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Cyberology Podcast

Transcripts

Jen Burris:

Welcome back to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast about all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris, and I have a guest cohost back again today, Jena Martin.

Jena Martin:

I must have done well the last time, since I came back.

Jen Burris:

And our expert guest today is Dr. Andrew Sathoff. Andrew, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Andrew Sathoff:

Sure. Well, first of all, thanks for the invite. This is my first-time guesting on a podcast longtime listener. I listen to podcasts about every single day, but the first time being a guest. So about myself. I have always loved science. I went to St. Olaf College and got my BA in biology. In my junior year at St. Olaf. I kind of had a shift in what I wanted to do. I always thought I wanted to be a doctor, my dad's a doctor, and my mom's a nurse. But then, you know, I kind of shifted, I realized it wasn't for me. I guess that's a story for another podcast. But I graduated, took a gap year, and taught English in China, at East China Normal University in Shanghai. And I realized that I really enjoyed teaching. Something just clicked in my head. College was the best time of my life. I like science. I like teaching, I can stay in college forever. So, after China, I came back to the US and got my Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and Plant Pathology. I got my Ph.D. in spring 2019. And in fall 2019, I came to DSU to teach science, and I've been here for three years.

Jena Martin:

Excellent. Tell us a little bit about microbiology and biology.

Andrew Sathoff:

Sure, no, that's a trap question. A very broad question. I know, you could get me talking for about 50 minutes on that fall into my professor roots. I'll keep it I'll keep it narrow to just, let's say, plant pathology and microbiology. So, plants get sick some people don't realize that plants get diseases just like us. And they face some of the same microbes that we do. They get sick with viruses, bacterial infections, and especially fungal infections. My job as a plant pathologist is to try to cure these plants. So anyway, I'm a plant nerd and a fungi nerd too. And I love it, it's become a bit more mainstream. So like people are spending time geeking out over their house plants and taking care of them. And that's what I like to do too. fungi have also become a lot more mainstream. Do you see the little red cap mushrooms with the white spots and Mario Mushroom? Yes, yeah, Amanita muscaria that's the scientific name for those the fly agaric mushrooms. So, you grind those is why it's called Fly Agaric. Grind it up and mix it with milk. And it kills flies. It's a fly poison. Yeah. But anyway, if you're interested, my call to action is if you're interested in fungi, watch Fantastic Fungi on Netflix. It's the best time-lapse photography, and you learn a lot about mushrooms.

Jena Martin:

Interesting., I’ll have to check that out. So, do you take your plants for a walk then? Have you gotten a plant stroller, and you cruise up and down?

Andrew Sathoff:

I don't because they like to say inside (laughter). They are indoor plants only just like indoor pets. Don't take your indoor pets outside. I do. I do geek out about like fertilizers and the sunlight, and the number one key for houseplants -  don't overwater them.

Jena Martin:

That's my problem. Yeah, I'm good at killing plants.

Andrew Sathoff:

Don't be a helicopter parent.

Jen Burris:

So, it sounds like you did kind of follow in your parents’ footsteps a little bit because you care for the viruses and all that, and you study all those things, but just in plant life instead of humans, right?

Andrew Sathoff:

That's a great insight, Jen. That's why I tell my students to a lot of my students, I work with our pre-health students, and they're like, why are you messing around with plants? It's the same thing. You're diagnosing diseases, you're figuring out the best treatments for patients, and in this case, your patients are your plants.

Jena Martin:

Yeah. How do you diagnose a disease that a plant might have?

Andrew Sathoff:

Sure. I use technology to do this. So, a lot of my diagnoses are DNA based. So, I try to grow out the microbe from the plant that's making the plant sick. I culture it. And then I extract DNA from that microbe, that fungus, that bacteria, sequence it, figure out all of the base pairs in the DNA of that microbe. And then I can look it up in a database and see what it is. And then it's almost like personalized medicine. Right? And then you can figure out the exact treatment for that disease.

Jena Martin:

That's crazy.

Jen Burris:

How long does a process like that take?

Andrew Sathoff:

That's also another great question. It can take a whole summer to do. So that process is the technical name for that is Koch's postulates. It's been around since the 1850s. Robert Koch discovered this process of trying to isolate a pure culture, that's what it's called of a pathogen from an infected host. And then reinfecting that host and seeing if the same symptoms develop. It's been modified, you know, with technology and some DNA-based techniques I was talking about, but yeah, it can take a whole summer to do that. And that's what my students did during their first summer of research here in 2020, they carried out Koch's postulates for a new disease that we found in South Dakota called the Phantom biases.

Jena Martin:

Tell us how technology has evolved over the years.

Andrew Sathoff:

So, in molecular biology, I'd say there are probably four big advances, recombinant DNA technology, PCR polymerase chain reaction, and the two I'm going to talk about are gene editing and DNA sequencing. So, you may have remembered that the goal of the human genome project in the early 2000s was to sequence the genome. So, like all of the DNA, and one human DNA sequencing has advanced so much since then. In 2001, the cost to sequence one human genome $95 million in 2021, the cost was $454. To sequence, a genome.

Jen Burris:

Seriously? That's wild.

Andrew Sathoff: 

Yeah. Technology is advanced so much. There are multiple generations of DNA sequencing machines. So, the next-generation sequencing machines are massively parallel. That's what's caused those sequencing costs to drop so much because you can run a bunch of reactions at the same time. And now, there are third-generation DNA sequencers, nanopores, and sequencers. That's the next thing I want to buy from my lab at DSU. You can get your own portable DNA sequencing machine for $1,500. And you can sequence your DNA.

Jena Martin:

That seems reasonable.

Andrew Sathoff:

It is extremely reasonable. And you just, it's a tiny little thing about less than an iPhone, the size of these new DNA sequences, and you plug them into your computer's USB port. And you can do like DNA sequencing out in the field if you're a field biologist.

Jen Burris:

And what kind of things can you do with that information you gather after you DNA sequence something?

Andrew Sathoff:

Yeah, well, you can classify it. So, there's like barcode sequences. So, you don't have to rely on morphology how things look, to figure out what they are. You can just look at the barcode DNA sequence, and personalized medicine, right? So, you can check if a person has a mutated allele, and you could predict the likelihood of developing a disease. That technology, though, is still in its infancy. So, we're good for a few simpler diseases, but complex diseases involve multiple genes, and the environment is still hard to predict just from DNA sequence data alone.

Jena Martin:

When you pick a project, how do you go about starting with it, like you're researching a particular group or whatnot? How do you start the research process?

Andrew Sathoff:

It starts with excitement. Research is a lot of work and a lot of time. So, I need to be excited about the project before I started, and I work a lot here with students at DSU. And if I'm not excited about the project, I'm going to have a hard time selling it to my students. So, the first project involved, a lot of soil sampling. I wasn't excited about trying to find a fan of biases, you techies. That's that alfalfa pathogen in South Dakota. For the first time, my students would have hated going out to 40 fields and 16 counties doing soil sampling all summer. But you know, like I tried to build the excitement in them, and they get a taste of research. And research is addictive. It's addictive because you're finding out knowledge that no one else in the world knows. So, it's a big juicy secret that no one else knows. And it makes for a great story, you would know that Jen, (laughter) secret, exclusive information makes great stories. And then, once they get this taste of research, the students often stick around, and they want to keep doing more research and answering more of their questions. So, I've worked with most of my students for two years. One is coming back this summer to research with me just for fun. It's kind of, you know, a volunteer job because he still asked some questions he wants to be answered.

Jen Burris:

How do you kind of go about choosing your topic of research? How do you, you know, look at everything and go, this is what we want to look at? Or is this what we want to start with?

Andrew Sathoff:

That question would have stumped me in graduate school. Yeah, I thought I wasn't very good at asking the right questions. And that just comes with experience, a little of the experience, and trying to fight that impostor syndrome a little bit like do you know this stuff? You're an expert, you know how to ask the right questions. But the projects kind of flow into each other. So, after we found a fan on biases, that pathogen, that alfalfa pathogen all over the place in South Dakota, the next obvious question was, okay, how do we treat this disease? Right? Can we use chemical treatments? Can we use fungicides to defeat a fan of mitosis? Are some individual plants more resistant than others? Can we use genetics? And then after that, we realized that playing around with those fungicides and using them, they're toxic, they're not environmentally friendly, a lot, a lot, a lot of the fungicides that we use. So, is there a greener approach? And that's what we started to investigate this spring with biocontrols. So that's using the pathogens like natural competitors to defeat it. It's like causing microbes to fight each other and compete with each other. Yeah, yeah, it's cool stuff. So that's what we're going to start investigating this summer. And sometimes to answer that question. As I said before, research is a lot of work. So, is there an easier approach? That's some that's one of the questions I like to ask. So, as I said before, we've spent summers doing Koch's postulates. It takes a long time to prove that a microbe causes the disease, and doing these DNA diagnoses, it took a long time for us because we were trying to get the pathogen out of the soil, bait it out and affect plants grown in pure cultures and do all those steps. Well, an idea I had is, we could potentially use technology to make this much more efficient. So, we have a qPCR machine. So that allows us to do like the work that we've done in the summer, in a few days by directly extracting the DNA out of the soil and doing disease diagnosis that way.

Jen Burris:

So that cuts out like a lot of steps, then?

Andrew Sathoff:

It does, it does, and it makes it much more efficient. So, the whole idea I had was we could just go out into the fields, extract DNA from the soil that we collect. And then, based on that DNA evidence, we could advise farmers on the best seeds to plant given their fields, and microbial composition, and they would get the data back within a few days. So, they could actually use it to make informed decisions on what they plant.

Jena Martin:

They meaning the farmer? The farmer gets…

Andrew Sathoff:

Yeah, the grower. Yep.

Jena Martin:

So, do you just walk up to the farmhouse, knock on the door and say, hey, we would like to work with Dakota State University, like do some research in your field? Is that how you guys approach or?

Andrew Sathoff:

Essentially, that's our approach. We do it over the phone, though. So yeah, so I've worked with Mustang seats, my first two years here, and they've been generous enough to give us a grower list. So, we contact the growers over the phone and explained the project, and we asked if they can sample their fields. And most of the time, the growers are really interested in research, and it's what it doesn't cost them anything. It's free, you know. So, it's been a good approach. And there, we always contact them after the studies are done to share our results.

Jena Martin:

That's interesting. I think it's interesting. Yeah, I wondered how that worked.

Jen Burris:

What's the feedback from growers you've worked on projects with?

Andrew Sathoff:

Yes. So, when we call them back and give them the results, have the students ask them if they want to participate in future projects. And I think we've gotten one no. So yeah, so most people, most people are excited to continue with research. I think people are listening to some of our results and taking them seriously, at least on the local level. My first summer of research here was in 2020. In 2021, we've already seen a shift in the alfalfa seeds that Mustang seeds sell, and the growers are buying to back our research, so more disease-resistant seeds for the diseases in the soil. And in Lake County and eastern South Dakota,

Jena Martin:

if they don't take care of that alfalfa field, will they just not have a crop? Is that what will end up happening? If it is diseased enough?

Andrew Sathoff:

Yeah, yeah. So different diseases, just rot the seed before it even germinates. Yep. So yeah, they'll complete loss alfalfa as a perennial. So, the seed cost lot because it comes back every year, right? Yeah. Perennial. Yeah, so you can get me about five years with an alfalfa field.

Jena Martin:

Before you have to tear it up and then replant?

Andrew Sathoff:

before you rotate.

Jena Martin.

Oh, before you rotate it.

Andrew Sathoff:

Rotate. It puts a lot of nitrogen back into the soil. So, it fertilizes good soil. It's a very good crop to grow. Yeah, good.

Jena Martin:

A good plant to have. Interesting.

Jen Burris:

Doing this research can not only fix problems but also improve yields and things like that. Is that correct?

Andrew Sathoff:

Yeah, that's one of the motivations for my research. Sometimes people ask me, why I research. Well, my answer is always to feed the world. Because populations are skyrocketing, by 2050, there'll be 9.9 billion people in the world. And we need to increase yields and food production by 60% to feed all of those people. So, it's a big challenge ahead for everyone. But little things, like planting the right seed and producing losses to diseases add up like those things make agriculture more efficient, to hopefully reach those lofty goals by 2050.

Jen Burris:

What advice do you give your students as they start working on research projects?

Andrew Sathoff:

I believe it's called the 3% rule. So, try to get 3% better or done each day. So essentially, what that means is trying to get a little bit accomplished each day. And that adds up over time. So, I value persistence, a lot in the lab, coming in every day, trying your hardest for the hours you're in here. And then set it down, so you don't burn out. So just work on the projects a little bit each day, and it adds up over time.

Jen Burris:

What's your favorite thing about biology?

Andrew Sathoff:

I like to use my hands in biology is a very hands-on discipline. That might surprise people, but lab work is a lot of using your hands and technology, the newest technology. So, I was communicating with a student over the summer. She was thinking of coming to DSU to do some research. And the first day she was on campus, I showed her the lab, and she was just taken away by the lab she did the panoramic shot with their cell phone like this is a lab. It's filled with technology. And you get to use that technology at Dakota State University. Another thing too is that when I was teaching English in China, a lot of the students I worked with were graduate students. And these graduate students were botany or plant science graduate students. And the main reason I was in China to teach English was to prepare these students for going to conferences, speaking English at the conferences, and sharing their research results. So, I got to learn a lot about their research projects. And the one thing that was shocking to me at the time was that many of these master's research projects didn't involve using any equipment. So, these students didn't know how to use their hands. They didn't know how to use all the machines in the lab, because they never had a chance to use them. There wasn't enough machine. So, most of their projects were literature based. So, if the students like came to a lab in the US, they'd be totally lost because they don't know how to use their hands at all.

Jena Martin:

I'm glad you brought China up. Do you know Chinese, then?  

Andrew Sathoff:

I don't know Chinese at all.

Jena Martin:

So, you went over there not knowing Chinese, but you were teaching them English?

Andrew Sathoff:

Yeah, it was a totally immersive experience. Right? Crazy.

Jena Martin:

Yeah. I just figured you knew Chinese.

Andrew Sathoff:

No, I don't. I tried to learn I'm decent with languages. So, I speak a little bit of Norwegian I studied abroad in Norway. And that was a language I learned at St. Olaf College. But I couldn't pick up Chinese because it was too tonal. And they had no idea what I was trying to say.

Jen Burris:

How do you function somewhere where you don't speak the language for like a year?

Andrew Sathoff:

Yes, that's another good question. Use translator apps and stuff, translator apps. They were still, so I went there in 2013. And the translator apps weren't as good in 2013. But no, we were in Shanghai. So that's an international city. And we got by relying on some students to translate for us, but we got by it's international enough. It would have been a challenge if it were more of a rural community.

 

Jena Martin:

Tell me, what kind of future do you see for biology? Where do you see it moving in? In the next 5-10 years?

Andrew Sathoff:

Yeah, I hope it moves in the direction of attracting some more pre-health students here. That's what most of the students said, at least I have in my biology classes, they want to go on to be pas, or dentists or doctors, right? I think biology might move in that pre-health direction, especially with like the new Athletics Complex here, getting closer to exercise science, and making it possible to, you know, to have a biology and Exercise Science, double major. So that's kind of how I kind of envisioned it going into pre-health. A little more in that direction, but still have research opportunities here. We've involved the South Dakota EPSCoR, and you know, I have so much fun researching over the summer, I don't see myself quitting anytime soon with that. So, it's still doing some of the alfalfa, Plant Health Research.

Jen Burris:

Do you have any other areas of interest in research outside of alfalfa? Or is that kind of just like, where you want to stay focused for now?

Andrew Sathoff:

Yeah, no, I'm not opposed to going in other directions. I was on, unfortunately, an aquaponics project that did not get funded. So that's growing crops, using the fish waste, yeah, that we were going to convert our greenhouse into an aquaponics facility. But yeah, I'm open. You know, I'm a plant pathologist by training. So obviously, some of the research is going to involve microbes and plants. But yeah, I could move away from alfalfa if I saw a really good project that interests me.

Jen Burris:

And you've mentioned a few times technology over the course of this, how do you keep up with all of the advances?

