Students enrolled in the Cisco Cybersecurity program at the Career & Technology Academy (CTA) will soon be able to practice all of their hands-on skills while away from school in a real-world, virtual cybersecurity lab, thanks to a $143,715 Career and Technology Education (CTE) Innovation grant, awarded by the Maryland State Department of Education. The NetLab+ Virtual Networking and CyberSecurity Platform will allow students to practice skills using equipment such as routers and switches in a completely virtual problem-solving setting.

Donald Cherry, CTA teacher said, “This grant will allow our students to remote access virtual machines and physical devices 24-hours a day. They will no longer be restricted to only practice skills in the classroom. The experience gained from the NetLab+ environment will extend well beyond school and truly prepare students for the demands of the real world.” 

Carrie Akins, Principal at CTA, noted, “This is simply a game-changer for our students. The NetLab+ system is more advanced than what many colleges and universities currently offer to their students. We are excited for the advantage this is going to provide to our students.”

The system creates “pods” that allow students or groups of students to troubleshoot and problem-solve real-world scenarios. The teachers will be able to assign students to work in various virtual “pods” to complete the varying problems. The system uses state of the art equipment and updates regularly with new information and new scenarios for students to learn and practice.

Josh Sands, a CyberSecurity Specialist with the Department of the Navy and member of the Program Advisory Committee (PAC) for the CTA Cisco program, wrote in a letter of support for the grant, “It is extremely beneficial to the students who would have the ability to remote into this system and apply real applications using the actual equipment on the server. Most companies have network equipment in several places in their buildings, and some even have offsite facilities. The way network engineers access those systems is exactly how the students will be accessing the NETLAB+ system.”

In addition to adding the new system to the program, the Maryland Center for Computing Education (MCCE) will partner with CTA to assist with the implementation of the new equipment. Dr. Megean Garvin, Director of Research and Assessment for MCCE shared, “This innovative high school cybersecurity platform is needed and will serve as a pilot study for the remaining Maryland local school systems.”

Implementation of the NetLab+ platform will begin by November, with a goal of having students beginning work in the system by December.

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