Protecting Georgia’s voting system and preparing future cyber workers


Augusta University School of Computer and Cyber Sciences is in the spotlight for the next half hour, we’ll talk about what they do over there to get our students ready for the workforce more so talk about their key role in Georgia’s elections as far as making sure that the electronic systems that are being put into place work. The Georgia’s Secretary of State’s office has reached out to our friends at AU and partnered with them so it is extremely important to remember that when you go to the ballot box and all things knock on wood function as they should. Dr. Alex Schwarzmann is the Dean of the Augusta University School of Cyber and Computer Sciences.

Brad Means: Dean Schwarzmann, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be here.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Glad to be here, thank you.

Brad Means: How in the world did this happen as far as you’re concerned, you all of a sudden, where you’re just a computer science teacher, and then they said, “Hey, come to the cyber “headquarter of the world and run our program.”

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Well, I spent my previous 20 years in the State of Connecticut, now the University of Connecticut. And one day I received my 20th anniversary certificate and I said, what happened, what happened to my 20 years and at about the same time, somebody brought to my attention, this opportunity in Augusta, Georgia. Of course, climate was amazingly important to me.

Brad Means: I thought it was yeah.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: But more seriously, the amazing momentum and enthusiasm here in Augusta, were just contagious and for me, it is one you know, lifestyle opportunity to truly make a difference and build something new and do something that has impact.

Brad Means: Is there anything you brought from up north down here? Any sort of template that you can plug in? Or is this let’s just start from scratch, as you said and build this?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Well, there is no prescription for for how to build a research college. And of course, as you probably know, Augusta University is the fourth research university in the state. And the mission given to the school is to be a top tier research college of computing. And to build that, you need to have research, you have to have education, of course, graduate programs as well as undergraduate programs. And so we’re setting out to triple the size of the faculty and possibly double the size of our enrollment.

Brad Means: Let’s start with enrollment. What are you doing to get students to come here or as it is it how it looks from my vantage point, they’re beating down your door to get in. Which is it? Do you have to recruit?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: It’s the latter.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: So we have more applicants than we can handle. In the past less than three years, I think our enrollment doubled. I believe we’re now, three years ago, we were about 300. Today we’re, I believe 600 or close to that.

Brad Means: Impressive.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: But the biggest challenge really is not generating interest in among high schoolers, but to find students who are truly interested in computing on and who are able to succeed in a computer science program or information technology or cyber security program.

Brad Means: So are these grown ups or these just freshmen who don’t know what they wanna major in yet combination of the two?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Combination of the two? Of course, as you probably realize, Augusta University has many non-traditional students. And that will tell you that among our best students, the majority are non-traditional students, because they join our program as adults. As grown ups, they understand what they want. They’re able to work in a goal oriented fashion and they succeed in disproportionate numbers.

Brad Means: If I’m somebody looking for a second career right now watching this broadcast, it sounds like you’re the place to go.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: I’d love to have you.

Brad Means: So you’re downtown in the whole McKnight building? Is that correct? Wanna make sure–

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: That’s our headquarters.

Brad Means: Okay, so you’re down there is that where your grad students go? They come from the Somerville Campus for undergrad and then move up to you.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: So our freshman sophomore classes are offered in Somerville and then junior and senior classes at Georgia Cyber Center by the river. Our graduate programs are just beginning to grow. The Board of Regents of USG University System of Georgia just approved or master’s degree with a research thesis. We’re going to start that in the fall. And on the heels of that we’re going to also introduce a doctoral program in Computer Science.

Brad Means: You mentioned that high schoolers or younger people aren’t your primary focus necessarily, but I do wanna ask you this. We did have a competition that we covered last week, middle schoolers were competing and they ultimately, the winners got to go to a cyber conference at the Marriott to get their awards. My question is, when you get kids competing in the world of cyber, and it’s fun to them, and maybe you saw this in Connecticut, did they choose to make it a career sometimes because of that fun at first?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: So we we want the students who understand what they want, and who will already have some experience in cyberspace. So I want to correct you we are very much interested in high school students.

Brad Means: Well right.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: As well as non-traditional student.

Brad Means: Right but if you had to say which one’s getting more focused right now. Is it the kids or is that the non-traditional adults?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: So I think both are equally important.