Andrew Sathoff:

I would say reading and conferences. I'm a bookworm. I like to read scientific papers. I like to know what what's trending and what other scientists are doing. And I learned that type of information too, by attending conferences. So, staying connected in the discipline, in the research area, I'm focused on another way to increase tech. And that's not really answering your question. Another way to increase tech in DSU is by just being a willing learner. I like to learn new things. And if I see a machine, like the qPCR machine, that machine is a nice, big, shiny machine. That's, that's in research labs everywhere. And we had an opportunity to purchase one. And I've just kind of thrown myself into learning all of the functions of this machine, so I can share it with my students. And if they take a research position, or they go to graduate school, they know exactly how to use this machine.

Jen Burris:

Well, anything that you want to highlight about your program or your work?

Andrew Sathoff:

one of the things that gets me really excited about the work I do is seeing students using technology in the lab. I had the opportunity to teach a couple of weeks of honors science this semester, and the students had been in the lab yet. They came into my lab to do some CRISPR gene editing. So CRISPR is kind of like molecular scissors. It allows you to switch the basis of DNA, right? So, I'm sitting there in the lab just preparing, and I overhear the student who comes in, and he is super excited for the lab. He comes in. He's obviously rehearsing the line in his head he sits down at his lab group with his lab mates, and he kind of says let's mess with nature. That's not his exact quote, though it's a little less PC than that. But he came in, and he was super excited to do science and use his hands and genetically modify his bacteria, and you know, see if what, see if he could put into action, everything that we've been learning in lecture. So, things like that really motivated me.

Jen Burris:

Well, thank you for being our guest today. I think we've learned a lot. Oh, yeah.

Andrew Sathoff:

Yeah, thanks for having me. Successful, I think, first podcast. Yeah.

Jen Burris:

Thank you to Xander Morrison, our Podcast Producer, and thank you for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe.

 

Jen Burris:

Welcome back to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast for all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris. And today we have guest co-host to DeVonté Garcia. He is Assistant Director of Development. Do I have that right?

DeVonté Garcia:

nailed it

Jen Burris:

At the DSU Foundation. And our guest today is Daniel Seman. And he is Assistant Professor of animation. Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself, Daniel

Daniel Seman:

I came to South Dakota because of a job here. I am originally from Ohio, hung out in Tucson got my degrees, and Ohio and San Francisco, because I love cartoons and wanted to do all that fun stuff. But I didn't want to live in LA. So, I came became a teacher. And I can see all the kids come up and do all their fun stuff.

Jen Burris:

So why don't you tell us a little bit about what animation is and how you do it.

Daniel Seman:

When I first came here animation was a part of the graphic design Digital Arts, and it was based more in advertising. And so like, any animation is going to be like animation on like a marquee at a sports thing or some kind of TV commercial here and there. But it was more in line of selling something. My animation. And when I went to school to teach is telling an emotional story about a character any character will do. But it has to be an emotional story. There's a need for both. However, I found that a lot of the students who are coming here were under the impression that they were going to draw cartoons, and not advertisement. So, I worked with everybody and got everything changed to accommodate the students. Manga short, animation and animated story tells an emotional story of a character. And it has three parts, like any other story does.

DeVonté Garcia:

How do you help prepare the students you know, who are maybe skewed in their talent and creating the character themselves? And then helping them complement that with the storytelling aspect of it.

Daniel Seman:

Everyone has their own skill sets, which is fair, and in the lower classes, it's just here's the basics, right? Here's the learning the 12 principles of animation that Disney created to say, hey, if you want to do a life, like realistic animation, follow these steps. And you too can do what we did. And that was a 1923 I think maybe not the old mill. And it was the forerunner to Snow White. So, it was the first multi-plane animation. But they came up with a group of 12 principles so that you can if you do those, and in your animation, you can be just like Disney's maybe not in style, but at least in the way it's been created. And then I go and figure out what they what they like to do what they want to do, right. So, a lot of people think, oh, I want to do character design. Well, everybody wants to do character design. And you're not going to do character. Because there's like three or four people who have 50 years of experience at the studio, you're going to apply to they're going to do character design, you get to do the grunt work, right. So, things have changed that over just the past two years. With COVID came out, everyone's going on streaming, no one's in the studios working. They have all these 2D character cartoon ideas. So like Netflix and Hulu, are saying we'll put your cartoon on, but we want 24 episodes. And so, in order to do that, there's a new technique. It's not new, but it's been developed to make it look better. But it's puppeted animation with rigged 2D characters, and they can look 3D-ish, like they've been hand drawn. And that's the illusion that they want to create. But you can do it fast. And that's how you can get 24 episodes done otherwise, like Spongebob is six months when one episode of SpongeBob is six months.

Jen Burris:

Wow that’s crazy.

DeVonté Garcia:

Are you serious?

Daniel Seman:

Yeah.

DeVonté Garcia:

Wow, no kidding.

Daniel Seman:

Like 30,000 drawings. If they don't reuse any, so if you have the puppet and stuff like Tangled: The Series was puppet, and I can tell you know, you can tell the hand drawn stuff from the puppeted stuff. The ones that you can't tell. Those are the good ones. So, My Little Pony the movie was puppeted, but it looks hand drawn. So that's good. They had time with the budget and everything to do it. And there's ways they can put more character poses and then pose the puppet model to match that makes it more smooth animation. And that's the secret is to make it as smooth as possible. So, I share with the students, that aspect of it. And it can get overwhelming when they see what the rigs look like inside the program of Toon Boom or Harmony where you've got like, say, five or six different colored boxes, a whole bunch of little boxes in there. And they're all kind of in this rectangular box down below, and we call it spaghetti because it looks, it's all laid out. But if you saw that it'd be pretty intimidating. And it takes about 70 to 90 hours to rig a character for turnaround. But once you get that done, then you can actually take that rig and apply it to other characters. So, you just have to rename things to make it apply to whatever.

Jen Burris:

Okay, so it's kind of like a one done and then you can utilize that, like a template.

Daniel Seman:

Correct. So, I say, Okay, I got my I got my Jennifer right here, right. And then I want Devonté. So, I'll go in and tell Toon Boom, because I've got both of you drawn, both of you are pumping it up the preliminary stuff. So, the just the drawings, like you know, hand forearm, arm, chest things, and then I go in, copy it, paste it, it's all highlighted, you can mass rename it, and then automatically attached to the DeVonté model, which is pretty cool.

Jen Burris:

And has it always been like that, or has technology evolved?

Daniel Seman:

Technology evolves, and you have to keep up to it, or you're gonna get passed up. There are all sorts of really cool things going on. Disney is looking to do 2D animation again, for feature films, which was, Okay, that's cool. LAIKA was looking into doing 2D animation, and they did Coraline, and or definitely Frankenweenie or ParaNorman, little models that they use everything. So, there's lots of lots of cool things. And that's what the students who are coming here want to do. And then you know, you got the 3D aspect of it too, which is games, movies, live action movies. That's how you can get Samuel Jackson not being 73 in Captain Marvel. He's like 30 in that Captain Marvel movie, even though he's 73?

DeVonté Garcia:

So, does how does that technique work? Where you can I mean, obviously, it's a live actor. Yet is that makeup? Or is that animation?

Daniel Seman:

That is motion capture. And then ZBrush, Maya, Substance Painter, will create a model. It's the suits with the dots all over it. That's what he wears. And then they'd be in a room. This is what used to be big room, green everywhere, so that they can just see everything on to it. But now it’s all right now the technology has evolved so much. It would be immediately rendered and the whatever background is going in, the people can see on TV, like right there. And it's pretty cool. This gone from like, the beginnings of Toy Story in the late 90s. And now it's like they can make people realistically, and believably look 40 years younger. Yeah. So, it's cool.

DeVonté Garcia:

I've never stopped to think yeah, Samuel Jackson is that old, but like, just when you watched it. I mean, it looks as if he hasn't aged at all.

Daniel Seman:

And it's like, you've seen him do all this cool stuff on the movie. This one he's not really doing that cool stuff in the movies. He's not because he's old. (laughter)

DeVonté Garcia:

So, is there a stunt double than that fills in for that? Or is that also part of like the animation?

Daniel Seman:

It could be CG. Like so in The Avengers

DeVonté Garcia:

CG stands for?

Daniel Seman:

Computer graphics. Computer generated image CGI. So, in the original Avengers, there was a scene where Hawkeye and the rest of the Avengers on the corner of a building looking at the invaders, right. HawkEye was the only real person there. The rest of them were all CG. So, the more time they spend on it, the more realistic it looks. And then you can combine it with puppetry, like say, Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean, where they have puppets, and then Jurassic Park with the puppets and in the robots, like giant robots and then combining with CG to complete the illusion and make it make it awesome. So awesome. And that would be cool to do here, and it just takes room and then motion capture equipment is not as expensive as it used to be. So, like used to be $50,000 And then my old school back in Columbus, CCAD, was trying to get it, but they were working with Ohio State University. And that one was like, they were excited because it could sense the movements and transfer it to the computer, even if you were wearing costumes.

Jen Burris:

You didn't have to have that suit?

Daniel Seman:

No, no. And that was $50,000. And so now it's even way less than that, like, so everything's immediate. It's really super cool. So, and that's the new thing. And it's being worked into movies and games with, I think Unity is what's being able to do that Unity and Unreal.

Jen Burris:

And what's it been like to see the technology evolve over the years and have the new software and programs and things like that, that kind of amplify the work in the industry?

Daniel Seman:

It's intimidating, because you have to learn something new, right? I mean, you go through, and you think Okay, I'm going to draw all these pictures on paper. And then even when I first learned we drew on paper, and then we sheet-fed scanner into, at the time, it was Toon Boom. And, you know, that's what we would use to do digital animation. And at the time, Disney was still doing, they were doing kind of digital, but more drawing paper than anything else. And then new stuff comes out, you know, Adobe, and After Effects came out, and it was starting to do seven, this new thing, Maya came out. And it's super cool. And well, I don't know, I like I like the drawings better than I like the 3d models and preferences of that. But just everything getting more and more precise and what it can and cannot do, and then come up with programs like ZBrush, the modeling software where you can sculpt whatever and you know, ranging from cartoon to photorealistic. It's like, that's a that's a model. Yeah, that says ZBrush model. So, you just have to keep on you have to keep on it, or you can get left behind.

DeVonté Garcia:

So, with that, think about okay, there's video games. There are movies, there are cartoons talked about with the Avengers, there's the there's the blend of kind of, I guess, maybe a hybrid model? Yeah. With you and your classes. I mean, do you teach on all those various segments? Or do you kind of have a specialization?

Daniel Seman:

What I'm trying to get to is two tracks and animation 2D and 3D.

DeVonté Garcia:

And what's a good example of 2D by the way?

Daniel Seman:

Bugs Bunny,

DeVonté Garcia:

okay, the new the new Looney Tunes?

Daniel Seman:

Yeah, the new looney tunes that are on HBO max. So 3D would be Charlie Brown from Blue Sky that was 3D and then you got the puppeted or there’s stop motion. Which would be Coraline, ParaNorman they don't do that for TV shows

DeVonté Garcia:

You said like A Nightmare Before Christmas right?

Daniel Seman:

That was stop motion as well too. Okay, so

Jen Burris:

And that takes like quite a long time to do, right?

Daniel Seman:

Yes, a super long time to do there's no way to make it go faster.

DeVonté Garcia:

Why is that because you have to move each piece like physically have to move into stuff the computer generating an image as it sees that it would

DeVonté Garcia:

So, it’s kind of like a flipbook in essence?

Daniel Seman:

Yeah. So, like, the hardest scene and Nightmare Before Christmas, was when Jack was at the doors to go into whatever door he went to the Christmas one was all shiny and reflective. That reflection is the puppet reflecting in the doorknob. And they had to get the camera just right so that the camera wouldn't show up. But he would. And that was the hardest thing.

DeVonté Garcia:

The cast has to have a lot of patience.

Daniel Seman:

Yes, you have to.

So, in that's been around for a long time. Ray Harryhausen, he did the stop motion stuff with all the old 50s movies. And then in the 80s he did Clash of the Titans. So, Jason and the Argonauts, The Beasts from 20,000 Fathoms. So, if something like there's a six-legged octopus, not an eight-legged octopus, because it's easier to do six legs and eight legs. You get 2D And then you get the 3D. We want them to be working on one specific thing and not trying to get both of them at the same time. It's too much to do at one time and they'll get the students will get overwhelmed. So, you want to get a 2D you want to 3D Let them decide. And that's when they're going to just zero in on what it is. And even then, like there's just more options within you know, 2D and 3D so you can be a character designer, a layout artist.

DeVonté Garcia:

Layout artist like the actual background?

Daniel Seman:

Yeah, backgrounds, how the scenes going to come up on Earth. Think they're storyboards. There's storyboard revisionist, there's visual development. So, I have a story Okay, my degree is visual development. So, I would take a story and I create it, visually create it so and then in 3D they have modeling, rigging, lighting, texturing.

So, this takes quite the team to assemble to be able to put together a production.

Daniel Seman:

Yes, it takes more 3D people than 2D people. Okay. I could technically do something by myself in 2D. Someone could also technically do something by themselves in 3D, but it's going to take him forever. Yeah, well, not really forever, but a lot more than I would take. So, it just depends on what you like to do. So, and you know, when they graduate and then go and they look for jobs and everything, then they can be more specific, like, say, Pixar wants a rigging artist.

DeVonté Garcia:

I was just gonna bring up Pixar because didn't we that was there an alumna that we had not too long ago who…

Daniel Seman:

she's at DreamWorks, DreamWorks. Yeah, yeah. So very specific things. I was like, you know, I knew I had a previous student somewhere who was texture artist on turtles at Nickelodeon. Right. So different skill sets, different things that you can do with the way 2D is changing, right. Now, you have not just you have layouts, but you also have rigging artists, to rig the puppets. And then you have animators, and those are all here, not overseas. And if you know the software, it's a big, big boost in trying to get a job somewhere because they don't have to train you.

DeVonté Garcia:

So, what's your backstory and how you actually got an animation?

Daniel Seman:

I remember when I was a kid, my mom took me to see Sleeping Beauty. And I liked the way the birds moved. And then just sitting watching cartoons, like it used to be cartoons on Saturday morning, right. Used to be on in the afternoon after school had at school special, which you know, whatever, if you'd like that, but then they had from like four to five, the cool cartoons, GI Joe, transformers, things like that. And then on Saturday, it was always the Bugs Bunny, where we're going to show and then some other things like thunder cancer, he man, she was lasted, it was it was bad. And back in the 80s, it was just bad. And that's and that's, I saw it as like, oh, I want to do this and got around to going to school and learning how to do it.

DeVonté Garcia:

What's been your most fulfilling thing so far through this journey? For you?

Daniel Seman:

I am more independent animations than working in any kind of like a studio or anything. So yes, I had an opportunity to potentially go into Nickelodeon. No, I didn't want to move to LA. So, I did. I just did my own thing. And then what I found out doing was, during my master's degree, I have to, so I did the first one in like 2010, or something like that. But it was taking Native American stories based on coyote anatomy, in the idea was to have a narrated in whatever language that story came from. So, I worked with the Chippewa and did coyote story and finish that put it in, submitted it to film festivals got into 10 of them to international one best animation that one of them in Colorado, which was super cool. That's that's so far as that's so far, is good. Well, I'm working on one now with the Karaca. And it's a whole lot more intense snow effects, and it's at night. I didn't want to make it easy for myself.

DeVonté Garcia:

And this is all this is all just you doing it?

Daniel Seman:

I've got extras, I got helpers. Okay, so because it was the first one was on the fifth year of me doing it before I broke down and hired a couple people to help me out. Oh, and I want to wait that long. So, it'll be it'll be cool. And then get put in festivals. And hopefully everyone will like it.

Jen Burris:

What do you enjoy most about animation?

Daniel Seman:

All the hard working, just sit back and watch it. And then of course figure out every single piece that you could have done better. But it's cool, because you can see it on the computer and then all of a sudden, it's on a movie theater screen. And it's like Oh, so cool. I did that. I mean, yes, you're gonna self-nitpick everything. You're going to self-critique everything. But the people who are seeing it, they're like, oh, that's that was really cool. All the other questions that come up. And it's like, that's, that's cool. That's super cool. Especially people like its people don't like it, then it's not so cool.

Jen Burris:

To see your work come to life.

Daniel Seman:

Yeah. Yeah.

DeVonté Garcia:

I mean, you guys are taking something out of nothing, essentially.

