The U.S. military is turning to interdisciplinary teams of students from Florida Polytechnic University to help solve some of its most pressing challenges.
Hacking for Defense (H4D), a program of the Department of Defense’s National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), challenges students at some of the nation’s top universities to find solutions to a wide variety of the military’s communications, logistics, and modernization problems.
Florida’s State University System is encouraging all its member institutions to participate in the H4D program and Florida Poly is among the very first to do so.
“What makes Hacking for Defense incredible is students get to serve their country while learning how to build a startup to solve real national security problems,” said Tommy Sowers, southeast regional director of NSIN. “Florida is a huge military state and has great universities, but the ability for university students to work and make a connection to a real problem in the military, and also for the military to connect with the fantastic problem solvers inside universities, doesn’t normally happen.”
At Florida Poly, the H4D curriculum has been integrated in to the experience of four Capstone Design teams. They are working with Army, Air Force, Marines, and Air National Guard military installations in Georgia and North Carolina.
“This connects us with a very large Department of Defense network within the state,” said Dr. Matt Bohm, director of industry engagement and capstone projects at Florida Poly. “Defense is an $85-to-$90 billion market just in Florida, and even though these projects are with bases in other states, there’s a wealth of projects and jobs in Florida as well.”
One of the Florida Poly’s H4D teams is working to improve the communication tools used by Air Force operations group squadron commanders. The current system requires commanders to access multiple messaging apps, email systems, and collaboration tools to share information ranging from flight and maintenance schedules to personnel data and social event notices. The Florida Poly students are working to develop tools to help these users efficiently access and act upon this critical information.
“When you hear the words ‘national security,’ you don’t necessarily think about computer science or engineering, but we are using innovation in those areas to fix those problems in a very interesting way,” said Dr. Doga Demirel, an assistant professor of computer science at Florida Poly.
Demirel was one of several Florida Poly faculty members who received training to provide students working on H4D projects the enhanced curriculum and framework required by the program.
The 13 participating students are not only devising solutions to real-world problems, they are interviewing 10 stakeholders a week to gather as much information as possible about the issue they are addressing.
“The students are getting a better understanding of the governmental aspects of the field and learning everything we do has some sort of connection with the government,” Demirel said.
Florida Poly hopes its participation in H4D will grow to as many as 10 projects a year and become a program that students actively compete to earn a seat in.
“Students who may know nothing about the military in 90 days usually become a master in the problem domain,” said Sowers, from NSIN. “They interview 100 people inside the military who face a problem and they build solutions rapidly, like a startup would, to move from problem to viable product to prototype, and some even form companies to sell the solution back to the military.”
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