Brad Means: Great.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: And we’re doing a lot to reach out to high school population because it is very important to get somebody with fresh attitudes recent exposure to computing and we we do specifically run programs designed for high school students. We run the Gym Cyber Camp every summer. It is funded funded by NSA and the and the kids they’re just fantastic. We are able to recruit some of them to come and study at the Augusta University. And we also run the Girls Who Code program for for girls. This fall I think we had about 42 girls who registered.

Brad Means: So it’s when that interest is sparked early it can turn into something.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Absolutely.

Brad Means: Let’s talk about the bachelor and graduate programs that you have there. What all does that involve is the undergrad part. What I would remember from computer science in college and then the serious stuff kicks in and grad school. How’s it looking over there today to you?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Well know our our undergraduate programs are quite rigorous. And our computer science is, for example, a bit accredited national engineering accreditation. They’re very proud of the program. It is of a national kind of caliber. And we also have four other undergraduate majors, the most recent of which is Cyber Security Engineering. It was the first such degree in Georgia and one of the first in the nation. We’re very proud of it. And we have the first cohort of about 15 students who started this year.

Brad Means: Let me ask you about the master’s program.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Yes.

Brad Means: How long does that take? Is it a year two years and how I imagine it’s just you talked about rigor, that it gets really serious there.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: So we actually have two masters programs. One of them is, is a professional degree. It’s Master of Science in Information Security Management. And mostly just taken by by adults who want either additional credentials or a career change. And the program the typical student is part time students and depending on how many courses you take? It may be two years, maybe three years. It depends on your own pace. The Master of Science in Computer Science from as I mentioned, it includes potentially a research thesis. And so that is less predictable. I think an ambitious successful students can probably graduate in 18 months or three semesters, maybe two semesters in the summer, more usually will take probably two years two academic years.

Brad Means: No matter which course they choose just the bachelor’s or the masters, bachelor’s or bachelors and masters. How quickly can they get jobs?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Well, we have a very interesting situation where we cannot recruit our own undergraduates for graduate study, because they’re all gone.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Of course, the best of them are even gone by the end of the junior year, and almost all of our students have jobs by the time they graduate. It’s it’s a little bit of a paradox, because of that is the industry is doing so well. We have hard time giving graduate students.

Brad Means: I heard a guy from Fort Gordon the other day tell a civic organization that I’m a part of. You’ve got these 18 to 22 year olds fighting the bad guys online, fighting the war on terror and cyberspace. And I thought 18 to 22, why would you stick around for a master’s? Because, you know all you need to know, to get a great job before then, right?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Well, yes and no. I mean there’re jobs, a lot of jobs that require only a bachelor’s degree. But if you look at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is an indication that there are close to 20,000 unfilled entry level jobs that require a master’s degree. So this is very interesting and then entry level job requires a master’s degree.

Brad Means: So if you have that you’re going to stand out?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Absolutely.

Brad Means: From the field.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: And 20,000 nationally, there are 200 universities producing master’s degrees then it means 100 per University. That is a non-trivial number. It’s not going to happen overnight.

Brad Means: Dean Schwarzmann, you kind of caught my attention when you talked about not only student recruitment, but faculty recruitment, you’re doing this 30 in three program, tell me what your 30 and three program is all about. It seems aggressive.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: So, when I came to a Augusta, talk to our president, Dr. Keel, and he certainly wants our college to be a something with an international stature.

Brad Means: Sure.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: A comprehensive research college. Well, the price of admission is anywhere 40 to 50 faculty, you have to have sufficient critical mass in research, to be significant, to make impact and to be able to collaborate with both university partners, industrial partners, government, military in particular and and so I set out to hire 30 new faculty in three years. I’m happy to report that they hired exactly 10 in our first year.

Brad Means: Did you really.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Absolutely.

Brad Means: Well.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: The 10th arrived around new near. So we are, and now I’m recruiting 10 more. I’m happy to report that I already have two acceptances. So we’re on our way. And by the way, I want to mention that we were able to attract faculty, researchers, because they also feel tremendous enthusiasm about this area and the momentum that we’re experiencing here. They feel that here they can make impact, more so than anywhere else or their home institution.