Daniel Seman:

Right? So, with the tip of the coyote story, the Chippewa they use stories to teach the young kids how to speak Chippewa and they were using puppets. Puppets are creepy So cartoons or not. So, you know, that was the that was general how it came to be. The next one is the croc they they're agreeing to work with me and another coyote story. So, but it's a race and getting fire from the yellow jackets, sisters. So, it's exciting.

DeVonté Garcia:

So, one that you had at this symposium, right? Is that the one?

Daniel Seman:

Yes. Yeah, yeah. The three yellow jackets that are so fun.

Jen Burris:

So, earlier, you mentioned animation for like advertising. Are there other areas that animation that you could go into? After you graduate?

Daniel Seman:

You can go into Yes, yes. It doesn't have to be industry, TV, film, and stuff like that. You can do commercials, pharmaceuticals, are a big one, to animate things. You can do it's like instructional design is an infomercial type things, simple animation, but it's still getting complicated point across, like, say geothermal energy, you know, throw a bunch of big words like that around, someone's going to think you're talking about a volcano. So no, no, just taking the heat making electricity out of it. So, animation can help do that. Medical animation, crime scene animation, which is fun.

Jen Burris:

It’s a popular industry these days, isn’t it?

Daniel Seman:

use, you can do that. Years ago, a colleague of mine was asked by a lawyer to recreate a scene in 3D. Let me not be too graphic about it, but just so that they can get a visual of it, right. So, I mean, animation is great for that. Medical where, you know, hey, I'm going to put this object in you. It's better to show them a cartoon, whether it's 3D or 2D of what they're going to actually do. And then, in that aspect, were 3D modeling. There was a young lady who went to Northwestern University to do prosthetics. So, she would design prosthetics in Maya or something, and then they would they printed. So, you can do all sorts of you can build a house and print it. You UCLA did that they're building a house by 3d printing takes a lot of plastic. Anything, anything you can even imagine could have animation. So like car commercials, right? For the big car companies? Do you want to pay for a helicopter and a test pilot? Road? Or do you just want to CG the whole thing? You know, if you notice some of those car commercials, there's no driver in the car? Because they're just all 3D models.

DeVonté Garcia:

Wait a second. That's not a real car I’m seeing?

Daniel Seman:

it's a real car. Well, kinda.

DeVonté Garica:

So, is this like, back to the Avengers thing again?

Daniel Seman:

Yeah. If you see it pulls up, right? It pulls up right there. You'll see anybody in this car,

DeVonté Garcia:

Now that you say it just say that, yeah, right.

Daniel Seman:

Yeah, that's because they're not there. It's, it's just CG. It's easy for them to do that, wow. Cheaper, they don't have to risk the car. They don't have to do insurance in the car. They don't have to fill up the gas car. They don't have to pay a driver for the car or a camera crew. Or, I mean, they got the 3d crew, but it's not really the same thing.

DeVonté Garcia:

Wow. Okay, you’ve blown my mind twice now. Tips and tricks and little secrets are there to the industry that most people wouldn't probably even know or pay attention to.

Daniel Seman:

When I was in New Mexico, the one people had showing of carrier story at the film festival in Las Cruces. And afterwards, there was a film crew from Santa Fe, it's like, oh, we got to go. We gotta get to bed. Because we got to get up at like three or four in the morning. I was like, what four, and they're like, the sun. They wanted to get the sunrise at like, 430 in the morning. And like, I just paint it. (laughter) Me, you know, I don't have to get up at four in the morning. You just Google it. And I mean, if I really wanted to get my version of it, then yeah, but references are always better. Who wants to get up at 430 in the morning, right?

Jen Burris:

Not me.

DeVonté Garcia:

It's a different level of dedication for sure.

Daniel Seman:

Yes. So is like, you know, all sorts of different places that people with that information can go and do. So, this depends on how persistent they are. Because it's very competitive.

DeVonté Garcia:

So really, to be successful. I mean, like I said, there's a myriad of options you can go in to do and yeah, it's just allowing yourself to be open to the possibilities that are just not going to be particularly maybe just this one. Like you said character design.

Daniel Seman:

Maybe you're not Warner Brothers material, but you're in cosmetics. I mean, studios don't exist anymore, but it's smaller. It was a smaller studio like Moonbot Studios was a smaller Studio where you could do 3D and 2D together. But, I mean, those are gone. But now it's like, if you're not good enough to do one, you know, doesn't mean you're not good enough to do something else. Absolutely. So, I mean, I had a student who has this beautiful 3D Train picture perfect. This kid would take the measurements on GE Lighting, from GE’s webpage, do all the math and get it to fit into Maya correctly. And he got mad because Blizzard didn't want him because he didn't do it in Blizzard style. Like for World of Warcraft, right? And they even told him do go to Bethesda they're going to love that. And he was like, no, I want he wanted Blizzard, just blizzard? And it's like, okay, well, you know. And then another example was, there was a copper mine in Arizona, wanting someone to do a 3D model, the entire mine whole walkthrough and everything with the cars and everything. So they can show investors

DeVonté Garcia:

Now what's that process look like going through and creating that 3d design?

Daniel Seman:

it would be they won't, they'd have to get references. So, they go down there

DeVonté Garcia:

Do they just start drawing it out?

Daniel Seman:

No, they would model it out. Okay. And I mean, they have photographs and everything, that's fine. And a lot of the mines people don't go into and they would take those photos and then upload it.

DeVonté Garcia:

I've imagined to the software computer.

No, they Well, they see them but then they can model it. So like they're just looking at the picture and modeling and based on the picture

DeVonté Garcia:

now when you say modeler you're talking about drawing it from them?

Daniel Seman:

No, no, in 3D they're creating.

DeVonté Garcia:

They're actually object, they're actually making the object

Daniel Seman:

It's in Maya Yes. Okay. And then, and then they have this, they get it finished. And it's this, imagine a Dungeons and Dragons map of going into the dungeon, right? So, you've got all these paths and everything that you can go to, except as a compromise. So, it's a little bit more organized. And that's what they wanted to they can go up to an investor and say, hey, look, we think there's turquoise or copper zinc over here. We need to be able to go in this is how we need to get there. But we need to get money, whatever. None of my students wanted to do that. It was they didn't see the connection. And it's like, because you're making a coal Kart, you're making the tracks you're making. Essentially, you're doing a level design, which is what the game designers do. And someone's actually paying you to do this. So, you could take that into a portfolio and say, hey, look, Bethesda, Blizzard, Treyarch and look, what I can do is pretty cool. And but they weren't, they weren't getting it. And it's like, like, Come on, guys. It's a compromise, they got money, right? Well, that's what you got to do. You got to take your talent and play it and yeah, makes money.

Pharmaceuticals, you know, the big bad wolf trying to breathe because you know, he's old and smoked or whatever. And now he can't huff and puff anymore. So, it's a 2d cartoon, people are well compensated for doing this. So, it's not so much just for the money, but you know, you're doing something that you really like to do, you're getting rewarded for it. And you don't have to live in LA.

Jen Burris:

And you mentioned building a portfolio so getting that experience too.

Daniel Seman:

Because again, someone has paid you taking the risk and paid you to do this. And it's essentially the same thing as making a ship title in a game because a company is using this to make money on and the students now with the gamers making a game and putting it on Steam. It's considered a ship title. It may not be triple A but it's still something that they've produced and any of the animation kids who get in on that they now have something that's been shipped so now their leg up on everyone else because they've actually done something so and that helps in a very competitive um,

DeVonté Garcia:

I'm sure there are nuances between like animation when I think animation I think of Pixar, I think of Monsters Inc, toy store, etc. I think game design, okay, I think called duty or, you know, just video games, obviously. You know, how did those two really contrast? were some big differences between Is there is there is or is there any difference really between them?

Daniel Seman:

I don't. I think the game industry has kind of led the way in what the film industry at least with 3d is doing because the game engines that are creating the ability to create something immediately with being in surrounded the virtual reality stuff. That's what the games are doing in the film was catching up with it, and so it makes it easier to do Got film because of the game. So, they're leading it and everyone's following and trying to catch up.

DeVonté Garcia:

Well, as you talked about VR, is there was there a difference about the way in which you go and create those animations in virtual reality as opposed to not virtual reality?

Daniel Seman:

I don't think there's much of a difference in just creating it. And it's how it's purposed and how it's implemented. I don't know.

DeVonté Garcia:

which is behind the scenes of software, all that jazz.

Daniel Seman:

Right, right. So, I mean, it's like a video game. It used to be; you can't have this really super cool 3d character is going to kill your computer. Right? Right. So now they must create it with a low poly and make it so that the computers can actually use it without crashing. Yeah, I mean, now with the computers now, it doesn't matter. But I mean, I'm sure that things like Grand Theft Auto Skyrim there's super hyper realistic ones that they have to do better next time. They gotta improve on that to make more money. So, it's hard to tell something that made billions of dollars. (laugher)

DeVonté Garcia:

Trillions. Yeah.

Daniel Seman:

Eventually it will. Yeah, but it's like an A Grand Theft Auto, the last one made over a billion. So, they have to make that much more better. Yeah. So

DeVonté Garcia:

Tall task for sure.

Jen Burris:

So, what do you kind of see as the future of the animation industry?

Daniel Seman:

More technology to try and make it as easier to do as possible. Without losing the quality? I mean, you still have to, you still have to be an artist to do it. When are you still have to have a design aesthetic in order to create something that's going to be appealing that people want to see. But to save yourself time? Like I don't use paper at all anymore. So, I'm now saving trees, yay. What's going to happen? I mean, now they have integration between Toon Boom, which is a software I use and unity, the game design engine, so you can implement things in the program for cartoons, making it into game cartoon. And there's lots of 2D games now. So, they're, they're pretty cool. And then you get people who are on YouTube, getting a following, creating cartoons, making enough of a following, so that the studio's get a hold of it. And it's like, oh, hey, we want to we want to do this. And it's like, okay, cool. And now what do we do, because I'm not like, you know, rushing it all by myself doing it on YouTube. Now, I've got a big studio doing it. And then you have the producers to, then it that that is, that's an awakening for people too. But, you know, self-creating animations, a lot of people do that on YouTube, and some are really good, has been hotel TV, Ma, but HBO, Max picked it up. So now, the woman that created it, she's, she was successful before, but now, now she's a critically acclaimed success, because she's actually on an established platform. In this case, it's HBO. SO HARD WORK perseverance, that's, you know, being able to do something on your own getting recognized for having it then picked up that, I think, is the trends that could possibly come because a lot of people don't want to live in California, it's expensive.

DeVonté Garcia:

I know, for a lot of our students here from the Midwest, and people who are from the Midwest, there's just, we're just a different culture and don't want to leave. It's

Daniel Seman:

right. And with 2D, that's great. Because you do the puppet and stuff, you don't have to go anywhere to do it, you can actually do it from home or a studio. If you're good enough, though, though, they'll find a way to hire you, especially if they're in Canada, because a lot of them are in Canada. But I mean, there's Southern Utah is a new desert Disney cartoon. I can't remember the name of it, but it's done in Utah, Salt Lake City. So, you know, there's American companies here too. And if you in that regard, if you know, Toon Boom, then chances are you're getting a job as a lot better.

DeVonté Garcia:

Are there trends at all, because kind of COVID kind of helped, you know, increase the need for us to work remotely? To actually do you know, relatively good work remotely where you have your, you know, you have, you know, you have this person on this team that's living in California, one person in New York. Yeah, you know, and then so long as you're in the software, like does it allow for that collaboration?

Daniel Seman:

Oh, yeah. COVID You know, there was a silver lining and COVID Not everyone wanted to come back into the studio. And because you know, I don't know where you've been or where you don't want to be in together and everything in between. They can upload everything to a server or something. But then the companies are like, Oh, hey, we don't have to pay for that building anyway, we can save that money. And you know, not give it to the artists, of course,

DeVonté Garcia:

but I think the animation like what in person contact would necessarily need to happen?

Daniel Seman:

The sessions. Okay, so like the dailies, right? So it used to be okay, so I'm going to make a SpongeBob episode, and I'm going to have all these post it notes, just really quick ideas, right? And this is when, like, visual developers, they can come out and they can actually pretend to be the characters. Okay. And then they're pitching the story I did, right? Or in any of the Disney Feature films, well, they'll come up and say, what do we what have we done so far, this week, I was really good. I liked this direction. No, I don't like that direction, that that sort of stuff kind of works better in person. If you're just if all that stuff is done, and all they need to do is just animate, then they'll give sections of it to people and just like do this and animate it. And as long as you get done, I know one studio that does not like doing it as Warner Brothers, they want everything in house. So, it's just the way it is. But Cartoon Network in Atlanta, they didn't want to come back. In fact, they're actually creating a way so that it didn't have to come back where they did, it would be a big, huge room. Very little technology on the outside, right. So as a lot, a lot of wireless connections, there was like a hard drive where someone can plug into it if they needed to. But everything else was just on the cloud. And they can just do that from anywhere and not necessarily have to meet up in the studio because it just didn't want to so and that opened it up for people to work overseas. Because you know, hey, you can get relocated to the Czech Republic that’s fun, I suggest any student going to Prague, why not? Just City, and someone's going to pay you to do this. They also will help relocate you or you don't have to relocate because you can be home, right? There's a big studio in Sweden that does that. So, they understand, you know, you're saving the company money because they don't have to buy a visa for you now. Right? And that's expensive. So, it's like $20,000, it can't be $20,000 for England is the visa for England for you and your family to go over there. If they aren't held if the company isn't helping, right? So, it can it's expensive. It can get expensive. I mean if you're by yourself, no, it's not going to cost that much. But those opportunities are out there. And because you don't have to go and meet anyone, you can do it. So, if you have a student who doing this 2D puppeting, and they only want to work on whatever, any of the cartoons that are on now. And they find out what studios doing it and it's say atomic dog animations in British Columbia, like, oh, I want to do this. And it's like, okay, well, here's an opening in Ottawa, but you're not Canadian. Or they have an office in LA. There's our hand, right? Because the LA office would hire you and you would just send stuff up to Ottawa. That's how I imagined it would work. If they really wanted to hire somebody. They'd make it work; they find a way to make it work.

Jen Burris:

Okay, well, I want to thank you for being our guest today. Daniel. You certainly enlightened us on a lot of things, I think. And thank you DeVonte for being a guest co-host today.

DeVonté Garcia:

Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure.

Daniel Seman:

This was fun.

Jen Burris:

And thank you to Xander Morrison, our Podcast Producer, thank you to our listeners. And if you enjoyed the episode, please subscribe.

Jen Burris:

Welcome back to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast about all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris.

Gabe Mydland:

My name is Gabe Midland.

Jen Burris:

And today our guest is Assistant Director of Admissions Amber Schmidt. Amber, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Amber Schmidt:

Yes. Hello. Amber Schmidt, assistant director of admissions, you nailed it. I am a DSU alum 2008. I took the five year I'm not quite sure what I want to do college track, you know, made it there eventually. And now I have been in the DSU admissions world for almost 12 years. Wow. So, I like to consider myself a pro. Right? Maybe some days.

Gabe Mydland:

We’ll give you the certification. Sure. Good.

Amber Schmidt:

I knew you would Gabe, good.

Jen Burris:

Okay, and so why don't you tell us a little bit about what you do in admissions?

Amber Schmidt:

We do admissions, and what does that mean? So, I'll be honest, forever ago, when I first went through this college process, I was 17 years old, I decided to go to college, I pointed on a map, they have education. And I showed up at DSU. And so, when I went through that process, mom and dad had never, they never did the college prep, first-generation student, and they said, Good luck, I'll figure it out. So that's what I was doing at age 17, figuring it out? Well, I did a lot of it very independently, you know, I was taken out financial aid loans on my own. Well, our goal is an admissions team, you know, our admissions folks that are titles, our admissions specialists, but really their admission counselors, their job is to counsel students, through that process of admissions, it's applying to the university, it's visiting the university, it's making sure they have all of their admission forms in so we can get them accepted. It's talking through the financial aid process in truly helping that student feel comfortable going through that whole process, feeling comfortable, and having that person that they can go to, to ask questions, because I remember not knowing anything, and you don't know who to even ask questions to. And we want students and their families to have that person on their side, you know, kind of partner in that process to hopefully become a future Trojan. That's the goal.

Gabe Mydland:

And I think it's awesome what you do, because of the number of first-generation college students being in an environment that is new, and different than where to go, and how to get help and those kinds of things. And so many of them have persisted and get walked across the stage and gotten their degree. So, hats off to you and your team.

