Where the National Security Agency isn’t so secret: Schools

(www.nsa.gov)
(www.nsa.gov)

The National Security Agency is the super-secret organization that has been in the news because of disclosures that it has, for years, been conducting U.S. surveillance programs. But in at least one area, the NSA hasn’t tried to be so secret: schools.

The work of the NSA is based on highly advanced math, and the agency is the largest employer of mathematicians in the country. To advance its interest in seeing that more students graduate with high-level skills to do the kind of cryptological work done at the agency, it has outreach programs for students at every grade level.

The agency’s Web site provides the details, including a kids’ section called “America’s Cryptokids: Future Codemakers and Codebreakers.”

There is an entire academia section with links to programs that include:

- “Early Opportunities”  for K-12 students. These programs, aimed to promote math, science and language education in elementary, middle and high schools, are the Math Education Partnership Program (MEPP), Partners in Education Program, High School Work Study Program and STARTALK initiative. In fact, high school students can get paid for working at the NSA while going to school. Here’s one program’s description from the website:

High School Programs
Whether you’re gifted in business, printing/graphic arts or computers, NSA provides on-the-job training specific to your skill set.

 

Spend your senior year gaining valuable work experience with NSA while earning a salary.

 

About the High School Work Study Program
The High School Work Study Program is designed for high school students who are enrolled in either Business or Technical Computer classes, and who plan to participate in a school-sponsored work experience program during their senior year.

- “Advanced Opportunities” for college students, including a number of program for interns and others offering scholarships. Here’s the description of one summer internship program from the website:

Cryptologic Access Summer Intern Program (CAP)

 

Have you ever wondered what the term “intercepts” means in newspaper articles about tracking terrorists around the world? How your wireless laptop connects to the Internet? How cell phones work? Why your AM radio brought in a station halfway around the world, even though it was tuned to a local station? How the U.S. knew the location of the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway? If so, you have begun to touch the world of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT).

 

The CAP brings college students into the SIGINT world for internships during the summers after their freshman, sophomore, and junior years. This program permits such students to actively participate in or support on-going SIGINT Collection operations that satisfy national intelligence needs. As a CAP Intern, you will work directly under the guidance of veteran SIGINT Collection professionals managing specific collection operations; have the opportunity to travel to a SIGINT field site (funds permitting); and work with a senior mentor to develop career aspirations in the Cryptologic Access arena.

 

CAP Interns will be hired on a Temporary Appointment for a term no more than 12 weeks following the beginning of the internship. A subsequent application is required to participate in the program in later summers during the intern’s undergraduate career.

Other internship programs for college students:

- The Information Assurance Academic Outreach program that advocates “improvements in IA education, training and awareness through partnerships with academia, industry and government.”

- National Centers of Academic Excellence in IA Education offer two-year programs in Education and Training and IA Research (jointly sponsored with the Department of Homeland Security). The goal of these programs, the Web site says, is “to reduce vulnerability in our national information infrastructure by promoting higher education and research in IA and producing a growing number of professionals with IA expertise in various disciplines.” You can see a list of schools that offer these programs here.

The NSA, the website says, sends speakers into schools to talk to students about various academic subjects and corresponding careers, and is quite open with its salary structure for new employees. According to the Web site:

NSA offers competitive salaries that are commensurate with a candidate’s education and experience. NSA employees, in certain circumstances, may also be eligible to receive overtime compensation, holiday pay, night differential, Sunday premium pay, bonuses, and other allowances.

 

Below are entry-level salaries (including locality pay) for several different skill fields. (Entry-level is defined as having a Bachelor’s Degree or equivalent work experience.)

Language Analysis & Intelligence Analysis $42,209
Computer Science $55,293*
Mathematics $51,894*
Computer/Electrical Engineering $56,375*

* These salaries reflect those offered on premium pay scales, which require completion of specific degrees and course requirements.

And kids (as well as adults) can visit the National Crypotologic Museum, adjacent to NSA headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland, which the agency calls its “principal gateway to the public.” The museum, which houses hundreds of artifacts related to the history of the cryptological profession, hosts thousands of visiting students and teachers every year.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | June 9, 2013