Local Students Explore Virtual Tech Mania

More than 75 middle and high school students from the Fort Meade region learned how to decode detailed messages, determine potential threats to a lunar landing system, hack a camera security system, fly a drone and construct a building at the Fort Meade Alliance’s Tech Mania in November.

Students from Arundel High School, MacArthur Middle School, North County High School and Southern High School participated virtually in interactive presentations from FMA members that allowed them to explore and experience STEM-related activities.

Tech Mania featured presentations and interactive activities from the National Security Agency (NSA), Leidos CyberNEXS, Learning Undefeated in partnership with Northrop Grumman Corp., Lockheed Martin and The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company.

“Now more than ever, students need a program like Tech Mania. Whether in-person or virtual, students need opportunities to think, dream and experience the limitless possibilities and career paths in STEM” said Penny Cantwell, the Fort Meade Alliance’s Education & Workforce Development Chair. “Without FMA members volunteering their time and knowledge, Tech Mania would not happen. We appreciate their commitment to helping support Tech Mania’s goal of providing students opportunities to learn, explore and understand how integral STEM is to our everyday lives.”

Each Tech Mania session provided hands-on activities and engaging discussion with students and the FMA members.

“Tech Mania was a great chance for our students to gain exposure to numerous careers in STEM fields,” said Justin Serota, Computer Science Resource Teacher K-12 and DoDEA Cyber LAUNCH Grant Resource Teacher for Anne Arundel County Public Schools. “The presenters were able to make careers like cybersecurity, construction, engineering and computer science relevant and interesting to our young audience. It was great to see our students interacting with these highly successful professionals.”

Sarah Cox, a Cyber Analyst with the NSA, taught students cryptography-related techniques and the mathematics behind decoding messages from ciphers such as the rail fence cipher, also known as a zig-zag cipher and a Caesar shift, which substitutes a letter by another one further in the alphabet.

Kevin Fogarty, Chief Technology Officer of Leidos Cyber and SIGINT Solutions Operations, discussed design practices and cybersecurity, and touched on Leidos’ efforts to design and build the Dynetics Human Landing System (HLS), a project that hopes to send a person to the lunar surface by 2024. Students were divided into smaller groups and challenged to identify and mitigate HLS cyber threats.

Learning Undefeated presenters James Hong, Instructional Designer, Russ Brown, Educational Outreach Specialist and Joe Wilkerson, Educational Director, introduced students to Operation Polar Eye, an initiative between Northrop Grumman and the San Diego Zoo Global that works to save polar bears from extinction using autonomous technology. Students worked in groups to “think like a drone” and created a process that maximized the area surveyed by a drone. The process allowed students to gain an understanding of how computational thinking skills can be applied to real-world problem-solving scenarios.

Lockheed Martin’s Dan Gordon, Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst, presented the 5Ds of Hacking (destroy, deny, degrade, disrupt and deceive). Students, divided in groups, played out a red and blue team exercise where they worked through a simulated cyberattack using critical thinking.

Whiting-Turner’s Derek Lavigne, VDC Manager, Brandon Hurlburt, Assistant VDC Manager and Joey Eller, VDC Engineer introduced students to problem-solving more intelligently in construction with a guided activity using SketchUp, a 3D design software. The activity highlighted the power of technology and how essential visual thinking and virtual design are in the construction process.

Tech Mania is held twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. Given the unique world circumstances, FMA adapted Tech Mania events from a half-day field trip to multiple virtual exploration opportunities, providing an equally active and educational experience like past events.

“Proximity to national defense agencies offers opportunities for students to gain exposure to critical career choices in an educational environment,” said Laura Crowhurst, Individuals and Societies Department Chair from MacArthur Middle IB World School. “The Fort Meade Alliance is proactive about making these opportunities accessible to our public and private school students.”

Since its inception in 2008, Tech Mania has reached more than 2,500 students throughout the region.