Amber Schmidt:

Thank you. And we do, it's surprising how many students, you know, you feel like we've had generations where I know, a lot of my friends are all, you know, they all did that college route, but we still have tons of students coming in as first-generation students, you know, going through that process. Is it scary? You know, it's scary, looking at tuition and fees, numbers and figuring out, will I qualify for scholarships? How can I bring that number down? And even if you've been through that college process, it's changed even since when I was it's changed dramatically. You know, a lot of it is going virtual. Now, you know, you apply through for financial aid, I did a paper and a pencil back in the day you sign it, you send it in, they send it back, everything is online, every process that you're going to do. So yeah, things have changed a lot over the years. And that's why we're here to help them out.

Jen Burris:

So how do you deal with those changes in processes now that it's more technology online based?

Amber Schmidt:

We're lucky that a lot of the high schools are also going that route. You know, our jobs have kind of evolved through time. We still go to college fairs and high school visits. But even the high schools, a lot of them are kind of almost rejecting a lot of like that paper information. They used to have, catalogs of college information at all the schools. But now all the research they're doing is online. And so making sure you know, we are you and our marketing team, always make sure we have you know, information up to date on the website, that's really going to help a lot of people because you know, if any, anything changes with that admissions process, changes with, you know, annually tuition fees, we just had a freeze with tuition, which is awesome. We're really excited about that. Meal Plan numbers went down, and housing numbers went up. So I mean, we stayed pretty well flat. But as soon as we get those numbers, our goal is to get those out of the website as fast as we can to make sure everything is marked the most up-to-date. But if we also have big changes, you know, recently we added in the last couple years, the DSU rising scholarship. Well, we want to get that on the website, but we also you know, send out extra material like emails and mailers and just to make sure all right news is happening and things are happening. We need to make sure you guys know about it right away.

Gabe Mydland:

What's been the biggest challenge? They've talked about recently, that the numbers of available students is declining. Is that the biggest challenge? Is there something else out there that really makes your job fun, exciting, I mean, to meet that kind of a challenge, right?

Amber Schmidt:

I would say that is one of the big challenges all the schools of the nation, you know like we said, senior numbers are going to be trending down. So, we're all going to be fighting for the exact same students. And we all want to increase enrollment, you know, which is an interesting battle that we're all going to have. So I would say that's definitely a challenge is, you know, the quantity of students. I mean, I'll be honest, some people forget about all of the cool majors that we have here. It's easy to be known for technology because that is a high-needs area in the world. We need those people protecting cybercrime and stuff like that. But guess what we were founded as a teaching school. We have amazing education programs, infused with technology. I mean, if you look like what COVID In, in the last kind of, you know, couple of years, the importance of understanding technology in a classroom as a teacher has never been more important, right? So those types of degrees with education, we have some super fun game design degrees, art degrees, business degrees, you look at business and the technology infused into those degrees. I mean, there's a reason every one of those degrees is 100% placement in the College of Business. So, we have a lot of great things. So sometimes, we forget about some of those amazing things, because you know, the local news stations are sharing about the latest cybercrime, and we have some amazing things going on.

Another one of the big challenges, though, is even though we have a tuition freeze, tuition rises, every year, at least that bottom dollar, you know, if housing goes up and stuff like that, and families are finding it harder and harder to take out loans. But the hard part is, is unless the student has done a ton of maybe previous saving, maybe the financial help planning, if they haven't done all the work to do some scholarship prepping, it's almost impossible to go to school without taking out an alternative loan or having a payment plan option. And I've discovered that's been one of the big things I've heard from families as of late is, how are we going to afford school? How is this possible? But, you know, we talked to our team to make sure we're sharing the news, like, we want to remind people a college education is an investment, we want you to make sure you're getting an education that is valuable, that is needed, you know, looking at the industry, is this a degree that you know, I can get a job in, and even if I can get a job, is it going to have kind of a long term salary that's going to help me afford maybe the student loans and I can say a DSU, almost across the board, you're going to find degrees that are high demand, have amazing starting salaries, which makes that considering loans and some are more of that, you know, harder things to take out as a family, kind of make that investment, you know, worthwhile.

It's scary. I remember taking all those loans, and everyone was signing my name and aligning like, golly, here we go. What am I doing now, that can be part of it. But you know, the best part of the job is, when you help those families, we always laugh because, in our office, we have families where it's maybe we need to loosen the reins on her son and daughter a little bit to let them do the college process. We have, you know, the parents that are ready, parents say I'm ready to cut the cord. But the cool part of our job is we help those families through that process. We've had emotional, fun, and exciting moments with families. But when you've done the job as long as I have, you know, we always say we have several favorite days on campus, not just one several, one we love when students visit because they're here they get to see our stuff. And we were very proud of our like discovered DSU days or individual visit days.

Then registration, we're right in the middle of registration season right now. And the best part about that as the students are enrolling, they are getting registered for DSU classes, you know, the future is upon them. They're just for four short months until they're here.

And then our other favorite day, probably I don't know where I am on my list is moving day because some of the students, we've worked with for four plus years freshmen we've had students visit as freshmen in high school. We've worked them their freshman, Junior sophomore, and junior, senior years, they're finally moving in. It's happening. It's so cool to see and I've been here long enough to see these kids graduate, which is pretty darn cool.

Gabe Mydland:
You do sound excited.

Amber Schmidt:

You do because you kind of turn into like a little bit of like a mama bear. You're like, did it I'm so proud of you. Because there are students where you get here and you're like, alright, you know what, you maybe have not been provided a lot of resources in the past. And you know, we need to make sure you find those resources to be successful and they get here, and they find those resources to be successful in the classroom. They find their kind of niche of people. We have such an eclectic campus of students and that's the cool thing about DSU too is there are a lot of students that grew up in small high schools and they're like I was always kind of an outcast. I never really connected with a lot of people on many levels, but you're now coming to a school with a whole lot of other people just like you. And I think that's a cool thing about our college. We're pretty lucky to be where we are in a lot of big things happening. So it makes our jobs pretty easy, at least some days. Some days. It's easy. I don't know about your guys' jobs, but

Jen Burris:

How do you go about preparing for things like individual visits and Discover DSU days and things like that?

Gabe Mydland:

Or what have you learned over the years about what’s now become a success?

Jen Burris:

What makes your DSU Days successful?

Amber Schmidt:

Honestly, it's Customer Service at the end of the day and making people feel important, you know, we always want a student to step on campus and see themselves on campus, we try to relate the clubs and activities that are in we just try to be real with a lot of students and their families. And we really try to give almost the layman's version of processes, we try to make it easy. We try to make the process simple. And on those days, sometimes it can be overwhelming when you start to hear the financial aid, tuition, numbers, scholarship numbers, and we just try to go through it slow enough that hopefully, people can, you know, follow along, but also have had a personal enough connection somehow throughout the day, to open up the door for questions.

You know, our favorite part of Discover DSU is when people ask questions, they're involved, they're engaged. Those always make for really fun too, especially the engagement. We usually try to play kind of like Kahoot all the kiddos these days, students have played Kahoot the last couple of years a ton. But that's one of our, you know, more fun ways to explain some of our student services. We talked about Residence Life and counseling, in different opportunities through the Kahoot game. And you know, they always win a  little prize, but it's thinking outside the box. In order to deliver that information, I could just sit there, and you know, grab a piece of paper and spew through information, or you try to make it engaging and kind of learn at the same time. So, we try to do that. But at some point, throughout each even, you know, discover days, we could have 50 students on campus. I try to make sure I individually welcome each person as they walk in. And our team makes sure that you know even at the end of the day, they get that one-on-one attention in some capacity to make sure they feel comfortable enough to ask questions. Because there's a lot of you know, especially when you have your teenage student there, you can see him like elbowing mom and dad saying please don't ask a question. (laughter) I'm really embarrassed. But if you give them enough opportunities, and if you've just kind of been real enough kind of throughout the day and engaged. You know, there's that comfortability with finally saying, Hey, you said something earlier, can I ask you questions most and it happens every Discover Day. We always get questions towards the end of the day. And that's what we hope we want. We want that engagement.

Jen Burris:

And what's it like, from an admission standpoint, you kind of get to see all the different areas of the college and all the different majors and kind of share that with people? What's that like for you?

Amber Schmidt:

I would honestly say we probably work in the best department sorry, for many of you other ones. But the reason I say that is because we're kind of like a middleman who you know like it is important for me to sell programs to students and be able to talk to them about what we can offer. We truly have to know things about the programs, I cannot, you know, I shouldn't just rattle off things about our business college based off of the website, you know, me having relationships with support staff, to faculty, to the advisors within those programs, learning about the students paying attention to even the news within those colleges, about the latest, you know, students going to Nationals in PBL stuff like that are the things that I can talk to students and those experiences about. So, I always tell my team, that one of the best things you can do is build those relationships network with people across campus, and be engaged even in with those people, whether it's faculty or athletics. So, I find it really important that we get to know everybody so we truly work with just about everybody, you know, we work with the Counseling Center students, you know, we have an autism program on campus, we accept 504 IPs, we have to know our counseling team registration season, we have to know our advising team, the amount of housing meal plans, Student Affairs, you know, we just truly get to know a little bit of everybody so like you two I see you to around, you know, harass you when I can.  

Gabe Mydland:

I was gonna talk to you about that. But I'm just wondering, this is maybe a little off topic and I'm ready and things but what's the one question that always amazes you that a student a prospective student, or maybe their parents that they would ask?

Amber Schmidt:

Do we kind of want some funnies?

Gabe Mydland:

No, no, no, I’m just kind of curious.

Amber Schmidt:

I have 12 years’ worth of worth of funnies there but...

Gabe Mydland:

Go ahead and offer some funnies.

Amber Schmidt:

I’m thinking. Now like the cutting the cord, that is by far one of the funniest things I've ever heard a parent do.

Gabe Mydland:

You’re over 18 years.

Amber Schmidt:

Yeah, it's about time it was, you know, and it was all in that same moment where one student is terrified, parents aren't wanting to leave. You know, we always joke on registration day, we all wear sunglasses, you know, during all the outside activities, because we are an office full of emotions. So, if mama bear starts tearing up, it's just like this uncontrolled, like dominos effect across everybody in our office of just like…

Gabe Mydland:

It’s like a virus.

Amber Schmidt:

Yeah, it is. It's terrible. But I'll never you know, you see those. And then on the flip side, I've you know, because we'll have parents that don't want to leave on moving day, which I get. It's a tough day. So, I always tell students to hug your mom, hug your dad hug your guardian, family, uncle, and grandma those days, because they're very, very proud. And they're so excited. And they are very, very sad at the same time. But I'll never forget, yeah, we turn we see one emotional parent, we turn around, and the mom and dad are saying goodbye to their son. And he's like, wait, you're really leaving, you're leaving. And the mom turned around, she goes, I'm cutting the cord. She makes like the scissors action. (laughter) And I was just like, oh, my, that was probably seven, eight years ago now. And I will always, always remember that. But that was just really awesome.

But trying to think of some of those things that you just hear all the time. And I don't know, we get a little bit of everything. And that's kind of the cool thing about our office too. And Tori and I, we always kind of joke, you know, for as long as we've both worked here, the number of times we still get new situations, you would assume that everything is pretty cut and dry. But it wasn't even like a month ago that she and I were kind of talking over a whole little situation. We're like, well, that's new. And we're like, yeah, that one is new. And it just, it amazes you, you would assume it's all yeah, pretty black and white. But you get some surprises.

Gabe Mydland:

Lots of surprises. That's great. That’s awesome.

Amber Schmidt:

We have silly things like, at college fairs, you'll have a student that walks up and they're like, What is this? And you're like, What do you mean, what it like, like the college fair, what is this? Or like, DSU?

Gabe Mydland:

Is there something on my shirt?

Amber Schmidt:

Like what's happening right now? But no, I mean, I have a lot of stories. Yeah, some, some I probably can't talk about today. But someday, someday.

Gabe Mydland:

In the book, right?

Amber Schmidt:

Yeah. Yeah.

Jen Burris:

Would you say that you mentioned customer service, that you're almost kind of a little bit of a salesperson for the college and the programs that we have here?

Amber Schmidt:

100%, as much as you don't want to be considered a salesman, we very much are, we are marketing, the university. We are marketing our programs, where clubs, activities, athletics, you know, we really are kind of a sounding board of all of those things, you got to be able to talk about all of it. And you know, at the end of the day, there's goals and enrollment numbers and stuff like that. So, it is a bit of sales. But I think we really approach it as you know, this isn't a person buying a car, these are students who are trying to figure out their futures, you know, so as much as you know, it's scary to think about the sales part. Because, you know, we understand that enrollment impacts our everyday business as a university that there is a part of that, that comes into play.

But you know, and I tell people all time, at the end of the day, the most important thing we do is benefit the student that that comes in, that is the most important sometimes we forget about the students because you get so tied up in a lot of other things and daily duties and stuff like that. But we really try to put that in first and foremost is that person and I think when you, especially in our office, you get to know people personally, you get to know students personally and try to make those connections, it feels less like sales and more like, you know, customer relations, you really are just one human trying to impact a person's life.

And I was at a conference one time, and it always struck a chord with me and I preach it to my team all the time is a five-minute conversation on this campus could 100% impact the future of a student. When you think about you know, what admissions does if they leave after a five-minute conversation with someone and they're like, that person was rude. They didn't answer any of my questions that you know if they just have a negative experience. They might never look at DSU again after they leave that day. But I've had students that have been debating majors in multiple schools and they go I just came to DSU and it just felt like home. It was comfortable. I saw myself there, but everybody was just nice. And you know that's big for a lot of people they want to make sure they're in a place that they feel comfortable to live. This is their future home they'll never forget you know the first time we said oh, I was at home for the weekend and go I gotta go home, and my mom's like, but you're not going home. This is your home you know, and that's a tough thing as a parent too. But that's you know, an important just remembering that five minutes can impact the future and there was a student, this is a story for you.

I had a student who was visiting. And his mom and him were road tripping through going to the school he thought he was going to, and they go, well, DSU is known for maybe technology, let's just swing in. So they just kind of surprised us one day showed up, which I don't always recommend schedule a visit online, please. So, we can make sure we best give you the best visit popped in and we did whatever we could to make that visit work. And he went to use the restroom and mom goes, he was 100% sold on the school we visited yesterday. You have put a wrench in every single one of our plans. And he ended up coming to DSU. And so, it's important, you know, every single conversation that we have with any student and whether it's us, whether it's faculty talking about their programs, whether it's you know, meeting with different student affairs folks or even coaches, so yeah, every conversation is important.

Jen Burris:

So, you mentioned watching some of these students graduate, would you say that you're able to stay in contact with them after you've gotten them in the door and settled at DSU?

Amber Schmidt:

We have, especially when they're still here. So, one I've seen them even like after they have graduated, you know, the cool thing with when you're here is on the alumni of DSU side, you see them graduate, you see them, like live their lives, get married, have kids, I mean that it's cool to see some of that. And we always joke, you can even come to DSU and fall in love. It's really corny and cheesy. But we've seen it I've seen weddings, I've been invited to different, it's cool, it's really cool. But even when they're here, you know, we almost to a fault, right? We build these relationships. And once students get here, we have to then you know, we're their person for however long and then all of a sudden, they're here and then all of a sudden it's like, alright, we have different resources for you, we have to get you to other people. And that's hard for students sometimes, or they're just comfortable with us and we say, come to us, we'll get you where you need to go. But even as they go through school, I mean, you still have some of those real relationships, and you can check in on them. How are you doing? I've had students come in, you know, that really struggled in high school, you know, we're a little worried about grades coming through. And it's kind of fun when you pop in. And that's the mama bear side of me. It's not always you know; it's too much mama bear sometimes. But I've had days where you see the kiddo and I'll pull them aside. I'm like, how's it going? How are your grades? Are you going to class? And I've had students who are like, well, I'm struggling here or there. And it just kind of turns into kind of like a little mothering session, I'm like, well, let's get you over to counseling, let's get you over to the tutoring center, let's do the things we need to do to make you successful. Sometimes students just need to hear that that's hard when you go to college because you know, you always kind of have that parental figure guiding you through all of that guiding you through it. And then all of a sudden, you're here. And that person's not here anymore. There's no curfew and go,

Jen Burris:

Where do I go? What do I do?