Brad Means: It seems like we’re making a name for ourselves nationwide. Would you agree with that?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Absolutely.

Brad Means: People know about what’s happening here.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Augusta Georgia was listed among 10 potential cyber hubs of the world and so we certainly are going to help that happen.

Brad Means: Well, I’m also impressed with the role that AU is playing in our upcoming elections. And when the means report continues, we’re gonna continue our conversation with Dr. Alex Schwarzmann. He is the dean of Augusta University’s School of Computer and Cyber Sciences. And we’ll find out what they’re doing when it comes to those new systems more of the using when we come back.

Part 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report everybody as we continue to tackle all of the excitement, and all of the goings on at Augusta University when it comes to cyber and what we’re doing to get people ready for the workforce in this cyber industry that is just starting to really take off our town. Dr. Alex Schwartzmann is the Dean of Computer and Cyber Sciences. Today you, Dean Schwartzmann. I wanted to talk about your role with Georgia’s brand new election systems. But before I do that, let me go back to what we were talking about when it comes to teacher recruitment. So you have this plan to recruit 30 teachers in three years, you’re more than a third of the way there one year in. You told me the average hiring rate, you’re doing 10 a year, what’s the average?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: So national universities that are looking to fill such positions filled about? They would like to hire 2.5 and they succeed in hiring 1.8 per University. Per year.

Brad Means: And you’ve done 10

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: 10 in one year, right.

Brad Means: Can you sustain that for the final 18 to 20?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: I hope so yeah.

Brad Means: I hope so too. And I’ll ask you the same thing. I’ve asked other AU deans and administrators. What do people love about Augusta isn’t what you mentioned at the top of the show the climate? What helps sell us to these teachers?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: I think it is, well not only teachers but teachers, researchers.

Brad Means: Sure.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Because we hire faculty who will excel both in teaching and research. But I think they feel the enthusiasm that is so contagious in Augusta. They feel that there is a momentum. And whereas in the past, university professors tended to sit in their office and use paper and pencil for their research and now, they see that the most interesting problems are in interaction with industrial partners, with government partners. Most challenging computer science problems are nowadays not invented at the university, but are discovered in interaction and in partnerships, with with our constituencies and partners.

Brad Means: What is the primary thing y’all are doing? And yes, I’m gonna oversimplify here but are you teaching these students how to make sure that our systems are hack proof, or you teaching them how to hack into other systems or both, because at the end of the day, it’s just that binary code that I studied 30 years ago learning how to make programs, what makes you all different?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: So there is a spectrum of activities. And as I mentioned, we have several degrees, we won’t have time to go into each of them.

Brad Means: Sure.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: But on one hand, were teaching students how to build systems that are secure from the get go, as opposed to dealing with security as an afterthought.

Brad Means: Gotcha.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: At the other extreme, we’re teaching our students and our information technology and cyber security programs. Now that you have a particular industrial enterprise, computing enterprise, how do we make it secure? So and everything in between, of course.

Brad Means: Dean, it’s no secret that there was a lot of controversy after Georgia’s last elections, people question the security of our voting systems. And so the State of Georgia the Secretary of State’s office, went out and got new machines. We’re all gonna use them next time we go to the polls. What’s Augusta University’s role going to be in making sure that the elections run well.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: So I want to first mention that nationally, there is a trend away from paperless systems towards paper ballots. And so what Georgia will be using in November of this year will be systems which are based on voter verified paper ballots. And this is absolutely the correct direction to go.

Brad Means: Why, it sounds like we’re going backward.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Well, the issue is that paperless systems are not auditable. And one cannot be completely confident in the results of the election. You could say, well, we all use ATMs. But with ATM that is strong authentication. You have your card, you have your password, you have a receipt, you have a clerk, you have monthly statement, but the ballot is completely anonymous. So the analogy with the ATM doesn’t work at all. And so you need something that is verified by the human voter. So that if we have any doubt in the reliability of the system, a human being can recount the ballots and confirm the outcome.

Brad Means: Does it slow down how long it takes us to vote or how long it takes people on the other end to count them?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: I don’t think that it necessarily slows it down substantially, perhaps some, but the votes, the paper ballots will be tabulated electronically. But Georgia also have a post election paper ballot audit that would allow officials to verify that the machines reported votes accurately.

