DoD's hacking for defense taps college brainpower

What happens when the war for the brightest minds becomes a college course?

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National security is increasingly a digital effort, so makes sense the Department of Defense wants the next generation of hackers on its side. That's the inspiration for the Hacking for Defense (H4D) program, which aims to put college students' skills to work solving real-world national defense challenges.

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Offered at select US universities, H4D, a program of the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), is a semester-long course in applied learning wherein students work directly with DoD agencies. The government partners sponsor technology challenges to the student team, which are asked to develop and iterate solutions.

Wichita State University is one of the colleges offering the program via what's known as FirePoint, a partnership between WSU and the US Army's Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation and Missile Center (CCDC AvMC).

"Applied learning opportunities are critical for enabling students to gain the kind of real-world experience that they can't get in the classroom," said John Tomblin, WSU Senior Vice President for Industry and Defense Programs. "This kind of professional experience is one of the things that sets WSU apart and gives our students a competitive edge in the job market."

The DoD, which has long forged close ties to colleges and universities for vital research and talent recruitment, is looking at H4D as a resource for new perspectives on mission-critical problem-solving. It's lost on no one that some of the most potent tech disrupters of the last couple decades have been teens and twenty-somethings. In 2019/20, Wichita State, via FirePoint, sponsored a challenge to help design the army's next UAV.

"We're thrilled to be able to bring this truly unique program to the students here at Wichita State," said Steve Cyrus, Executive Director with FirePoint. "This is a perfect fit for exactly the type of work we do -- building partnerships to bring nontraditional sources of innovation to DoD—so it's another arrow in our quiver for technological development. But it's also expanding the culture of DoD collaboration and innovation we're building here on the Wichita State University campus."

If you're interested in how the course, which is open to students in any discipline, is structured, you can find the syllabus here.