Amber Schmidt:

What do I do, and we ended up being those people sometimes, you know, as like this adult figure that helped them get here and I'm cool with it, I like to check on them. And if you talk to my team, I say it all the time, and they can, it'll be like nice outside and like we can walk outside I go I gotta walk through the TC. And they're like, why I go, I have to check on my students. And I do and I just walk through and make sure you know the ones that you know are doing okay, and there's a football player every time I walk by Hello, Mrs. And every time we see my I know I can expect a wave and stuff like that. And it's fun to check on them. So

Gabe Mydland:

That is really what makes the difference in my opinion is that I don't know that it's unique to DSU. But it is genuine here at DSU that there is a relationship that forms between not only faculty and students, but people who like yourself work in admissions and work in administration and who work in each of the colleges. There is a genuine interest in these students and their welfare, and I think they reciprocate that. And it's why I think we are so successful.

Amber Schmidt:

I think so too. If I were to ask students, why they chose DSU the number one thing I hear all the time is size. But what does that mean when they say size? It's not being number 215 in a classroom and going to class and being Amber and Jen and Gabe. It's knowing that if they need help that they don't have to make these special appointments they can pop in at office hours or I've seen students you know, faculty walk by in the marketplace and a faculty member is willing to stop and answer those you know, and I think that makes the difference to or coming in and asking a question. You know, the last thing we ever want to do is sadly sometimes it does happen but the last thing we want to do is you know if a student has a question we don't want them to hop from office to office to office. No, grab the phone, let's figure out where what who they can be helped with and like we said that's going to be any department on campus, and I think that's the nice thing like you said about there are times and you know, any type of a business or an organization, you feel siloed in communication, but then also at the end of the day, when we all look what we all do, we're all here to help students. You know, whether it's getting into school, whether it's with counseling, whether it's been successful in class, or teaching them or, you know, getting a degree audit them. We're all here doing the same thing. And sometimes we forget about it. But that's why we do what we do. At least I hope that's why you do it. Right?

Gabe Mydland:

No, I’m here for the money (laughter)

Amber Schmidt:

Retirement?

Gabe Mydland:

Yeah, right. Exactly. No, it's a great gig except for those students. No.

Amber Schmidt:

That's right. That's right.

Jen Burris:

Any last words, Amber, about admissions that you'd love people to know?

Amber Schmidt:

I want everybody to spread the word about DSU. I want you to tell all of your cousins, uncles, aunts, and everybody to tell all their relatives about DSU. No, I'm just kidding. That's my sales pitch. Get all the people you know, to check us out.

But really, you know, I just want everybody to know that. If you know anybody that is genuinely, you know, looking at schools and don't even know where to start. And I've done this before, I've had conversations with students, If you have questions that aren't even related to DSU, but college in general, and you're not comfortable enough to ask anyone, you can ask me and I've had those people reach out. I mean, I feel like that's the duty of what I almost do, right? And I want people to know that if you have questions about the process, where to start? What are my future opportunities? I want to do this job someday. How do I do it? You know, sometimes we don't even know that answer. I want to become this type of doctor someday. Where, what do I do, right? So, I just think I really want people to know that that's why our team is here like we said, we're called admissions specialists. But truly we're admission counselors. We're here to guide if we're here to counsel through that process, and we're ready to help you want to be helped.

Gabe Mydland:

Awesome.

Jen Burris:

Okay. Well, thank you so much for being a guest today.

Amber Schmidt:

Yes, way less scary than I thought it was going to be. And I appreciate it.

Jen Burris:

We took it easy on you.

Amber Schmidt:

(Chuckle) Good.

Jen Burris:

Thank you to our podcast producer Xander Morrison and thank you for listening. If you enjoyed the episode, be sure to subscribe.

Jen Burris:

Welcome back to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast for all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris.

Gabe Mydland:

My name is Gabe Mydland.

Jen Burris:

And today I'm really excited to have Xander Morrison, our Podcast Producer here as our guest to talk a little bit about sound design and his experience. So Xander, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Xander Morrison:

Yeah, so I'm Xander Morrison, I'm a senior here at Dakota State University graduating in May. So, my time here is limited. But I figured while I was here, I would share a little bit of knowledge about sound design and use some of my previous experience to back that up a bit. I've got a lot of experience writing electronic music, I do recording and editing for podcasts like this and other non-musical audio applications. I do a lot of live sound. I'm the president of a club called DSU live on campus. So, setting up and running sound systems and lights for all kinds of live events, like concerts and that kind of thing.

Jen Burris:

Awesome. So how did you first kind of get interested in this area?

Xander Morrison:

Sure. I've always been in a very musical family. Both my parents are professional musicians with master's degrees and all that.

Gabe Mydland:

Wow.

Xander Morrison:

Yeah, definitely a lot of musical exposure growing up. And once I started, you know, exploring the wide world of music and like middle school or so, you know, looking into stuff independently, something that caught my eye was electronic music because I was a computer nerd as well. And it merged two of my interests. And I was like, okay, well creating music with computers. And it sounds cool. I want to learn a little bit more about that. And I picked a great time to get into it because it was right at like the height of popularity of like when dubstep first started exploding and Skrillex was everywhere. And you know, DeadMau5 (pronounced dead mouse) was performing at the Grammys, and Daft Punk was coming back. And yeah, it was a particularly interesting time in that field of music. So Right Place Right Time, I guess.

Gabe Mydland:

Good for you. So, I don't really know enough about the program here at Dakota State University. How large of a community is it?

Xander Morrison:

Sure. It's a pretty small program. I'd say probably about 25 to 30. Students.

Gabe Mydland:

Oh, that's great!

Xander Morrison:

Yeah. All the older grades and whatnot. It's kind of hard for me personally to tell because my only experiences that I get with underclassmen are whoever shows up to DSU live and Okay, that's pretty much it because I don't have any classes with them. And sound labs, I guess, which is the other sound design-oriented club. But yeah, probably around 25 to 30 is good guests with that we would obviously love to have more. It's the only sound-oriented program in the whole state. That's how I ended up here. And I think capitalizing on that would be a smart decision, because there's obviously a market for it. Right.

Jen Burris:

So you mentioned Skrillex and Daft Punk. Were there certain musicians that like inspired your interest in music creation?

Xander Morrison:

Yeah, so I was and still am really interested in the music of DeadMau5 (Dead Mouse) who was like, primed to become like really popular, and then ditched his record label at like the height of his popularity to go and do his own thing. And I don't know his music ranges from kind of moodier house music to more like almost industrial sounding. He's kind of like, like a Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails type artist in the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) world. He's stuck to his niche very well and has been an artist I've never stopped enjoying. I've also had a lot of fond memories with music from Monstercat who is not an artist but a record label that is a collection of a bunch of artists that all do just a wide range of excellent electronic music from like 2014 or so to about 2018 was when I was like really listening to all of that stuff. And yeah, still to this day pulled a lot of inspiration from that. and listen to a lot of artists that originally, I heard on there. And I've since moved on to do other things.

Off the top of my head, there's a guy named Au5, who does just absolutely insane dubstep music that uses a lot of just new and interesting, like production techniques to kind of differentiate the sound itself, even if like the compositions aren't anything like I don't want to say not anything original. Because it is very ear-catching and interesting. But in electronic music, the artists' goal is twofold. You've got the regular songwriting stuff, where you have to dictate structure and melody and your chord progression or however many of those things that you want to include. But then you also get complete control over every individual sound in your song, which you can go as extreme with as creating it all from scratch with synthesis or pulling samples from sample libraries and doing things that way. And that offers a lot of creative freedom to use certain techniques that you find interesting that other people haven't done before. Because the options are literally limitless. Another artist that I've been really into recently is Grabbitz, who kind of does a combination of like mid-tempo electronic with like older like hip hop and indie rock influence too, it's just kind of blended together into one thing that is uniquely him. Justice is another good example of that, where they just take a couple of genres like sure, why not take like, electro and hard rock and disco and throw it all in a blender? Really? Yeah, yeah.

Gabe Mydland:

You've talked a lot about groups I've never heard from or before. And I'm kind of interested after this to go back and look because I love to hear different music styles and things like that. Off mic. We talked about how you have been working also at the Washington pavilion. Tell us more about what you do. There is a lot like the live DSU kind of thing for concerts and things or?

Xander Morrison:

Eventually, it will be. That's, that's my goal is to go full-time and do sound for productions there. Right now, all I'm doing for them is part-time stagehand work. So anytime there's a show that needs setting up or tearing down, I'm usually there. The Hours suck, but it is a good experience. Sure, yeah. Sometimes they'll be out there until like, two in the morning. Oh, my Yeah, but it is a good way to get my foot in the door because I've been told they hire from within. So eventually, I will get to have more experience with the actual running of sound verb events, I probably still won't be like their primary guy, at least for a while. But sometimes they have multiple shows going on at the same time. And rather than bring in another sound guy from like Omaha, or Minneapolis, or wherever they said, I'm a hot commodity. So, I take that as a compliment.

Gabe Mydland:

You bet you should. I mean, I have always been under the impression that a touring band and things like that that are part of the group, if you will, the ensemble included the sound guy, but you're saying that for the haul? You kind of help them with that.

Xander Morrison:

Yes, sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. It kind of depends on how big the production is. Like, for example, the other weekend, we had Alice Cooper come in, he's got a sound guy, right? Or we'll have like Broadway shows come in, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I'm pretty sure had their own sound guy. But if it's for an event that is not being put on by a group that has a sound guy the venue provides one. And either way, that main sound guy who runs it during the show is not necessarily in charge of all of the setup or teardown that goes into it. He's just kind of the group director because he knows you know, what goes in what bins and then what bins go in the semi-truck when.

Gabe Mydland:

Sure. Regarding these new artists that you talked about, now, there's a lot of work done on the keyboard of a computer, right? Do they, I hate to sound like I'm ignorant, but I am I'm ignorant. Do these bands do vocalizations, too? Or?

Xander Morrison:

Yeah, so it really depends on the artist and what they want to have included. I listen to a lot of instrumental stuff, just because there are a lot of artists that don't feel comfortable putting their voice out there, or maybe it just doesn't fit every song that they write Other artists like Grabbitz I mentioned earlier, he does all his own vocals. And he is just excellent at it. And because of all of the opportunities that he has to go in and edit his vocals, and because it's just him, he can record like 50 takes of one thing and make it sound super polished, harmonize it perfectly. And it just sounds excellent. It really depends on how in-depth you want to go with a particular instrument or sound, you have all the opportunity in the world to make it sound as unique or standard as you would like it to be.

Gabe Mydland:

Well, I'm going to take you back to the 1980s as your Phil Collins, member of the group Genesis, and he did a lot of solo work, he came out with an album face value. And what was really amazing for me at the time was he not only provided the vocals, but he did all the instrumentation laid down on all the tracks. And so that sounds like what you're describing is that they put all the pieces together. One at a time.  And that's extraordinary, I think.

Xander Morrison:

It's definitely overwhelming when you first get into it because having to be responsible for every instrument and every element. It seems like a lot to juggle. But honestly, if you have enough of a frame of reference to think at least kind of like a drummer or kind of like a guitarist, or at least know what guitar is supposed to sound like. With enough practice, you can convincingly get yourself pretty much all the way there. And I think that's like a really interesting opportunity that is not just limited to electronic music now, now that music technology is where it's at, right, you don't have to have like access to an entire orchestra in order to make a film score. Right? It helps if you do and they're probably going to record one anyways for the final take because usually, it sounds better. But like when Hans Zimmer is, you know, scratching stuff out just coming up with ideas, he doesn't need 30 string players in a room

Gabe Mydland:

It begs the question, are you going to form a group? Are you going to put together something?

Xander Morrison:

I do a lot of stuff on my own. I'm not opposed to working with other people or anything, I just haven't found really anyone that I want to do like, you know, a full-on like group project with, you know, like long term. I like doing like a few one-off collaborations here and there. But usually, it's just more so for like the novelty of it, where it's like, I'll bring in someone on campus who does like heavy metal vocals. And I'll be like, Okay, this will be fun to work. With that being said, I don't want those kinds of vocals in every single song I make.

Gabe Mydland:

Sure.

Jen Burris:

Fun. What do you enjoy most about creating music?

Xander Morrison:

I enjoy the feeling of like seeing an idea. Finally sound like what it sounds like in my head, right? Because I've got an idea of what I want things to be, it's just a matter of getting it from my brain to the computer. Sometimes that process goes smoothly, most of the time. It doesn't. But sometimes it sounds cool anyway. And if I can get even just like a segment of a song that I've written, that hits me emotionally the way I want it to, like if it gives me goosebumps even after, you know, having heard each element from it, like 50 times, that means I'm on to something special. And that's not really a feeling I'm ever going to get over.

Gabe Mydland:

Good for you.

Jen Burris:

And how does it feel to share your work with others?

Xander Morrison:

It's interesting, I would like to do more just individual work to push out there because right now, my library's a little limited, but it is always kind of fun to hear a little bit of feedback, even if it's someone who like I don't know in person, right? Like if someone leaves a comment on my YouTube channel and was like, this is awesome. That puts a smile on my face. It's only happened a few times where it's someone I don't know. Usually, it's my incredibly supportive grandpa. But…

Gabe Mydland:

thanks, Mom. (laughter)

Jen Burris:

Hey, my mom leaves comments on my Instagram posts. So… (laughter)

Xander Morrison:

Yeah, and I appreciate that kind of support too. Sure. But yeah, I would absolutely love to be able to do music-related things for a living that's my end goal. Okay. Doesn't have to be like a luxurious living or anything but if it's enough to get by and I can you know still enjoy myself while doing it. Sure. That sounds like heaven to me.

Gabe Mydland:

So, it sounds like you've achieved a lot you've come a long way in your understanding and your knowledge. What's the next thing for you that you really want to be able to master or get under your belt?

Xander Morrison:

I'm interested in a lot of applications of music that are not just sitting down and listening to it, right? If it's music that's involved in like a film. I've done that. Recently with a student film on campus. I added some scores to that. I would like to do music for like a video game. I think that sounds fun. Other than that, kind of pushing my own music into less of a niche audience and like getting myself onto a record label sounds incredible. I've been thinking about doing a series of like live streams or YouTube videos, I haven't really decided yet, but it's basically okay. I make one song a week. And I keep doing that until I get signed to a record label. And eventually, someone's going to notice.

Gabe Mydland:

Yeah, right. Right. You know, some people live life waiting for luck to strike. And luck does play a role. But you have to put yourself in the position for that luck to happen. I mean, it just doesn't pluck you out of the context of what you want to be successful in, you've got to put yourself in the game.

Xander Morrison:

Yeah. And luckily, now that the internet is a thing, that's easier than ever, with streaming services taking off as they have, you no longer really need a record label in order to get your music out there. It sure helps for promotion’s sake, and to have your name associated with other names of people who do similar stuff to you. That's really cool to grow your audience. But it's not required to get music out there, right, because you don't need physical copies anymore, right. Even before streaming really took off and the Internet was still around, you could kind of do that. But you know, the best you could get was like a 240P YouTube video or a shady Napster download or something like that. But now like there's services and I use them that you upload your music to it. And it will put it out on all of those streaming services for you. And you don't have to worry about, you know, going through and uploading it individually to like Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, TIDAL everywhere, a lot of the hard work is taken care of for you. And even if you do want to go the traditional label route, kind of like I do, that's easier now than ever too because there are sites like labeled radar where you can say, okay, here's the kind of music I make. Here's like, my super-specific niche, that is this song. And any record label that is interested in that, that is also on label radar, will get to listen to it and be like, Yeah, I think I want this, or they'll pass on it. Right. I think that's a really interesting opportunity. And I fully intend on taking advantage of that in the future. Good for you.

Jen Burris:

So how would you say that the internet and all these technological advances have kind of impacted this industry?