Brad Means: So what are y’all gonna be doing? Do you get to inspect the machines or just stand on the background and see if they need you?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: No we, we are starting a laboratory at the university. We’re going to have a complete replica of the State Electronic Collection System.

Brad Means: Really.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: And we’re going to be continuously evaluating it. If we find any vulnerabilities, We will be working with the with the state officials to make sure that these vulnerabilities are not going to impact our elections. Either through use of safe use procedures, or through corrections to the equipment.

Brad Means: So will you need people to come in and play the role of voters or you get your students to do that. I would think you would need to repeat what you just mentioned hundreds, thousands of times to make sure everything works.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: So we, by the way, I have, I have been doing this for more than 10 years plan in Connecticut. So we have a lot of experience in this area. And indeed, having some death of voters and using students in some studies would be very interesting. But at the same time, our security, our facility is going to be secured. It’s a laboratory that has no windows. And that’s how we want it and there’s going to be very, very secure access to make sure that nothing ever happens with the systems at least in terms of physical access. And needless to say, is the systems will never be on the internet.

Brad Means: Well, I was that kind of answers my next question I was gonna ask if we’re gonna be able to show what you’re doing on the news to the public. But it sounds like–

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: I don’t think so.

Brad Means: No, kind of private, isn’t it, as are many things cyber. So you’re not interpreting the votes. People should know that, right? That’s not a US role.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: No, we were just making sure that the equipment is operating accurately, that it does not have security vulnerabilities, and then the integrity and that the integrity of the vote is maintained, so–

Brad Means: What if it does have some vulnerabilities, is what happens then do you get a bunch of those smart kids together and say, reprogram this, we only have a few months till November. How do you fix it?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Well, no, as I mentioned already, there is usually there are workarounds, through safe use procedures. If we know that something is not operating correctly, well, we’ll try not to use it right. Of course in case of errors which cannot be corrected, we will be cooperating with the vendors and with the state, with a state to make sure that these are corrected in time. But also I wanted to point out, even if these voting systems break on election day, the fact that we have paper ballots means that the election can go on.

Brad Means: So yeah, you’ve got that backup that safety net, what should we know as voters to make sure things run as smoothly as possible and make sure that we help those machines do their job?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Yes, so so the voter will have a chance to verify that the printed ballot correctly represents their choice.

Brad Means: All right.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: And the thing that is important for all of us, please spend a minute, two minutes, check your balance, make sure that what is printed on the ballot is what you want. Because this is the only guarantee that we have, is that what is counted is what the voters intended.

Brad Means: You’re not anticipating any problems. Have you seen these systems these machines in use before during your experience with making sure that election security using this brand of equipment if you will?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: No, I’m not familiar with this particular brand.

Brad Means: Okay.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: But we will be very familiar very quickly. As soon as we have our lab equipped.

Brad Means: And then election day, are you all spread out all over the State? Or has your job, is your job done by then?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: I would love to have 159 faculty.

Brad Means: Right.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: One per County, but no, we will not be able to do that. But of course, we will be standing by in case of any of any issues to advise the state on how to proceed safely.

Brad Means: I’ll ask you the same thing I asked everybody who has anything to do with cyber, Dean and that is how do we make sure our kids are on the right track to get involved? Is it elementary schools and middle school? When do we say hey, look, this is a field you need to pursue?

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Well, I think that I wouldn’t go as far as elementary school. But for high school children, I think it’s important to become engaged and understand more about the technology and computing and cyber in particular. So we infact, we’re working with our College of Education to help high school teachers with their computer science endorsement.

Brad Means: While you’re doing a lot over there, and I know the best is yet to come welcome once again to our area.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Thank you so much.

Brad Means: You know, it’s been a couple of years. But you’re one of us now and I’m glad you’re here.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: I love Augusta.

Brad Means: Well, we love you too Dr. Schwarzmann and thanks for all you do for cyber.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Welcome.

Brad Means: It is an absolutely and please come back. There’s so much more to talk about.

Dr. Alex Schwarzmann: Absolutely

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Brad Means

The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.