HUNTSVILLE Ala. -- High school students who are deaf or hard of hearing may feel they have limited options for their careers. But a new cybersecurity course being developed at The University of Alabama in Huntsville shows students across the country that their perceived weaknesses are really strengths.
Working in cybersecurity requires focus, curiosity, and attention to detail.
"A lot of deaf and hard of hearing students have a keen eye for being able to notice problems in code," said Zachary Beaver, a research assistant in the Center for Cybersecurity Research and Education at UAH. "Because their eyes are being used on a daily basis and that's one of their senses that are more heightened because they don't have their sense of hearing."
Beaver was a high school student at the Alabama School for the Deaf before he came to UAH to study information systems with a concentration in cybersecurity.
He got his start in cybersecurity when he was in high school at UAH's GenCyber summer camps.
"When students are in their junior, senior year of high school they're thinking what's next, what job can I go into?" Beaver said. "And nowadays a lot of students are plugged into technology."
UAH is now is working with the National Technical Institute for the Deaf Regional STEM Center to develop a cybersecurity curriculum for high school students at deaf and hard of hearing schools across the nation. The curriculum funding is coming from the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, an investment they say they are thrilled to make.
"These students from our camps have just shown an amazing ability and being able to learn it. and they're not intimidated by the technology, they're not scared of the subject and the skills. They just want to learn," said Tania Williams, a research scientist at UAH. "So now they can."
Williams is part of a team of three people developing the curriculum. She said cybersecurity is appealing to today's high school students because they are passionate about technology.
"They will learn everything from cryptography to networking to digital forensics," Williams said.
The course will be two semesters long. Williams said the curriculum for deaf and hard of hearing students isn't that different from courses for hearing students.
"It's very visual which is what any student needs now. It's very hands-on, we have a lot of labs, we have a lot of project-based learning," Williams said. "They are elbow deep in cyber."
She said it is an honor to create this curriculum, and set a course for students across the country.
"We're getting to just this gift to these students, can't wait to see them learn it," Williams said.
Now the team at UAH is in the process of writing the curriculum. They sais they will do a teacher training at the end of July, and the course will roll out to pilot schools in August 2020.