We had 17 students in the Industrial Cybersecurity program cohort last August. All 17 graduated this Spring — either with their first Associate Degree (2 year program), or with an Intermediate Technical Certificate (1 year program on top of a previous degree).
I love the cohort model be because it allows students to work with people who have different backgrounds. Four cohort members were veterans. Two had previous master degrees. One was a graduate of the Naval Academy. Several were over 40. A couple were barely 20. Many of the students had lined up jobs and internships before graduating.
As the program has grown, the curriculum and delivery have improved. On the whole, I’d say that this cohort made it farther than any previous group. As we completed a Jeopardy-style review for the program-comprehensive knowledge exam, I loved it when students pointed out errors with the questions!
I am excited to see where these students go and how they influence not just their employers, but the industry and the world!
We launched a new course: ESET 181 IT-OT Fundamentals about three years ago. I am the primary course author. I haven’t done a lot of looking, but it could be the only such course in the country.
Industrial Cybersecurity students take the course in their first semester. It is also a required course for ISU’s Electrical Engineering Technology (EET) students. This means that we teach two sections each fall, and one section each spring (EET has a start in the spring and fall).
The first time I offered the course, it was rough. Industrial Cybersecurity students really liked it. But EET students couldn’t see why they needed to learn about computers and networks.
So, we sat down and really worked through the course to make it relevant from day 1. We structured the hands-on elements of the course around a semester long project-based learning (PBL) experience.
I love PBL — especially when the projects are applicable to real life. Because we are in Idaho, we based the project around upgrading the automation system for dehyrated potatoes.
Students read a real news article and a real job posting explaining the needs of a local employer.
The students then learn about the convergence of IT and OT with a variety of hands-on experiences. These include tearing down a computer, designing a SCADA HMI screen, creating a simple temperature control loop with a Raspberry Pi, performing basic switch configuration, and many others. In the end, these aggregate into a final project.
The image below shows the kit students build as they learn about the concepts. Temperature control loop consists of a light bulb, thermocouple, and relay board.
We’ve made several enhancements over the years (and have more to make!), and I am pleased to say we are hitting the mark. Here is some feedback from three of our EET students who just completed the course:
The most important thing I learned from the project was how interconnected OT and networking are. When drawing the network diagram I realized how the two are becoming closer and closer together. I learned that even though I am in an OT role, a good understanding of IT will put me leaps ahead…
The most important thing I learned form the project was the importance of a network and why the Purdue model is such a useful tool. When everything is connected and running it has to work in sync or the whole system doesn’t work. The networking is so much more than I thought it was and I do have a more profound respect for it.
The project helped me understand aspects of IT/OT the most. These were the networking of OT devices, setting up networks, and I was so grateful for the many examples of real world situations and scenarios. I can definitely see myself reflecting on this class and the learning activities as I enter and progress through my career.
Last year we placed a graduate with a water and wastewater systems engineering firm — that does SCADA master plans, HMI design, and PLC programming, along with cybersecurity and resilience consulting.
The graduate has had several of this colleagues and supervisors come to tour of our instructional facilities, and discuss our curriculum.
On a recent tour, we stopped at looked at the conduit bending station I blogged about several weeks ago.
We looked at our flow control trainers and talked about the custom multiplexing printed circuit board.
We stopped to examine the “pressure wall” in our mechanical engineering technology area. Here our students can adjust the height of pumps that move liquid through pipes of various materials — copper, PVC, steel. They can open and close valves by hand. And they can hook the pipes to pressure transmitters. They get to calculate pressure head and think about turbulent flow.
The graduate said “I’ve heard so many people say ‘In my job, don’t use anything I learned in school’; but, I feel like I use everything I learned in this program.”
Some may ask what these things have to do with cyber security — well, these determine the effects of an attack. This is what you can do if you control the pumps and the valves.
Our guest was impressed: “I wish this program had been around when I was a student!