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The North Louisiana Tech Boom Continues on I-20 Corridor

The North Louisiana Tech Boom Continues on I-20 Corridor

Technology growth continues across the state as evidenced by the I-20 Corridor’s tech boom, which has ramped up over the last decade and is definitely contributing to Louisiana’s reputation as Silicon Bayou. Across this approximately 100-mile corridor, you’ll find innovative research and partnerships between a Fortune 200 company and a Tier I research institution, as well as groundbreaking STEM curriculum development at a renowned research center in a national research park. If it all sounds like a lot, it is. But let’s take a closer look at some of the key components of this growing technology ecosystem.

Louisiana Tech: Partnering on Today’s Research. Preparing Tomorrow’s Workforce.

From its founding as an industrial institute in the late 1800s to its current growth to over 12,000 students, Louisiana Tech University in Ruston has long been a cornerstone in technological education in North Louisiana. Today, the university features a robust technology curriculum as well as ample research partnership opportunities for students and faculty with cutting-edge organizations and firms.

“We are excited to work with such great companies as General Dynamics, CenturyLink, the Cyber Innovation Center, and others,” said Dr. Ben Drozdenko, Assistant Professor of Cyber Engineering and Computer Science. “These partnerships take a variety of shapes from donated equipment to projects and research.”

Drozdenko cited General Dynamics as a major donator of technical equipment that assists with high-level courses and research efforts such as a server rack that was used to create a private Cloud and virtual reality equipment, all of which is accessible to students to use for research and their senior year Capstone projects. In addition, the NSA has developed a scholarship program to fund student employment with the organization and help close skills gaps.

“With CenturyLink, we have an active, on-going research project for the Air Force that brings in faculty from different departments,” stated Drozdenko. “We also partner with Grambling State University on a grant from the Department of Defense to develop and share integrated course work about Industrial Control Systems Security.“

The National Cyber Research Park: The Heart of North Louisiana’s Technology Efforts

Dedicated to cyber research and development activities, the 3,000 acre National Cyber Research Park (NCRP) in Bossier City represents a $107 million investment by local governments of Bossier and the State of Louisiana. The NCRP houses the Cyber Innovation Center, which serves as a technology hub fostering collaborative and strategic alliances between government, industry and academia to create a knowledge-based workforce and diversify the region’s economic base promoting research, education and technological innovation. One of the nation’s shining stars in the STEM sector is the anchor tenant of the Cyber Innovation Center, the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (NICERC).

NICERC offers grant-funded cyber, STEM, and computer science curricula and professional development to K-12 educators at no cost with the goal of empowering educators as they prepare the next generation to succeed in the cyber workforce of tomorrow.

“We are grant funded from the Department of Homeland Security and provide assistance to all 50 states across the U.S.,” stated Dr. Chuck Gardner, NICERC Director of Curriculum. “The national agency recognized the need to affect systemic change by providing for more STEM education in order to bring cyber and high tech into an area and enhance a local workforce. The first grant was written in 2011.”

While many of the courses are concentrated on traditional STEM subjects such as physics and cyber technology, one of the unique aspects of the course development is how it is purposely engaging students across all curricula. For example, in a course called Cyber Society there is no hard computer science. The class consists of research and group conversations about various subjects such as cyber terrorism and the creation of policy to combat this threat.

“One of our goals is to apply STEM and cyber to humanities and liberal arts—to see how a history or English teacher can contribute to a student being a well rounded cyber citizen,” said Gardner. “One of the classes I taught was Cyber Literacy. I emphasized current events and created assignments where students had to find and write about technology based articles. We hope to have students go from programming bots to discussing current cyber events all in the same day.”

Today, the model created in Bossier City is impacting state departments of education, school districts and teachers with its top-down and bottom-up approach. What began as a regional model became Homeland Security’s national model for STEM and cyber education.

For Gardner and the team at NICERC, they are rewarded by their efforts two-fold, supporting STEM education across the United States, while also witnessing the effects of their work locally attracting tech companies to North Louisiana.

“It’s very rewarding to know that we’ve been able to contribute to creating a workforce that will attract employers,” said Gardner. “Companies like General Dynamics Information Technology constructed a help desk facility that houses more than 1000 people servicing federal contracts. In addition to this, less than three miles away is a call center facility that accommodates 300 more.”

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