Arkansas Creates New Cybersecurity Education Task Force

The new group, created through executive order, will focus on opportunities to advance education surrounding cybersecurity issues and careers, building on previous efforts to beef up the state's defenses.

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The state of Arkansas has convened a new task force that will work to advance computer science and cybersecurity education, Gov. Asa Hutchinson's office announced last week. 

Created through executive order, the Computer Science and Cybersecurity Task Force is the latest in a number of steps the state has taken to advance education around these issues. According to the announcement, the task force will look at areas including industry pathways into IT and cybersecurity, post-secondary alignment strategies and goals, data science and cybersecurity in curricula, and work-based learning opportunities for students in these areas. 

“When we passed the Computer Science Initiative during my first month in office in 2015, Arkansas moved ahead of the pack nationally in computer science education,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “But we can’t rest on that success. Technology moves quickly. If we are going to give our students the best computer science education possible, we must constantly assess our progress and implement the programs that will attract and inspire our students and educators.” 

The governor's office also released a list of the task force members, which includes a diversity of officials from different backgrounds, including state agencies, research institutes and private vendors and organizations. 

One of those members, Lee Watson, has been involved in other state cybersecurity-focused programs, such as the state's Cyber Initiative, which has sought to bring together public and private entities in the aim of building up Arkansas' overall security posture. 

Watson runs the Forge Institute, which forms public and private partnerships to advance IT and innovation. 

"I'm a bit of a disruptive thinker and I'd like to think that's what the Governor is looking for — out-of-the-box ideas that can help move our state forward — with regards to STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] education and opportunities for students," said Watson, in an email to Government Technology.

Watson explained that while he hadn't seen a list of issues the task force would look at, he imagined it would cover everything "from curriculum and teacher/student incentives to ways we can stimulate more collaboration between academia and private sector employers."   

The task force is scheduled to deliver an initial report on its findings to the governor's office by next summer, with a final report delivered that fall. 

"The task force will look at computer coding/science, data science and cybersecurity — these are certainly cornerstone to the jobs of tomorrow. And we won't stop with the basics — if we aren't looking at the effects quantum computing will have on these subjects and our workforce, then we've really missed an opportunity," Watson wrote. "Many folks — several on this task force — have been working with our elected and industrial leaders for years to build a strong pipeline of talent in the state and if you look at all the programs and outcomes, their efforts are bearing fruit. This task force will help accelerate our state and create better economic opportunities for our students and stronger talent for industry."