Xander Morrison:

On the artist side, it is now easier than ever to create the ideas that you want to create on a low budget, even like super high-end like industry-standard technology that in the past probably would have cost like 1000s of dollars is now like a couple 100 bucks, which is a big step up from where we were at even like a decade and a half ago. And that's really exciting because it allows more and more people to create what they want to it does kind of lead to an overpopulation issue. But I'm a firm believer that if you create music that is good enough and unique enough to differentiate yourself, and if people want to listen to it, then they will I don't think it's necessarily as competitive as some people make it out to be right. Like it's not like stealing listeners from other people who make the same music as you or vice versa. And then on the listener side, it is now easier than ever to discover new artists. And some platforms really push that as like a selling point to the right, like Spotify has their big Discover Weekly playlist where it keeps track of all of the stuff that you've listened to and goes, Okay, here's the kind of stuff that we think you would like. Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's not. But then what I do is I go and add that stuff into like my main rotation, right, the stuff I do like then next time around, it's a little more zeroed in on what I'm interested in. I've still got a lot of songs from like that 2013 to 14 era that are not really a style that I'm interested in revisiting necessarily with like newer artists. And so sometimes that pops up a lot. But if I listened to less of it, it's less likely to show up in that playlist. So, stuff like those discovery algorithms and how it's presented to people around the world who use those kinds of plots. forums, that all makes it easier than ever to get heard, which is, I think a positive thing.

Gabe Mydland:

I subscribe to Discover Weekly and love the fact that I hear from different bands or from the bands. I'm already familiar with songs, and titles I hadn't heard before. Oh, yeah, absolutely. And it's fun. It's absolutely great.

Xander Morrison:

Yeah, especially with electronic music being as kind of underground as it is, it's, it's very easy to stumble on to just entire, like genres that you've never heard before. Because of how like hyper-specific it can get the fact that those kinds of algorithms can push that stuff to you, without you having to go out and search for something that you didn't know existed. That's really useful. Because if you're really interested in like, underground rave music, or whatever, there's probably like a handful of YouTube channels, or whatever, that will promote some of that, but you're never going to find all of it. With Spotify, you can go down the rabbit hole of related artists forever, basically, until you have found all of them, and you never will.

Jen Burris:

So, what's the most interesting thing you've learned? As you've kind of developed as a sound designer and music creator

Xander Morrison:

I think a lot of the interesting stuff to me is taking full advantage of all of the tools that you have using things in creative ways, whether they are physical things like a piano, or whether they are digital tools that seem pretty rudimentary on the surface, there is always a creative application for it, where it's used in a way that it's not quite intended to. But it sounds interesting anyway, and I love that kind of stuff. And certain artists, Mr. Bell, for example, is a really, really good artist for this where he'll take like just a simple delay effect, right? Like you'd hear on a guitar where it goes by. And he will pan that delay left and right, he will make it just delay after like, a handful of milliseconds, so that it repeats at the interval of a note. And he'll cut out all of the low-end frequencies from it. So, it's just the high stuff. And then it just sounds like someone's crinkling tinfoil in your ears just all over the place. And once you hear that sound in a song of his congratulations, you're never going to hear that exact sound ever again. Because it's completely different depending on what you feed into it. And even if it does pop up again, in the same song, he's usually got like a different permutation of that effect that's just a little bit different. So, it's never exactly the same. So, finding unique applications for things that people have been using for decades. That stuff is really what interests me. And another. Another big thing is specialization, which is kind of a newer thing in the music world, where you're like you're familiar with surround sound systems, right? It used to be that you had to go through some pretty specific setups to create music for that for like a film or whatever. And now it's slowly becoming more and more accessible to create, like a home studio with that kind of approach. The big proponent of that right now is Apple's flagship audio workstation logic, right? It just introduced a compatibility feature with the Dolby Atmos surround sound system algorithm. I don't really know what to call that. And we have a studio downstairs that uses that. And it's really interesting to play around with because there are all kinds of possibilities there that you never would have thought of before, right? Like there are a few like demo tracks, Montero by littleness is one of like the demo tracks that comes with that. And you can see visually kind of where things are being placed in the spatial field because you have full control over where whether something is in front of you to the left behind you, or even above you on certain setups. Just being able to place things very precisely like that is another really interesting thing to me that I want to explore more

Jen Burris:

So, does that impact the listener then too?

Xander Morrison:

So currently, not always, it depends on where you listen to it right now a lot of it really depends on What you're listening on, if it's just like your laptop speakers, you're not going to notice. If it's like a pair of cheap earbuds being run out of like an iPhone four, you're probably not going to notice. But as, as algorithms develop, to kind of take that surround sound experience, and transform it into just a stereo listening experience with left and right, that will become more and more accessible. And it was kind of that way, when stereo first became a thing to write, like, the Beatles recorded an album that was really experimental with stereo panning, right where like, the drums were all the way on the left side, and vocals were all the way on the right side. And it just sounded like no one does that nowadays. But the fact that you can is interesting, and I'm glad they explored it, because now people know, right,

Gabe Mydland:

The White Album and the song Back in the USSR starts with a plane landing. Sure. And it starts I think, I believe from the left, and then the sound, kind of you can hear it go to the right as a 16-year-old 50 years ago. Wow, that was incredible. Yeah, yeah, totally and really exciting.

Xander Morrison:

There are people who use that kind of specialization in their music now just in like the stereo sense to just to add like little bits of realism to it, right. Like there's a, there's an artist I'm really fond of named Varian, who does kind of like a combination of electronic and orchestral and like goth rock, which sounds completely out there. And sometimes it is, but for their orchestral stuff, they will pan certain instruments just a little bit to the left or to the right. So, it sounds like you are sitting in an actual Orchestra Hall. So, nothing is right in the middle. Unless it's where that would be sitting harps, for example, would be way off to one side, because they're always on like, the outer edge. And there are certain things that get exceptions to that, like, if they bring in a vocalist, they're not going to make them sound like they're standing in the back of the room or whatever they're going to want to bring that for more forward. Yeah. But yeah, it's, it's a lot of little touches like that, that really make a mix for that kind of song work. Because if it's not realistic enough, then it just sounds like an imitation of it rather than the actual thing. And honestly, if you listened to a lot of versions of music, you wouldn't be able to tell that most of it is synthesized, which is really like, that is the mark of someone who knows what they are doing in that field.

Jen Burris:

What would you want people to know about sound design? Or what would they be surprised to know?

Xander Morrison:

Sure. So sound design, first and foremost, is everywhere that you can hear sounds right, not just digitally, not just like electronically, like I've been talking about anywhere, right? Like when you slam a car door shut, someone made it sound like that intentionally. And then when you turn your car on when it beeps at you and gives you like a little welcome. That's also intentional, you don't really think about it, because you've got four other senses, but that sound is competing with at the same time. But anywhere that that fifth senses, there's usually someone behind it. And it is a very widespread field in a surprising number of ways. And we do a pretty good job at tackling the most popular of those applications here at DSU. I think we've got a class that I'm in right now that's devoted to implementing sounds into video games in unity, making things sound convincing as if you were in the game. There are singer-songwriter classes for people who are interested in the more traditional music stuff. There's a film scoring class, there's, there's a lot of unique opportunities out there. If you know how to manipulate sound. Sound forensics is a special topics class that isn't regularly offered, but it was for a semester, and I took that and that was really interesting because it was all about trying to extract any kind of like intelligible information that you could get out of a recording of like a crime scene. And so we use actual examples of like a particular shooting in wherever from years ago and taking recordings from different places that were all taken around the same time and you can hear gunshots and all of them and using like the delay of those gunshots As compared to the muzzle sound, to kind of triangulate about where that person would have been standing, who shot that gun, which is not at all, like an application that you would first think of when you think of sound design. But like I said, anywhere where sound is, there's someone who can do something with it.

Jen Burris:

So, a variety of applications.

Xander Morrison:

Absolutely.

Gabe Mydland:

An infinite variety of applications.

Jen Burris:

So, what are you looking forward to most?

Xander Morrison:

In terms of?

Jen Burris:

Your future in this kind of field?

Xander Morrison:

Sure. I mean, I'm interested in seeing what kind of new advancements technology can come up with that are complete game-changers for people like me, for example, there is a really expensive soundboard at the Washington Pavilion at a gig I worked a couple of weeks ago. And it had an option for spatialized monitoring. And because normally, on a like live soundboard, if you hit solo on something, and then put headphones on, you can hear just that thing. But with spatialized monitoring, I'm assuming at least, they didn't let me touch it because it's worth more than my entire, like a college degree. But I'm assuming it means you would be able to hear approximately where it would be in the room, as well as all of that. And just like little advances, little inches forward, that doesn't seem like all that much at first. But then if you look back a decade at where we were at, then we realized we've come a long way. And we'll just keep going. I don't see any end in sight for that.

Jen Burris:

Any final questions Gabe?

Gabe Mydland:

No, I again, it seems like every time we start to close in on an idea or an approach to something, we find out, it's more infinite than we imagined, you know, saying? Yeah. Like when we do research, we may come to some conclusions, maybe one or two answers to questions we have. But we also get five new questions that we didn't have before. Yep. And it sounds like it's analogous to what you're talking about in the sense that once we've mastered a certain technique, we've also along the way discovered new and interesting things that we can try and in a variety of different ways.

Xander Morrison:

Yeah, the beautiful thing about music is that no matter how much you boil it down to theories, and algorithms and ways to make your music sound good consistently, on a technical level, there will always be those creative applications where you don't quite know what's going to happen. And sometimes it might not work out, but a few times it does and then you stumble across something that someone's never done before. That's something that is I don't think ever really going to go away because then someone will develop a tool that capitalizes on what you found out. And then someone will find a way to use that tool in a new way. And so on and so forth.

Jen Burris:

Okay, well, thank you so much for being our guest Xander. It was really fun to kind of get to know a little bit more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into sound design and how that impacts things like podcasts. So, thanks so much for being a guest today and for being our producer. We appreciate it, and we enjoy having you.

Gabe Mydland:

We do.

Jen Burris:

And thank you to our listeners. Please rate and subscribe.

Jen Burris:

Welcome back to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast for all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris.

Gabe Mydland:

My name is Gabe Mydland.

Jen Burris:

And today we will be talking with Dr. Omar El-Gayar about digital transformation. So, can you introduce yourself? And maybe tell us a little bit about yourself?

Omar El-Gayar:

Yes, sure. It's a pleasure to be here. And my name is Omar El-Gayar. I'm a professor of information systems at Dakota State. I've been with Dakota state for a little over 20 years. Now, it's a pleasure to share my thoughts about what digital transformation is all about.

Jen Burris:

Perfect. So why don't we start off by talking about what digital transformation is?

Omar El-Gayar:

Okay. Well, it's simple, right? So, it's all about leveraging technology to make lives better, as simple as that. Now, is this really a new concept? Not necessarily. So, since the use of computers in businesses, I guess that goes back to the 50s, we did have digital transformation, what's really different right now is the amount of data we have, the exponential growth in computing power, the connectivity networks, and then advances in algorithms. So, kind of creating the perfect storm for companies, organizations, and individuals, to leverage technology to improve processes and improve lives.

Jen Burris:

So, it's pretty expansive then?

Omar El-Gayar:

It is. And I have to say, it is not just about technology. So, it's about people. It's about the process. It's about having the right culture, but also influencing and changing that culture. So, in a sense, being part of the digital or the Information Age.

Jen Burris:

Okay, how have you seen that kind of evolve over the years?

Omar El-Gayar:

Well, it did evolve significantly. So, you know, when computers first came into business, and government and so forth, they were essentially number-crunching machines. So, the focus was really to automate what we call back-end processes, you know, doing payroll, the government used it for calculating census, I believe it took like 12 years or whatever, some astronomical time to do that. And that got reduced using mainframes at the time to a year and a half, which is still a long time. But back then that was a was a significant improvement. But then gradually, the evolution, or the advancement, if you will, in technology, kind of started moving computers to the front stage.

So, at some point, we started feeling it as consumers and individuals. And I would say that came about maybe somewhere in the 90s, we started feeling it first, with PCs. But again, you know, you played some games, you ran some spreadsheets, that's not really much what we're talking about here. But with the internet, with E-commerce that came about, I would say, roughly around the late 90s, you started really seeing that notion of digital transformation affecting and impacting everyday life, you know, think of Amazon and how it transformed how we purchase things and how we shop for things, think of Netflix, and where Blockbuster is now, it's gone. Right? So that's, that's part of the transformation.

And the other term that you hear about is disruption. So, these companies when they came in, they leveraged technology in very big ways, that disrupted their industries significantly. And the examples are plenty, obviously, you know, we hear about Uber, we hear about Airbnb, even weather.com, as a company is not necessarily a weather forecasting business. It's really a data company in that leverage data in very unique ways, as part of its business model and for its survival.

Jen Burris:

Can you talk about some of those unique ways that weather.com leverages some of that data?

Omar El-Gayar:

So, they started, obviously, as a weather app, right? You can check the weather, follow the weather and stuff like that. But they're not really making money on that even with the ads that would show up that were not really enough to drive their business model. So that's where they started thinking about how they can leverage their access to weather data in very unique ways. And one of them is really to influence purchasing decisions. And this particular example has to do with hair care products that don't apply to anyone…

Gabe Mydland:

I was gonna say maybe Jen but you and I… (laughter)

Omar El-Gayar:

So, as hair care products for women. And evidently, the kind of product is a function of the weather conditions. So how the weather would look could influence what kind of product a woman would purchase. So, they teamed up with Procter and Gamble (P&G), and they kind of shared that data, if you will. And ultimately, I believe P&G has an app that leverages data from weather.com to influence and provide recommendations for women in terms of what kind of product might be most suited.

Gabe Mydland:

Wow.

Omar El-Gayar:

Pretty unique, right?

Gabe Mydland:

Yeah.

Omar El-Gayar:

Pretty Innovative.

Gabe Mydland:

Yeah, you mentioned one thing about how technology has affected all of our lives. I was working in Pierre at the time freshly out of college when PCs became more readily available, this was in the mid-80s, mid to latter half of the 80s. And one of the interesting arguments for you know, making a huge investment for state government buying into technology was in the long term, we would be not having to hire employees to do a lot of the work that they do now that with attrition. The technology would take over a lot of those responsibilities and the size of our state employees, and public employees would shrink and of course, that never happened. What happened was is we were using the technology and we were getting a lot of things done. And that left us time to do even more things and you know, more kinds of people needed to come on board. Technology has really changed how we do things, obviously. But there are people who, unfortunately, haven't caught up with the changes or kept up with the changes, how do we make sure that more people are keeping up rather than getting left behind?

Omar El-Gayar:

And let me maybe share, you know, share a comment about your observation, please experienced in the ad. So, I think that's right one of the arguments that you hear often is, that technology is taking away jobs. Well, it's not really taking away jobs, it's you can arguably say it's disrupting jobs. In other words, it's transforming jobs. So, some jobs yes, will become obsolete, just the fact because of the existence and the capabilities of the technologies being developed, looking into like the medical field, the healthcare field. So, physician jobs, you know, certain specialties are no longer or will no longer be as prevalent as before, just because, for example, advances in AI and computer vision, in particular, you know, radiology, you are reading of x-ray images, or MRIs and stuff like that. But that doesn't mean that yes, it might be taking away some jobs from some areas. But there also are other jobs that are being created that are needed to essentially facilitate, if you will, the adoption of the technology, the creation of the technology, the deployment of the technology, you name it. So even business processes get transformed with technology. And along with that transformation, jobs get redefined as well. So that is definitely happening. It obviously happened. And you've observed it in the 80s. And it happened since then and will continue to happen. So the idea that it's a job, technology is threatening, it could be for some, but it's also creating other kinds of jobs. And I believe, for example, for us in higher education, we have a responsibility to make sure that we educate our students for these jobs that may not exist right now in order to provide a foundation broadly speaking, not just on the technology, but on the business side, on the people side, that will allow them to navigate these jobs as they evolve. And as they come through.

Gabe Mydland:  

I have just been amazed at when I first began my career, how differently, it covers the whole spectrum from those who maybe have a limited education all the way up to people who've spent years in graduate school like the physicians, you talked about surgeries, for example, now are being handled, in many cases by robots. And it's amazing. It's just interesting to me, though that some people Yeah, I think you're right. It creates a lot of new opportunities. But some people it's this is the always the way we've done it. This is the way I've always done it. So, there's a resistance.

Omar El-Gayar:

Yeah. I think that was your second question. So let me comment here. So, you actually bring another very important element, right? When we talk about technology in an organization or concept, context or institutional context, or even just in everyday life. And that is change, right? So, when technology comes in, arguably, it is changing or impacting how we do things. Okay. So, in information systems, there's quite a bit of body of research that talks about technology acceptance. And one of the constructs that come in and out depending on which model you're looking at it is attitude, for example. So yes, things that are right up your alley here. And that could impact and there are certainly other factors. But the really the larger picture, could also, especially in an organizational context, is culture.

