Science & Technology

AT&T awards UWF gift to grow, expand outreach of Cybersecurity Ambassadors Program

The University of West Florida announces a gift from AT&T to enhance its Center for Cybersecurity Ambassadors Program. AT&T presented the gift at a check ceremony on Friday, Feb. 15, at the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering Building.

Cybersecurity ambassadors Megan Morton and Caroline Krouse answer cybersecurity questions from a Beulah Middle School student.

The Center for Cybersecurity Ambassadors Program debuted in January 2018. In their role as ambassadors, select UWF cybersecurity students visit area schools to enhance cybersecurity awareness and interest among K-12 students and teachers. The ambassadors generate interest in cybersecurity education and careers through engaging activities and demos.

Caroline Krouse, Michael Mitchell, Megan Morton and Carson Wilber currently serve as cybersecurity ambassadors. The AT&T gift of $15,000 positions the Center for Cybersecurity to increase the number of ambassadors and expand their outreach in the community.

“Working with the Center for Cybersecurity Ambassadors Program at the University of West Florida, AT&T’s support will strengthen our future workforce Cybersecurity skills,” said AT&T Florida Regional Director Ray Walker. “The Ambassador program will raise awareness and make opportunities available for our workforce to be prepared to prevent cyber attacks, cyber warfare and cyber terrorism.”

Developing a pipeline to address the critical shortage of cybersecurity professionals is one point of emphasis for the ambassadors. Experts predict the number of job openings will increase to 3.5 million globally by 2021, according to Cybersecurity Ventures. The number of current cybersecurity job openings tops 13,000 in Florida alone. A pipeline for cybersecurity professionals is of particular importance in Northwest Florida with its military assets and a growing industry tasked with protecting information and critical infrastructure.

“Many students do not know anyone who works in cyber and role models often shape their career choices,” said Guy Garrett, assistant director for the Center of Cybersecurity and co-coordinator of the ambassadors. “AT&T’s generous support of the ambassadors creates that introduction. Through visits and presentations, the ambassadors show kids from all backgrounds rewarding career opportunities in cybersecurity.”

K-12 students learn about cyber attacks and related topics from the ambassadors, who tailor their presentations to the age of the students. Elementary students learn cybersecurity awareness and fundamentals through interactive activities.

Ambassadors’ presentations to middle school and high school students include the dangers of identity theft and how to protect private information. In 2017, identity fraud in the U.S. increased by eight percent, reaching 16.7 million victims and totaling $16.8 billion in stolen funds, according to a study by Javelin Strategy & Research. The cybersecurity ambassadors also highlight the numerous and diverse career opportunities in cybersecurity and various multidisciplinary cybersecurity programs offered by UWF.

“Our mission is to start K-12 students in cybersecurity with a sense of confidence and desire to learn more about the field and to prepare the cyber pipeline for the future,” Wilber said. “The most rewarding benefit of the Cybersecurity Ambassador Program is the chance to hear students realize their capabilities in real time.”

Krouse said interactions with K-12 students opened her eyes to the importance of being an ambassador. She cited a December visit to Beulah Middle School in which a sixth-grade student asked her and Morton about Anonymous, an international hacktivist group infamous for denial-of-service attacks on government institutions and corporations.

“Megan and I both looked at each other with an eyebrow raised and proceeded to tell the student a little bit about Anonymous and the repercussions some of their members faced,” Krouse said. “Cyber is in every part of their lives, whether through smart watches, alarm systems, voice-controlled systems, tablets and all other Internet of Things devices. Questions about Anonymous confirm why cyber awareness is essential to these kids. We can show them not only how to be safe, but how to understand the technology they encounter every day.”

For more information about the UWF Center for Cybersecurity, visit