As the US works to modernise the electric grid, hydropower is increasingly relying on digital control systems, creating an urgent need to train and recruit the next generation of cybersecurity experts, according to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
To this end, PNNL has established the Training Outreach and Recruitment for Cybersecurity in Hydropower (TORCH) programme at The University of Texas at El Paso.
UTEP is the first university to implement TORCH, a programme funded by the Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office.
“We are extremely excited about the continued collaboration with PNNL, which benefits our students by bringing real-world problems to our classrooms and research endeavors,” said Salamah Salamah, Ph.D., UTEP professor and chair of computer science. “The TORCH program exposes our students to state-of-the-art technologies and advances in an area of significant importance to the nation, namely the security of hydropower systems. The combination of UTEP’s strengths in cybersecurity and the TORCH program will enhance our students’ preparedness for impactful careers in the different areas of cybersecurity.”
Staff at PNNL, including co-principal investigator and Systems Engineer Chelsea Gonzales and Consuelo Ramirez, who is a UTEP software engineering graduate student, worked to develop the curriculum.
TORCH creates opportunities for students to form their education and support a career path in hydropower.
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“It can be very difficult to find students that are interested in cybersecurity and also have an engineering background. Typically, there are either cyber students or engineering students,” said Penny McKenzie, PNNL cybersecurity engineer and principal investigator. “TORCH is designed to bridge that gap.”
The curriculum was first piloted at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Washington.
The TORCH team is taking their learnings and working with UTEP to transition the curriculum to a one-credit course offered to students in spring 2024. PNNL staff will also engage with students at career fairs to give a sneak peek of the activities and encourage them to enroll. This spring, TORCH will also partner with minority-serving institutions including Columbia Basin College and Grambling State University in Grambling, La.
Mitigating the risks to digitised hydropower control systems requires a new generation of professionals to enter the career field — one that is vigilant about potential threats and has the expertise to react appropriately. The TORCH team is working hard to prepare and develop those qualities and skills in students with an interest in entering the field.
The PNNL staff also are exploring opportunities to train current personnel at hydro facilities. They hope to begin outreach to a broader audience, including K-12 students, to captivate their interest in cybersecurity careers in hydropower.
Originally published on hydroreview.com