UMGC CSS Scholars Say Communication, Security, Access Are Key to Safe School Opening and Course Delivery

The three students recently awarded scholarships by the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) through the Department of Defense (DoD) Cybersecurity Scholarship Program have been giving much thought to the novel coronavirus’s impact on schools and how best to provide a quality education through mainly digital means.

CSS scholars Olubusayo Ladelokum, Jalynn Middleton and Michael Tillini, who are focusing their academic and professional pursuits on the intersection of digital technology and cybersecurity, said the ongoing public health crisis has exposed some critical concerns about our go-to systems for distance communication and information sharing.

For schools to successfully deliver educational material and instruction, they must address three key concerns—communication, security and access—as they work out plans to safely re-open and prepare for a school year that may rely heavily on delivering education material online, UMGC’s CSS scholars agree.

A good place to start is by tackling issues with Zoom and other teleconferencing systems, which have been the subject of well-publicized security challenges, they add. Specifically, Tillini suggests the growing practice of ‘Zoom bombing’ can be mitigated by generating school-specific accounts for students.

Zoom bombing occurs when an uninvited participant gets hold of a Zoom-call password and ‘crashes’ the meeting. By generating school-specific accounts on the back end, only students enrolled in the class would be invited to join the call.

“There would not be the need for a room invite or password. The configurations to join the classes would already be provided,” he said.

Tillini also suggests that creating virtual environments is one way to help ensure that individual lessons or entire courses are being taught by secure means. “A lot of my classes use preconfigured virtual environments that already have all the material I need to perform a lab or gather information for a paper,” he said.

“Any student on any education level with at least a computer would be able to have full access to their work in a secured, preconfigured area where they could accomplish their tasks.”

Of course, for students to work virtually, schools would need to ensure that all students have direct access to a computer and internet connectivity, UMGC’s CSS scholars agree. Schools would benefit by doing so, they add.

Implementing virtual environments allows schools to provide learning materials easier and cost-effectively. Since the virtual environment hosts all necessary hardware and software, students can access their classes with less expensive and less demanding machines, ones comparable to a Chrome Book or similar low-cost devices.

They also agree that information technology departments can only do so much without the proper infrastructure, support and governance. “School administrators must consistently test and reassess their schools’ technical systems,” said Ladelokum. “They must be willing to observe different areas and develop new tactical changes and must learn that working remotely is the new norm,” he added.

The virus has proven that IT is an essential function of any organization—and that organizations should always be prepared for the unexpected, said Middleton. “Business continuity plans are a must and businesses need to capitalize on technology now more than ever.”

“The biggest thing that we’ve learned during the pandemic is the need to have a game plan so that we’re ready to work and learn on the move,” Tillini agreed.

UMGC 2020-2021 CSS Scholars

At school in his native Nigeria, Olubusayo Ladelokum learned how to work with computers without ever laying hands on one.

“I was in a computer class with no computers,” he said. “We had to imagine learning about computer parts based on drawings the teacher gave us.”

Fast forward several years. After some initial apprehension, Ladelokum, who graduated in 2017 from Coppin State University with a degree in computer science, dove head-first into graduate studies in cybersecurity at UMGC. He has a passion for learning, dreams of one day opening a cybercafé in Nigeria and giving back to the community, and says cybersecurity is a perfect fit for him.

“With new innovations and technologies emerging every day, I always have something to learn,” he said.

Jalynn Middleton, born and raised in Washington, D.C., is a graduate of the School Without Walls. She always had a passion for science and technology, so she said pursuing a degree in information science grew naturally.

After becoming A+ certified, she completed an associate degree in information systems management at Prince George’s Community College, acquired several technical certifications, and solidified cybersecurity as her professional focus. She wants to use her CSS scholarship to help other women and other minority groups pursue IT.

A full-time employee, student, and parent, Middleton’s road has not always been easy. Despite financial setbacks and time sacrifices, she said she has been able to find a balance that meets her needs.

“Being a woman of distinction and [a person] my daughter can be proud of has become my driving force,” she said. “I am proof that technology can take you anywhere.”

Michael Tillini said he always had a fascination with computers. After a job at a local computer repair shop in high school, Tillini gravitated toward network security, which led to his current interest in cybersecurity, digital forensics and penetration testing. Tillini said he hopes that his CSS scholarship experience will lead to his dream job as a network engineer or a cybersecurity analyst for a government intelligence agency.

“I hope to gain additional knowledge on how cybersecurity operates in the enterprise realm,” he said.