When we talk about digital transformation, we will talk about the infusion of technology, you do want to have a receptive culture. And in many cases, organizations that are able to engage in successful digital transformation initiatives are those that have what we call digital leaders, in other words, leaders with a mindset that is open to exploring new technology and exploring avenues for leveraging that technology to advance their organizational interests, certainly, so they do play a role in catalyzing a fueled receptive culture to that change. Okay. But then, once that happens, the evolution of that is that you have a culture that is now so used to digital technology that they can't live without it. So, in other words, in a sense, if you think of it as progress over time, you have to have that culture to get started. But once you start and you reach some critical mass, then, you know, it kind of feeds on itself and grows exponentially. And that we've seen in pretty much all the organizations that we're able to leverage this notion of digital transformation to the maximum extent possible. So yeah, so what you're talking about, really about potential resistance to change that is another term for attitude, you know, culture or receptive culture is certainly real. And it's certainly something that has to be managed. And that's why I emphasized at the beginning, that digital transformation is not just about the technology, because if it is just about the technology, there, in my opinion, it's doomed to fail. The people aspect, and the process aspects are key, if for anything else to deal with the exact phenomena that you were just describing. Because that's all people skill. That's all change management.

Gabe Mydland:

And change is inevitable.

Omar El-Gayar:

Well, that's the name of the game, by definition, digital transformation is all about change.

Jen Burris:

So how do you prepare people or like our students for this kind of constant cycle of change, and as you mentioned earlier, positions that maybe don't exist yet, but could in the future?

Omar El-Gayar:

So, one aspect, obviously, you know, in an organizational context, is communication. So, communication goes actually a very long way, for example, to diffuse, if you will, any concern about, for example, jobs, because that's really the first thing. So, once you start talking about digital transformation, leveraging technology, and so forth, the first thing that comes to mind from an employee perspective is will I lose my job? How will this affect my job communication and gradual onboarding, many successful companies actually also approach it in kind of a piecemeal. So as, as opposed to what we call a big bank approach, you know, okay, well digitize everything in the company. That could be very costly, and very hard to manage, and very disruptive to the business to the people, and so forth. So, a gradual, we'll call small wins. So, you get these small wins, so that everybody kind of feels on board, they could see what technology could do to the business to their work. Okay, and really buy into it. So, employee buy-in from the bottom up is really critical for such transformations.

As far as students, I would say for us here at DSU, we're really uniquely positioned to prepare students to be part of this transformation efforts, regardless of their interests. In other words, we have highly technical programs, okay. But we also have non-technical programs, that could help, for example, with change management, okay, or with serving as a liaison between the business functions and technology. And we have programs that are right in the middle, right, so like the CIS program, so students get exposed to some business domain knowledge, but also technology, and how to leverage technology to advance business functions. So, you get the business focus, the humanities focus, you get the highly technical focus, and you also get, you know, somewhere in between, that can maybe bridge and help the communication channels, if you will, between the application domain, and the technology that would enable that.

Gabe Mydland:

What's interesting about Dakota State University is they accept that change is inevitable, and we've got to stay on top of it, we don't like it. We don't always enjoy it. But, you know, Google comes out with Google Docs and has certain features that Microsoft Word doesn't. And then Microsoft Word all a sudden tries to catch up and they develop things. I think it's a healthy attitude that we have here at Dakota State University about change, for the most part.

Omar El-Gayar:

I certainly agree, I'm pretty sure you remember, like, you know, the mission change back in 1984. Here at DSU, it was all about change. And this, you embrace that big time. And this is what got us where we are right now. And we continue to evolve our programs, you know, from undergraduate, very diversified portfolio of an undergraduate program that really speaks to the needs of employers needs even, or expectations about future jobs and stuff we're talking about. Right. But also, master's degree programs, even Ph.D. programs that, you know, I know, 15-20 years ago, maybe unheard of…

Gabe Mydland:

Certainly on this campus.

Omar El-Gayar:

Certainly yes. But it's just a testimony of how nimble and agile this institution is and how open it is to change. And I believe that being part of the culture also impacts students and their view of change throughout their education and then moving beyond.

Jen Burris:

And how important would you say that culture is in preparing people to deal with inevitable change?

Omar El-Gayar:

Well, I think it's the culture. And it's also the nature of the programs. In other words, it provides our students with a foundation, the general education piece is a big part of that. And then the courses and how each of our programs are designed to provide students with the core knowledge if you will, that would essentially propel them through a lifelong career of learning, contribution, and ability to adapt to, to change. And I think these are characteristics of any healthy, solid educational program. So, in other words, we're not teaching technical skills in the sense of well, how do you do XY and Z? That's, that's the room of other kinds of schools. But not the issue. So, in other words, the kind of knowledge that you get is lifelong or timeless, as opposed to skills with a specific technology that might be obsolete by the time she's a graduate. That's a differentiating characteristic of the kind of educational experience our students get here at DSU versus elsewhere.

Gabe Mydland:

You're right. I think having an attitude and openness about change is very critical to success. But I also think the reason why change is so difficult is we're not convinced it's going to take us to a better place. It feels like a bit of a gamble. You know, where there's a lot of uncertainty. And is it really going to improve the situation? Or is it just going to make things more complicated? But I think I would add to what you've said, and I couldn't agree with you more that the opportunities that students here at the issue have with technology and seeing how change happens and the experience they get. They recognize that they can manage it, they cannot let events dictate what happens they can impart not totally, but they can impart help determine the outcome if they make a change.

Omar El-Gayar:

Absolutely, yes. And I think, you know, when we talk about change, you know, you kind of hit the nail on the head here, when you mentioned uncertainty, and that's what we see. And that's what research tells us, when it comes to well, how do you navigate resistance to change and what instigates that kind of resistance and so forth. So, if you want to boil it down into one word, it's uncertainty about the future. And that's where sometimes these incremental approaches come in, you know, I teach now, or we'll be offering a course called design thinking in the summer. And it's really a mindset, and a process to navigate, if you will, not necessarily change, but coming up with innovations. Okay, that that would respond to some genuine human need, if you will, on a problem, okay. And Design Thinking has been associated quite a bit with the notion of digital transformation, innovation, leverage of technology, again, for innovating or for improving human lives, which is really about what we're talking about here. And some of the key elements and characteristics of design thinking in reference to what was talking about here change and mitigating the resistance to change and concern about uncertainty and so forth, are at least two items we're going to share with one is this notion of empathizing with the user, right?

So, understanding what their needs are. So, this is, again, coming and speaking to people is an integral part of the process. So, we're not just again, talking about technology terminology, right? Okay, so that the notion of empathy, and empathizing with users, and then using that knowledge to really revisit what the issue the underlying or the problem is to come up with potential solutions, okay. But equally important is when coming up with potential solutions, that's the ideation piece of design thing, is to follow that with prototyping kind of incrementally testing ideas for that solution. And in doing that, you're actually mitigating the uncertainty that is associated with trying very new, untested ideas that inherently create this level of anxiety with the uncertainty surrounding it. So, you're gradually trying to mitigate that in an incremental, but rapid succession, right to reach your ultimate outcome, which is solving that problem in a manner that resonates with the intended user. In the larger context, hours spent managing all stakeholders' needs and interests.

Jen Burris:

So how would you say digital transformation and the work that goes into it kind of impacts these advancements that we make in society?

Omar El-Gayar:

Well, I think digital transformation is at the heart of advancements that we're seeing right now in society, I think, you know, health care, for example. So, in the, in the 2000s. If you remember, there was a big push toward electronic medical records. In a sense, that is a digital transformation initiative. It is painful, some folks might argue it is still painful, even if they were at least 15 years or more into that give or take depending on the organization. But you could arguably say that it also transformed Healthcare. And it also enabled things that were not there before. So right now, you can go online, for example, and get immediate access to your labs. There is more work now that is being done on data exchange. So, if you change providers or whatever access to that data, that until recently has still been an issue, and there are still kinks to be resolved. But once you have the digital, if you will own the cyber ecosystem in place, you're gradually enabling things that could not have happened before, like access to your own medical data, and so forth. There are other things obviously happening on the clinical side, we talked about imaging and image recognition, computer vision, and so forth, that impacted radiology if you will, robotics if you will, and how it impacts surgery. And that's just talking about healthcare. And AI has some actually big applications there too.

But we could shift to customer support. Again, some of our experiences might have been a little frustrating. But technology is evolving things are what I'm referring to really are these virtual chatbots if you also go in and for customer service and stuff like that. And then eventually, it's like, okay, well just get me a real person, right. But, but the fact of the matter is, that is state of the art. Technology falls under the AI umbrella. And it is evolving dramatically. And think of virtual assistants, Siri, and Alexa. Again, these are examples of such technology that are transforming how we do things. Blockchain in it is actually making great strides right now by supporting supply chain management. And we all know about how supply chains were severely impacted. Because of COVID. Some companies were ahead of the curve and or have already had or leveraged supply or blockchain technology to manage their supply chain. So, they were a little ahead. But right now, with everything going on, there are more and more companies trying to capitalize on that. And the reason I mentioned supply chain in the context of blockchain is that it's one of the success stories if you will because again, Blockchain is still an emerging technology, and people are still exploring what is good for what it's not good for. And so far with supply chain was one that at least there were some proven successes there. And then there are also things really, in the back end that we don't necessarily as consumers or individuals feel about, or at least in a direct way, and that has to do with the development and deployment of software. So, for us in the IT world, we hear about, and we talk about what we call microservices, containers, and DevOps.

And without necessarily going into the details, what these technologies provide, is quite a bit of agility, scalability, and resilience to the pipeline and cycle of developing software, that, again, serves a purpose or solves a problem or a human need. But also deploying that software, making it available to the end-user. And these technologies are what I didn't say are very compatible with the cloud, which we hear about that has been an instigator and a catalyst for a lot of the agility that we see. I'll just give you a concrete example here. So, think of how COVID disrupted everything, right? And even before COVID companies like Best Buy, which is pretty sure we all kind of like to shop there had to answer a big question and that is how they can remain in business as a brick-and-mortar electronics store in light of you can buy anything electronic online. Right? And they started dabbling with the idea of creating an online store but leveraging their physical store for people to shop around, but also to order online and pick up at the store. And to be able to test those business models and implement them. You must be very agile with respect to your software. development and deployment processes. And some of the developments that we don't really deal with on a firsthand basis. Like the stuff that I talked about enables that. And once you have that in place, they were able to test it very quickly on three stores, and then grew that model right before COVID hit. So Best Buy was actually one of the companies that were essentially best prepared to handle COVID.

But then think of other companies that were able still to catch up, because they had that infrastructure as part of the digital transformation effort. Like grocery stores, you know, Sam's Walmart or wherever, where you could shop online, and have your stuff packed and ready to go. And you just go in and park your car and in somebody will bring this stuff to you. and off you go. So all of that is really enabled by various technologies, if you will, and is are all part of this notion of digital transformation.

Jen Burris:

So, what do you see for the future?

Gabe Mydland:

What are you excited about for the future?

Omar El-Gayar:

Well, if you know me, I'm excited about technology, right? So, I'm always excited to see what's really the next frontier what really is the next application that technology would help make better, if you will, the sky is really the limit. When you think about it, there is always something new. And that's really a kind of keep encouraging students and my students to kind of continue to explore whether in classes or outside classes. The nice thing about the era that we're living in, is that you could try new things very quickly. And you can what we call in startup terminology, fail fast, right? So, you can fail fast. But you don't have to worry about it. Because you can, you know, pick yourself up again and try something else.

And there is so much out there in terms of building blocks. Okay, so I think the technology has evolved, that it's more like Lego now. So, if you're interested in machine learning, and AI, there's so much software that you don't necessarily have to be an AI expert or a math whiz, to be able to write AI algorithms. Many of those are already out there. Entire networks, CNN convolutional neural networks, for example, are already out there to do some facial recognition. So, I can actually have a student, you know, come in and use that code already, and create a facial recognition software. So, imagine how would that enable innovation. So, the facial recognition part could be just a small piece of a larger innovation that solves a particular problem. So that's what I mean by building blocks. And I use facial recognition because I know very well that 10-15 years ago, this was entirely out of reach of the mainstream, you have to really have huge resources to come up with such applications that are meaningful and useful. Now you can get those off the shelf, plug them with other stuff, and create some new things.

The bar is kind of lower now, in terms of what you can do, or what one could do with technology. I think the challenge is the mindset. That's why I'm always intrigued with this notion of design thinking and other approaches that would stimulate creativity and innovation. Because if you can come up with the right idea, the technology is a good chance is there or the building blocks of that is there. There's certainly work that is still going on and will continue to go on. That's really the engine of innovation is to develop those technologies. But the availability and access to it are really very different than they used to be.

Jen Burris:

A very exciting and fascinating topic. Well, I want to thank you for being our guest today. Omar. Thank you to Our Podcast Producer, Xander Morrison, and thank you for listening. If you enjoyed the podcast, please subscribe and rate. Thank you.

Jen Burris:

Welcome back to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast about all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris and Gabe is out today. So I brought a guest co-host with me, Jena Martin.

Jena Martin:

Hello, everyone.

Jen Burris:

I'm excited to have you on here and help me interview our guest today, Cody Welu. He's Assistant Professor of Computer and cyber sciences in The Beacom College and today we're going to be talking about defensive security. So, Cody, why don't you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Cody Welu:

Sure. Yeah. So, as you said, my name is Cody Welu, I'm an assistant professor in the Beacom College. I've taught all sorts of classes over my years here, I think I just hit my nine-year anniversary, overall working at DSU. So been around for a little bit, but actually took some classes at DSU here, back in the day for a couple different degrees, and glad to be back here on campus teaching again. I kind of teach everywhere in defensive security, Windows administration, and a little programming here and there. Pretty good.

Jena Martin:

Cody, can you tell us what is defensive security?

Cody Welu:

Sure. So defensive security is a super broad area, it really can encompass everything that you would think of when you think of security, computer security if it doesn't have an offensive spin to it. It could be vulnerability analysis, that's a big component of it, finding vulnerabilities in software, looking at malware, doing malware analysis really could fall under defensive security, umbrella. Forensics, threat hunting, defensive cyber operations, the list really kind of goes on and on. But all of it has this goal of protecting whatever systems it is we're talking about whatever information systems there are, whether it be from a proactive standpoint, or even a reactive standpoint, if we detect there's something wrong or there's an intruder, and we have to go in and kind of mitigate anything that's going on that way, but a really, really broad area, all with the goal of making things more secure.

Jen Burris:

And so how does that differ from offensive security? Then how do you kind of explain the difference between the two?

Cody Welu:

Sure, so offensive security and defensive security, we really have the same goal. In the end, making things more secure. It's just how we go about doing it is very different kind of on the offensive side, a lot of what we do there is we actually break into systems and prove that something as vulnerable shows the impacts of something. And that's one of the key portions of the offensive side is actually proving that something could happen. From a defensive side, it doesn't include that proof necessarily. But a lot of times when we're doing defensive assessments, whether it be for vulnerabilities looking for vulnerabilities, looking for misconfigurations, things like that, we probably have a broader view over an entire system if we are credentialed. So we have access to the systems and we look from the inside, whereas a lot of times offensive security starts on the outside and making their way in, really working together getting to the bottom of any issues in any systems.

Jena Martin:

Do you think I'm less likely to have issues since I keep all my passwords on post-it notes under my keyboard?

Cody Welu:

Probably not. (laughter) Never would recommend that.

Jena Martin:

Well, can you tell me what are some of the practices that you guys do for defensive security?

Cody Welu:

As I mentioned before, it's a super broad field, right? So, we can take it in a lot of different ways. I think a big portion of defensive security, or at least traditionally has been more of the vulnerability management side. So, when there's a software vulnerability out there that the world knows about maybe one of those big things you hear in the news, are we vulnerable to that? Do we have systems that actually are affected by this software security flaw? And then can we patch that? Do we need to do any specific updates on our servers on our systems, things like that, go to the vulnerability management side, that's a big piece to it. I like to personally play more on the monitoring side of defensive security, somewhat of a proactive which can turn into a reactive side of defensive cybersecurity, but watching what's happening on networks, what's happening on computers, can we find things that are different things that are maybe not as they should be, that could lead to exploitation or anything kind of along those lines, intrusion detection looking for that preventing intrusions which then can get into incident response, if there ever is something found that's not so good, never an area we'd like to get into. But we have to be prepared. If there are any active intrusions or things going on, and I guess really all that kind of can encompass within defensive cybersecurity tools wise, there's a bunch all sorts of different tools and all of those different areas are from free open-source tools for vulnerability management to log analysis and kind of things along those lines. And it's a broad, broad place.

