CHIRP extends its roots to UTEP spring 2023

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  • By SSC Public Affairs
El Segundo, Calif. – As threats in the cyber and space domain grow, filling positions that were once vacant with digital warfighters of today continues to be a challenge for the information-security profession. 
Despite having an upwards of 600,000 information-security professional positions left unfilled in the United States, falling by the wayside to watch the gap widen is not something experts within Space Systems Command (SSC) opted into.
For the last eight months, SSC’s Cyber Information Office has taken the helm in joining forces with industry partner Department of Energy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to build the cyber workforce we need to generate more resilient and secure space systems through a program called Cyber Halo Innovation Research Program (CHIRP).
“Every day there’s some form of a cyberattack happening,” said Col. Jennifer M. Krolikowski, SSC, chief information officer. “If we continue to wait for the next generation cyber expert to arise after completing a graduate degree, we’ll never be able to decrease the vacancy gap, let alone effectively protect the home front. We needed to fill these positions yesterday; therefore, our efforts to join our partners to develop CHIRP allows us the opportunity to exacerbate every possible option we have available to strengthen the force we need for the future.”
After starting in May 2022, CHIRP has united government, industry, and education arenas to provide college and university students with a direct pathway into a cybersecurity career. 
“We can no longer afford to experience the delays that we once encountered,” Krolikowski stated. “There are many brilliant young minds seeking undergraduate degrees, especially within our minority focused institutions. If we’re going to advance our posture in this realm we must meet the up-and-coming workforce professionals right where they are – in the academic system. If we can give these students exposure to the threats earlier on, build their critical thinking, and maximize their potential through a program like CHIRP, what we’re doing is building a foundation for experts that can immediately contribute to the fight once they begin in the workforce.” 
Despite the evolving challenges of today, Guardians, civilians, contractors, and industry partners continue to find ways to get after the threat and prevail in this digital battlespace.
Fortunately, for students looking to excel in this competitive yet critical mission for the country’s national defense, waiting for opportunities to experience hands on internships or gain firsthand insight as to what is required to advance the command’s posture to prevail in space is no longer delayed until a student reaches graduate school. 
Colleges and Universities across the United States, with undergraduate level degree opportunities in the realm of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) who have an interest in the program may be considered for participation. 

Since inception, CHIRP recognized not only the growing need to provide more hands-on industry-level opportunities for students with STEM education backgrounds, but also identified the reality that exposure to such experiences needed to stretch beyond the elite or privileged to reached areas consisting of minority and underrepresented demographics. 
Academic institutions like the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) – the leading Hispanic-Serving University and one of the United States’ top five percent R1: Doctoral Universities – understand the need to protect and defend our nation across all domains, especially cyber.  
“The development of cybersecurity talent will help keep America safe from increasingly sophisticated cyber threats,” said Dr. Heather Wilson, UTEP president. “This partnership provides financial assistance to our students as well as hands-on experience at Space Systems Command. We are pleased to partner with PNNL and the Space Force to open more opportunities for our students.”

Starting in the Spring of 2023, UTEP will allow students to apply for selection into the program. Following the selection process, students will participate in a summer cyber boot institute, which is designed as the prerequisite to start their matriculation as a CHIRP fellow. 
Due to the extensive and intensive curriculum, advancing through various stages requires students to possess two years of academic training prior to beginning the program at their assigned college or university. 
UTEP, will become the second university to bring CHIRP to its campus. California State University-San Bernardino (CSU-SB) served as the first academic institution to offer CHIRP earlier this year. 
Students who complete this program will have direct access to seek employment opportunities with SSC, PNNL, and other interested employers that have unfilled positions in areas like network security, cyber analysis, incident response, cyber policy, data architecture, continuity of operations, data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and secure software development.
Providing students with the skills to enter a workforce that is not only competitive, but critical to the nation’s national security, is a feat that requires strong partnerships and the necessary fortitude to embark on a venture that was previously unchartered – a journey PNNL willing accepted.
“Innovative collaborations are essential to address the shortage of qualified, cybersecurity talent for the future STEM workforce,” said Evangelina Shreeve, PNNL’s Office of STEM Education, director. “CHIRP builds on the expertise of PNNL’s cybersecurity researchers and STEM education to uniquely equip this next generation of cybersecurity professionals.”
While UTEP and CSU-SB are some of the earlier academic partners to welcome SSC’s university-partnership, the command looks to expand its presence across the nation. 
If interested, college and university representatives can visit for more information.