Alabama’s only fully public, residential high school for students interested in cybersecurity and engineering held a virtual groundbreaking ceremony, Sept. 23, 2020.
Raytheon Technologies announced in August that it awarded the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering, or ASCTE, in Huntsville, a $4 million grant to help prepare students for cyber and engineering careers in government and industry. Raytheon Technologies is the school’s largest corporate sponsor.
“What you all have started here is truly, truly special,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey during the virtual groundbreaking ceremony. “And it will serve as a wonderful example for all STEM-based learning institutions to follow across our great state.”
The ASCTE is a magnet high school – a public school with specialized courses or curricula – open to students from any of Alabama’s 137 public school districts. Students live on campus in a boarding environment, and tuition and housing are free.
The City of Huntsville donated 25 acres of land in Cummings Research Park for construction of the school's campus. The permanent facility (see artist's rendering above) will open in August 2022, but 72 students already began receiving instruction on Aug. 17, 2020, at an interim site at the former Oakwood Academy on the campus of Oakwood University. Residential students board in an Oakwood dormitory, and the university is making available to the students its library, facilities and transportation services. ASCTE plans to go from the 72 students currently enrolled to more than 350 by 2024.
“This program is accessible to students from across the state, particularly in underserved communities, helping close the science, technology, engineering and math achievement gap for minority and female students,” said Roy Azevedo, president of Raytheon Intelligence & Space, one of the four Raytheon Technologies’ businesses.
Many of speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony discussed the cyber and engineering workforce gap. The curriculum at ASCTE will address America's shortage of qualified cybersecurity and engineering development talent. According to a 2019 (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, the current cybersecurity workforce needs to grow by 145 percent to meet global demand.
“Magnet schools like this one are critical to filling the projected millions of vacant cybersecurity jobs worldwide and closing the skills gap to better defend our organizations and this great nation,” Azevedo said. “While we know that the financial donations are important to this cause, we’re also looking forward to continuing to have an enduring contribution to the school’s curriculum and acting as mentors for the students.”
According to Wes Kremer, president of Raytheon Missiles & Defense, another of Raytheon Technologies’ four businesses, ASCTE is critical as the world becomes more connected, and lives become more dependent on virtual systems and global networks with increasing vulnerabilities, and growing and pervasive attacks.
“Today, we come together to recommit ourselves and our work to educate the next generation of cyber professionals to address the vulnerabilities our more connected world brings, and develop the talent that’s so critical to fulfilling the millions of cybersecurity roles that are projected to be open worldwide,” Kremer said. “So strengthening America’s resilience against cyberattacks and continually defending our country, its citizens and military across this contested environment is a national security imperative…. And that is why our investment in this school and these students is so important.”
Azevedo added, “We’re helping provide an education that can lead to real jobs and careers. And hopefully some of these students are going to call themselves Raytheon Technologies experts.”
One of those future Raytheon Technologies’ professionals might include Phyllip Thomas, an ASCTE freshman who spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony.
“Coming to this school was the best decision I have ever made,” he said. “I came here to further advance my path to engineering and cyber career opportunities. And this school is one of a kind in that regard.”
Thomas said that his cyber instructors have a deep understanding and appreciation of the field, and they have a passion for teaching about the subject. The students also conduct weekly video calls with experts in the field.
“Being able to talk to industry leaders is an opportunity that I have never had before, and this made me realize what real life in these fields will look like,” he said. “And it makes me more excited about my future.”