At I/ITSEC, student solutions to defense problems have their day

A showcase of high school student ideas at the world’s largest modeling, simulation and training conference in the world last week, on its surface, was a place to hear ideas from those who could give existing challenges a fresh look.

For instance, this year’s task for the Student Problem Challenge: ideas to sustain a global force in a digital world.

However, it also serves to inspire younger people – that is, the defense industry’s future workforce – to consider pursuing careers that could eventually mean solving future challenges that might face the Warfighter.

“We have an up-and-coming generation that is really immersed in all of this growing up,” said Cassie Muffley of the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), who helped coordinate the workshop and presentations. “So, they are already thinking about things like how do I avoid getting hacked on my video game server? But, later on, they will be the ones working on the military side.”

The showcase, held in Orlando during the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference, I/ITSEC, took four teams of high school students through a daylong workshop.

The teams had industry mentors work alongside them, as well. In addition, they worked under the leadership of Muffley and Erica Haglund of The ASTA Group, a member of I/ITSEC’s STEM Committee.

As the tech industry in all sectors faces a potential workforce shortage, more programs have been introduced to try to bolster the numbers.

Schools and industry often work together to do so.

The Student Problem Challenge could be a small example of how private industry can address that problem, Muffley said.

 “We can solve the technology problem today,” said Muffley, who has helped lead the workshop the last two years. “But if we don’t start teaching our future workforce how to critically think, how to solve problems, getting them interested in this type of career field, five to ten years from now, it won’t matter what we did to advance technology if we don’t have the workforce to support what we’re doing at that time,”

As the students presented on stage, four defense industry veterans and professionals sat by, ready to challenge their presentations.

Their inquiries helped lead the students to think critically about their solutions.

Beverly Seay, southeast regional director for NSIN, was impressed at how flexible the students were in their ideas.

It’s a skill she said typically found in entrepreneurs and more experienced businesspeople.

“Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur, you understand a problem, validate your thesis and perhaps change your perspective when you get more data,” she said. “The fact that they took such a huge problem and narrowed in on a particular area, then went out and validated it or changed their mind on the floor, that’s great.

“Whether you’re in a small company or in a big company, those critical thinking, problem-solving skills are what’s important and we need to teach everyone that, no matter what discipline they’re going into.”

Muffley said bringing young people in to address existing challenges offers crucial perspectives, as well.

“They see the world differently than we do,” Muffley said. “They don’t know the rules of the game yet. It’s a lot easier for them to think outside of the box, in the realm of the possible.”