For this two-part series, we sat down with participants of the Gen Cyber Teacher’s Camp, which has been held at University of Maryland Global Campus, to learn how they are infusing cybersecurity concepts and career advice into non-STEM classrooms.
When Aarti Sangwan began teaching, she was eager to connect young students to the excitement of science and teach, particularly the cyberworld and cybersecurity as a potential career. Her participation in a Gen Cyber Camp hosted by University of Maryland Global Campus not only deepened that commitment, but it brought her accolades, including a Teacher of the Year award and a citation from the governor of Maryland.
Sangwan’s journey as an educator started when she became a parent in 2006. The former tech professional decided that teaching would afford the flexibility she needed to balance work and motherhood.
“Being a parent changed everything for me,” said Sangwan, who jumped immediately onto the STEM education bandwagon. “I’m a very involved parent so when my kids started kindergarten and elementary school, I volunteered to teach the entire elementary school robotics.”
She received grants from 4H to support her robotics classes. And her volunteer teaching in the Wicomico County public schools earned Sangwan a Governor’s Citation, which paved the way for more teaching opportunities and motivated her to pursue a Master of Arts in teaching from Salisbury University. There, her dedication was recognized with a “Teacher of Promise” award from the Maryland State Department of Education.
Since 2015, Sangwan has been teaching physics, pre-engineering, and computer science at Worchester Tech High School in Newark, Maryland. Seeking to introduce a cybersecurity curriculum in her school, she joined UMGC’s 2019 Gen Cyber Camp, which was designed to help area high school teachers inspire the next generation of cyber professionals, raise cybersecurity awareness, increase interest in tech fields, and teach fundamentals that strengthen cybersecurity education.
“I believe that cybersecurity is integral to where we are,” said Sangwan. “We are facing the challenges of cybersecurity on a daily basis.” Arming children and teens with the tools they need to be cyber safe is a big part of her teaching methodology.
“It’s important to explain safety in terms that are understandable to all kids, whether elementary age or teenagers,” she explained.
In 2021, she was named Worcester County’s Teacher of the Year.
Sangwan points to the growing awareness of cybersecurity and the ease with which news coverage, online transactions, and social media can be breached by cyberattacks. “It's only going to grow and get more complicated, so it’s important to teach cybersecurity at an early age, just as much as teaching reading and mathematics,” she said.
In the classroom and in an after-school club, Sangwan establishes all facets of cybersecurity as well as the importance of being cyber safe. “Specifically with the seniors in my cybersecurity class, I weave in networking, data, personal information, and safety,” she explained.
Since participating in the Gen Cyber training, Sangwan has seen a big rise in students’ interest in cybersecurity as a career. When she started teaching her course, roughly 10 percent of students indicated they were looking at cybersecurity careers. Today, she said, nearly 22 percent are heading into four-year security degree programs.
Sangwan came to the United States from India after college to work in telecommunications. She earned her master’s degree in computer science from Western Illinois University. After several years in industry, she transitioned to teaching.
A self-proclaimed “science person” from an early age, Sangwan enjoyed asking questions about the natural world. “Science always helped me understand the world around me,” she said.
In addition to teaching positivity and kindness, both to prevent cyber bullying and to promote good cyber hygiene, she believes that it is important to teach kids to think like an adversary.
“This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t trust people, just that you want to be your best advocate,” she said. “When you go on a social media platform, send a text, put out a post, or share content, always ask: Is this safe?”
She advised parents and educators to start early. “If you give your child a cell phone and then start teaching them about safety in middle school, it’s already too late,” she warned. “That child has already created a footprint and established their cyber manners.”