Most undergraduate engineering students don’t spend their summers preoccupied with cybersecurity – but Preston Stinson of Huntsville, Alabama, is not your ordinary student. Now a junior in electrical engineering at Mississippi State University, he was one of just 11 outstanding engineering students from throughout the United States selected for this year’s WISE internship program.
Seven engineering societies, including IEEE, sponsor Washington Internships for Students of Engineering (WISE), which picks some of the nation’s brightest engineering students to get a first-hand view of the junction between engineering and public policy and get a taste of a possible future in public policy. The selected students spend nine weeks during the summer in Washington, D.C. where they learn how government officials make decisions on complex technological issues, as well as how engineers can contribute to legislative and regulatory public policy decisions.
Each student also independently researches and writes a paper on an engineering-related public policy issue of importance to the student’s sponsoring society. For his paper, Stinson studied and analyzed the guidelines produced by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in response to an executive order to begin addressing critical infrastructure cybersecurity. His research included meetings with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, and the Obama Administration’s Office of Science & Technology, among others.
Stinson’s paper, “Incentives to Encourage Adoption of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework,” recommends four strategies to encourage its acceptance: clarification of liability for damages resulting from a cyber-attack; preferential treatment for Framework adopters when receiving federal grants; improved information sharing regarding cyber threats between critical infrastructure organizations and the government; and government-sponsored technical assistance to assist smaller critical infrastructure organizations in adopting the Framework.
“While there hasn’t yet been a large-scale cyber-attack against critical infrastructure in this country, the abilities of those with malicious intentions have only grown,” says Stinson. “The lack of strong cybersecurity is a huge threat and I was excited about getting to learn more about this issue by talking with experts.”
IEEE Senior Member Eric Burger, a research professor of computer science at Georgetown University and director of the Georgetown Center for Secure Communications, advised Stinson on the research paper.
Technological topics are part of Preston Stinson’s conversation. His parents are now retired but both were engineers with NASA. “Growing up, I always had technology around me and I heard my parents talk about different aspects of their jobs,” he says.
“I don’t yet have a feel for what I want to do,” he continues, “but microprocessor design and digital logic interest me. In a digital logic class I had a lab where we built a 2-bit adder, and I was fascinated with building something I could already do by hand.”
Not surprising, his hobbies lean toward technology; they include science fiction, including the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, digital comic books and programming. But Stinson’s WISE internship this summer led to such leisure-time diversions as exploring all 12 of the Smithsonian Museums currently open to visitors along or near the National Mall, a ghost tour of the Capitol, and jazz concerts in the Smithsonian Sculpture Garden. Stinson readily admits any of these might have been followed by stopping by a Greek deli or Turkish restaurant, two of the new cuisines he discovered during his Washington internship.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991-2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.