for these high-demand careers, particularly in cybersecurity.

Earlier this year, Governor Larry Hogan announced the launch of the Maryland Cyber Range for Elevating Workforce and Education, operated by the MIIC. This $1.2 million initiative will expand cybersecurity education and training through collaboration with the Maryland Center for Computing Education (MCCE), Virginia Tech U.S. Cyber Range, and the nonprofit Teach Cyber.

This partnership will include initiatives at all educational levels, from K-12 through higher education and workforce training. The U.S. Cyber Range will provide access to a high quality simulated environment for teachers and students to learn cybersecurity. 

Overall, this collaborative effort will enable Maryland to continue to grow and strengthen the state’s cybersecurity education infrastructure, explains Jack Suess, UMBC’s vice president of information technology and chief technology officer. 

Innovating cybersecurity education 

A leader in cybersecurity education, UMBC is also advancing the field in other ways, complementing the work of the MIIC. For example, Alan T. Sherman, professor of computer science, recently received more than $260,000 of a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study and improve how cybersecurity is taught at the U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Military Academy. 

The project, Examining Pedagogy in Cybersecurity (EPIC), is collaborative with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and University of Minnesota Duluth, and is funded through NSF’s Secure and Trustworthy Computing (SaTC) program. Because the academies teach cybersecurity to all first-year students, EPIC offers a large-scale opportunity to investigate how simulation-based teaching and learning affects different student populations.

In the first phase of the research, Sherman and his collaborators—including computer science Ph.D. student Andew Slack and Linda Oliva, assistant professor of education—will study how instructors at the academies structure and teach their cybersecurity courses. In the second phase, they will introduce active simulation-based learning exercises and pedagogies and assess their effectiveness. 

UMBC’s championship-winning Cyberdawgs cyberdefense team will help adapt and improve learning materials. As one quantitative measure of the new pedagogy’s effectiveness, EPIC will assess students’ conceptual understanding using the Cybersecurity Concept Inventory (CCI), developed by Sherman and his team. 

Benefits for Maryland

MIIC initiatives continue to expand in new directions. In research, The Hilltop Institute at UMBC is receiving funding to bring together health data related to opioid addiction from different state sources to more accurately identify patients’ risks for relapse. Like the MIIC’s educational initiatives, this work demonstrates how innovations in computing can benefit Maryland and its residents.

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