From the Shreveport Times:

The Cyber Innovation Center is bullish on Louisiana education.

The Bossier City-based anchor of the National Cyber Research Park adjacent to Bossier Parish Community College, for most of its existence a strong proponent of STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — education, is gearing up to push the area as a model for such learning.

“We get a bad rap for education in the state in general,” CIC Vice President G.B. Cazes said. “Louisiana is not well-known for its education, but up here we have a lot of good things going on and we’re starting to get recognized  for all those good things. Our teachers are being recognized and our kids are doing well in national competitions. We are truly leading the way in education in certain areas.”

This week will be busy for the center, as it welcomes a national partner and planner in its education endeavors, and promoted the first of several robotics competitions for students.

Wednesday, one of the Air Force’s top scientists, Dr. Kamal Jabbour, will speak at the Center’s monthly member luncheon at the Silver Star Smokehouse  in Bossier City. Jabbour is Senior Scientist for Information Assurance in the Information Directorate at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, N.Y.

While he’s here, Jabbour “will speak to the first cyber engineering class at Louisiana Tech, which he helped design,” Cazes said. “It’s the first cyber engineering curriculum in the country. He’s coming down and will learn what we’re doing in research and development, what we’re doing as education, as a center, as a community. He’s going to speak to the kids in the community he planted the seeds about.”

The center has instituted partnerships with several local universities and colleges, notably Tech and its neighbor and one-time host, BPCC.

“Tech is a Center of Academic Excellence for Information Assurance with the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security, and so is BPCC,” he said. “They’re a two-year center … BPCC is one of the few community colleges in the country who has all the credentials … they are in rare company.”

Dr. Stan Napper, dean of the College of Engineering and Sciences at Tech, said overall he’s pleased with the relationship between the school and the CIC.

“The expansion of the Cyber Discovery model developed at Louisiana Tech, to other states and perhaps the whole nation, would not be possible without their support and leadership,” he said.

The center and its associated National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center in June rolled out its model STEM teaching plan in conjunction with the University of Baltimore, in Maryland.

“We are expanding that national rollout,” Cazes said. “We developed the project management plan in fiscal year 2011, we demonstrated the plan in 2012 and we look to continue that national rollout over the next nine to 10 years. Last year, through various grants and sponsorships, we distributed well over $100,000 in technology packages for high schools to implement new curricula. That keeps growing.”

Saturday, the center will hold its first Regional Autonomous Robotics Circuit, the first of four such events, at the Bossier Civic Center.

“We have 500 kids from across the region, from the fourth through 12th grades, competing in STEM using robotics,” he said. At a similar event last year, they had 97 teams, and this year around 130 have signed up, “more teams than we’ve ever had.”

Middle-school students who took part in a similar robotics event this summer had fun and learned at the same time.

“Robotics is fun for students to learn and explore options about technology,” said Kimora Baker, a second-year robotics student and Robotics Club member at Rusheon Middle School in Bossier City, who took part in the CIC’s 2012 Cyber Discovery at Louisiana Tech University earlier this year. “Robotics allows students to have opportunities to expand our knowledge for the world we are living in.”

Her partner in programming and building a robot was Jillian Sonnier, also a second-year robotics student and club member.

“I like programming the robot because it makes learning fun,” she said. “The robot is programmed to perform different tasks. Robots are the future — everyday-life robots are going to assist with everything.”

One teacher who is excited about the possibilities is Spencer Kiper, who teaches STEM applications at Elm Grove Middle School in Bossier Parish and has around 70 students who take part in the competitions.

“They gain a multitude of different skills, primarily the skills to program and build using the robotics kits that we use,” he said. “But we also work on teamwork, collaboration and the overall competitive spirit that we use to win.”

Robots are fun and a good way to educate younger people, he said.

“The ‘cool factor’ is definitely present,” he said. “The opportunities that our kids are able to experience through the CIC and the other partnering organizations definitely makes it an ‘envious’ type of environment. The STEM applications, along with the other classes in the neighboring parishes, are all very popular classes and are typically very competitive to get into.”