Jena Martin:

Sure, since you were talking about vulnerabilities, how do you fix them, once you discover you have a vulnerable area.

Cody Welu:

So that really depends on the vulnerability, I’ll categorize vulnerabilities into a couple of different ways. One being a software vulnerability. So, a software manufacturer, maybe Microsoft just made an error in Windows in some of the software that someone was able to exploit. It's all sorts of different vulnerabilities and things that can be exploited in software. That way, how we fix those are probably just installing updates. So if you ever

Jena Martin:

That simple, it can't be! (laughter)

Cody Welu:

On somewhere in your line. Yeah, I mean, if you ever see those little pop-ups, hey, you need to restart Windows to install updates, do it. It's, it's annoying. And hopefully, Windows isn't shutting down for you. But it's important to install those patches. And at an enterprise level, sometimes that's hard to do. If a patch might break something else in some old system or process or those types of vulnerabilities, they're hopefully easy to patch if there is a fix that Microsoft would publish in that example. So other types of vulnerabilities could be misconfiguration vulnerabilities. So if you have a file share, or maybe a SharePoint site or something like that, for example, that was configured so that anyone could get to your files, just bad permissions is really all that one would be. That type of vulnerability is just changing permissions, right? But identifying that vulnerability exists is absolutely the first step. Once you find it, it's just changing it whatever that might be. If there's maybe an issue in a firewall configuration, where you're letting through too much network traffic, or allowing attackers or anyone really access to something they shouldn't have access to. It's almost as simple as just closing up that hole.

Jen Burris:

And you talked about kind of monitoring things and keeping up to date with what's going on. So first off, how do you keep up with all the monitoring? And then additionally, what do you do when you hear about new security issues?

Jena Martin:

Jen, I would assume he doesn't sleep at night to monitor all of this right, Cody?

Cody Welu:

Sleep is important. We'll try. It's a busy, busy kind of industry in a busy field. So I guess I'd say keeping up on all that monitoring. Yeah, it's difficult. It will keep some folks up at night. Staying on top of the latest vulnerabilities is absolutely a task in and of itself. There are tools out there that help you look for vulnerabilities that can help you scan your systems for known vulnerabilities. I think last year, in 2021, there were over 20,000 Sound vulnerabilities published, made known the world knows about them, we know how to look for them, our tools know how to look for them. So we can do that. And it becomes kind of mind-boggling how many issues there can be this kind of continuous monitoring going along that track looking for unknown, it's super hard. I mean, having good tooling, good staff can have good people in a security operation center. If you're an organization that's large enough to have one of those or can have one of those managed security service providers working for you do that constant monitoring, it's hard. It's absolutely a round-the-clock job if you really need to stay on top of things if you've got a really, really secure environment that needs to stay. So it's a lot of work. And I think it's really exciting to especially find those unknown things are known vulnerabilities, you find something new and you've kind of got a puzzle to figure out.

Jen Burris:

And so you're also an adviser to some clubs and/or teams on campus, is that correct?

Cody Welu:

Yeah. Yeah. I'm the faculty advisor for our defensive cybersecurity Club, which is a club that falls under the computer club. So we get a lot of students involved in there, kind of get into some of the competitions and things there. It's in our defensive cybersecurity club. Our students meet weekly, they're always talking about some topic as it relates to defensive cybersecurity or systems administration, largely preparing to not only compete in some competitions, collegiate level competitions on the subject, but really just preparing themselves for the real world to a lot of the stuff is is very applicable. Some of the competitions that we'll compete in include the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, and actually, I just came from working on setting up kind of a practice environment for our CCDC team this year. So we're gonna do some practice with them and a couple of weeks preparing for the regional and hopefully the national event where their job is to secure a network of computers looking at a network of 810 1220 different computers that they are tasked with defending from an active Red Team. Okay, I think a fun part of these claims. upset and being a student get them to participate in there, especially when we get to regional events and possibly even national events. They're going up against a really good red team of professional red. Oh, wow. So offensive security for a living.

Jen Burris:

So they're getting that intense experience.

Cody Welu:

Absolutely.

Jen Burris:

That they can take out then once they've graduated into their careers.

Cody Welu:

Yep, that's exactly right. I actually had the opportunity to participate in one of those teams when I was an undergraduate student and that experience, I mean, not only having CCDC on a resume but actually having that practical hands-on experience of getting to defend a network from live attacks was absolutely invaluable for future jobs.

Jena Martin:

Tell us a little bit more about the competitions? Like is it all I'm assuming remote people all over the world? All over the United States? Maybe? Or?

Cody Welu:

Yeah, it really kind of depends on the competition, the CCDC? I'll use that one as I guess the first example, traditionally, that one does take place all over the country. I think they have eight, nine, I think nine regions. So, they'll be nine regional competitions throughout the country participating in and out large region this year, which will end up being virtual. Obviously, over the past few years, a competition was virtual altogether with COVID and everything. But hopefully, they'll do well at the regional competition and have the opportunity to travel to Orlando, Florida this year for a national competition. That's the whole point guys

Jena Martin:

Do you guys gather as a club on campus here and do this, like you have one designated room that allows you to hold your competitions and yeah, more or less with eSports on that type of thing, or are you completely separate?

Cody Welu:

At this point, kind of completely separate. Yeah, yep, we'll team up more often than not with other computer clubs, like the offensive security club or offset club, I can call it for short, we've absolutely got spaces on campus for our students to meet all the time when they're meeting weekly. Typically, in a classroom, when we have our practice competitions, we'll get the offset club together in a room, some of their members to be the red team. And they get to practice their offensive skills. Well, our defenders are in another room on campus, practicing their defensive skills and defending those systems against attacks. That's the CCDC side of things. We've also traveled to Chicago in the past for the Department of Energy's cyber force competition has a very similar flavor to CCDC, where we're defending a network from attacks, but with the Department of Energy, they're often putting some sort of spin that's relevant to them. So critical infrastructure or water pumps, and kind of a SCADA system, those types of really critical systems on those networks. So it's always a fun little flavor of things. And traveling with students is kind of fun too.

Jena Martin:

How does the club normally finish in those competitions fairly well?

Cody Welu:

Yeah, I've been super happy with how DSU finishes overall, most of the competitions were absolutely in the top. I don't know, 10%, I'd say on average, and the best we've ever done at CCDC was a second-place finish nationally. And we've won regional events quite a bit over the years. So

Jen Burris:

Are you competing with a lot bigger schools at those national events too?

Cody Welu:

Absolutely, absolutely. Probably our biggest competition that we like to say in CCDC, in particular, is UCF they're like they played D1 sports very, very, very big school. And I mean, a lot of the other schools at a lot of their competitions. Yeah, they’re your D1 type schools and they, some of them have a presence and, and we're right up there with them, if not better, it's exciting

Jen Burris:

So how do you go about advising your students to some of that start in the classroom with the teaching? Or is there a certain method that you take with your students?

Cody Welu:

I would say that's accurate; it does start in the classroom. And a lot of the stuff can stem from the classrooms, I do teach our undergraduate defensive security class. So, some of the topics and some of the concepts that we cover in that class, we'll make our way into what our club does. And a lot of what we do in the club, honestly, even is more on the systems administration side. So, in some of those classes, I teach our windows administration class. So again, some of those same kinds of topics go over there, but really, I am a big fan of empowering the students to kind of lead and be their best are clubs are run by students. They're really made for students and were there to advise, absolutely. And I kind of like to take that role too. They'll come to me for advice like what if, what are some other topics we could cover? Or could you help us make practice scenarios or things like that and absolutely excited to do that and advise them on that. But I'm also really happy that our students are awesome and take the charge and kind of leading their clubs from a week-to-week basis.

Jen Burris:

What's it like coming up with practice scenarios for them?

Cody Welu:

It's (pause) (laughter)

Jen Burris:

I'm curious.

Cody Welu:

It's an adventure, I'll say it's challenging to an extent to after you do a number of them coming up with something news is kind of hard. But it's with a lot of these scenarios that will first come up with some sort of a business. So the one I'm practicing with right now we're playing with, we're still working on setting it up, I'll say, is a kind of shipping or logistics company. So then what types of websites, what types of applications what types of servers might a logistics company have? So then we're charged with trying to set that up, configuring a network that looks kind of real, actually. So we've got websites, we've got emails, we've got maybe an E-commerce application where people would order shipping services or something like that. And actually setting that up in our, what's called our AI lab, in a big secure big computer, virtual computing infrastructure, we'll say, and setting that up in that environment, and then eventually unleashing the students on it, it’s fun.

Jen Burris:

That sounds like it takes a long time

Cody Welu:

It super does, super does.

Jena Martin:

You're gonna unleash the students on that to see if they can hack in and reroute a package maybe? is that like the

Cody Welu:

Kind of both sides do it my goal is more defensive focused. Right? So stop that from happening, I'll introduce some vulnerabilities into the system. I mean, there'll be probably the easiest and quickest vulnerability to find and hopefully fix is just a default password. Use the same password a bad password on every system, every website, every application will have the students need to go in and fix that. So it is real world too. People do that. And devices ship with default passwords. So there's that defensive side of it. But at the same time, we do have an active Red team. So yeah, if the one of their goals could be to reroute a package, absolutely. Or we're looking at maybe adding a shipping component. So we've got ships that they need to reroute, possibly as the attackers or steal customer information, like credit cards and things like that, you know, having both sides go against each other to practice that way. It's like it's super fun.

Jena Martin:

Do you ever have them try to hack our passwords on campus here?

Cody Welu:

No. (Laughter)

Jena Martin:

It's 1234 in case you’re wondering.

Cody Welu: I hope not.

Jena Martin:

Just kidding.

Cody Welu:

Absolutely, no, no. One of the first things we talked about in our kind of intro to cybersecurity classes is the legal and ethics side of things. If you have permission, it might be okay. But we can't give them permission to hack your password.

Jena Martin:

Probably a good conversation to have. That's always still these kids when I come across some of them. I'm not a techy person by any means. So, if you know me, you're probably like, oh, dear Lord. But I still don't even try to hack my bank account. There's only $100 in it. So don't try it. (laughter)

Jena Martin:

Tell us a little bit about what it feels like when you watch these kids succeed. Whether it be through the club activity or classroom aspect, you have to feel just an overwhelming amount of pride when you watch them.

Cody Welu:

Absolutely. That's absolutely correct. Pride is a good word for it. I'm, I'm excited for the students always when they do well, in a competition. I mean, winning prizes and getting to go somewhere to travel to a national competition is of course fun and everything, but they've just got the experience, even if they wouldn't do well, in a competition, getting the experience of doing the stuff is absolutely a huge win. For the real world. Being successful in these competitions is absolutely awesome to see seeing our students land successful jobs, and hopefully eventually come back to us and say hi, once they're out in the real world in the workforce, that's absolutely awesome. One of the best parts of the job.

Jen Burris:

What kind of career paths can students take out of defensive security?

Cody Welu:

Ohh.

Jena Martin:

Good question.

Cody Welu:

All over, all over. Again, with a defensive security kind of being such a wide umbrella. You can go just as many places right now just as many types of jobs from hardcore malware analysis to vulnerability researcher exploits research for maybe governments things like that to working in a security operation center, being a sock analyst. So, we're doing some of that monitoring stuff I talked about earlier, looking for intrusions, looking for active bad guys moving around and those types of things. We could look to systems administration, our systems administration type degree called network and security administration is super well baked in security, we've got security in and out of it. So where are you take that? Really becoming a pretty well-rounded student out of some of our degree programs and just in the defensive security world in general is kinda limitless, actually.

Jen Burris:

That's very impressive. What do you see for the future of the cybersecurity industry and specifically defensive security?

Cody Welu:

The future? I guess I'd say the industry is changing. The industry is always changing. It's kind of one of the things I like to say about security, in general, it's super a cat and mouse game, it's the attackers trying to break in and defenders finding a way to stop them finding a way to detect them. So, we know when someone's breaking in and well, then they're gonna find a different way to break-in, it's just back and forth, and back and forth. So as technologies change, as we have more and more devices that are connected to networks connected to the internet, have all sorts of different information on them. The way we look at those devices, secure those devices, and monitor those devices for any malicious activity is always going to be changing is to constantly evolve, an evolving field and that's something that I think is super challenging and exciting at the same time.

Jen Burris:

Any other questions from you, Jena?

Jena Martin:

Not that I can think of right now I'm letting you off easy, just I have to say I'm very impressed. You know, not only are you a really good professor here on campus, you take wonderful photography at all the sporting events, so I, you know, you're just a man of many skills. And then you do your Christmas and light show, which is phenomenal. I think you should try to hack that. Maybe I'll sit out there and try to hack that. (Laughter) You're pretty safe in case you're wondering.

Cody Welu:

Well, thank you,

Jena Martin:

But I can't think of any questions right now. How about you, Jen?

Jen Burris:

I guess if you want to mention anything about your outside interests, like the light show

Cody Welu:

I think it's important to have interests outside of exactly what you do for work but I I've always liked Christmas lights and I put a technology spin on it, you know, kind of in the kind of tech and networking and cyber background and I like to play with kind of a Christmas light show and to do a Halloween light show as well out of my place called Mad lights. So, it's it keeps me busy outside of work.

Jen Burris:

I can only imagine. Okay, well. Thank you for being a guest today, Cody, and thank you to Our Podcast Producer Xander Morrison. And thank you for listening to cyber ology. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider taking a moment of your time to subscribe.

Jen Burris:

Welcome back to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast about all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris

Gabe Mydland:

I'm Gabe Myland.

Jen Burris:

And today we have Kari Hall with us to talk about exercise science. Kari, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Kari Hall:

Hello, friends. I'm Kari. And I've been at DSU for five years teaching exercise science, and I'm working on a Ph.D. in health and human performance. And I teach most of the upper-level exercise science courses here at DSU.

Jen Burris:

Why don't we start with you just talking a little bit about what Exercise Science is?

Kari Hall:

So, it's a science exactly what it sounds like, we go in and we look at the human body, and how it's affected by exercise. So, first, we teach the structure of the human body. We have students taking anatomy classes, things like that, and biology and chemistries. And then when they get into their upper-level courses, we get more specific with the exercise piece of it. So, we will apply exercise to the human body, whether it's strength, endurance, or cardiovascular running type of things. And then we look from a cellular level all the way up to an organ level to the whole body and see how it affects different systems of the body and the benefits of it, as well as kind of what might be some of the things that hold us back.

The other part, actually, science too, is that because it's physical activity, we also look at it from a healthcare perspective, as far as what can physical activity do to enhance people's lives help with like, living more independently for a longer time. So, you know, if you think about older adulthood, we have folks living up into their mid-70s. And a lot of folks lose independence in those years. One of the things we really focus on is prevention, through exercise, and nutrition, of course, as well. So, when you think about how do we promote that, how do we get people to buy in and do exercise all the way through the lifespan? And so that starts out of course, with our PE teachers. In the College of Education, when we have PE teachers coming into our exercise classes, we talk about, what are some of the skills you can give kiddos? So when they turn 18, when they go out on their own, what can they keep with them as they go through life, whether it's team sports or individual things? And then how can we keep that buy-in into the older adults so that they have the opportunity to have an independent lifestyle because we know exercise and good nutrition are linked to more independent lifestyle, healthier lifestyle, fewer risk factors, fewer chronic illnesses, which is the big thing we're dealing with. Now. Cardiovascular disease, cancer, and unintentional accidents are like the top three killers at this point. And physical activity has something to do with all three of those as far as benefit goes,

Jen Burris:

Wow, that's a lot.

Kari Hall:

Sorry.  (Laughter)

Jen Burris

No, it's a lot of information. And it kind of highlights how expansive the field is.

Kari Hall:

Yeah, there's something for everyone with exercise science. And it's a cool major too, because if you're in the health sciences, and you're into science, in general, into research, usually you can find something. When we teach our incoming freshmen, we teach them about the 12 sub-disciplines of Kinesiology as well just called. We have sports medicine, we have biomechanics, we have kinesiology, we have x Phys, we have sports psychology, that's actually become pretty popular lately, we've had a few students go on in their master's degrees to that. The idea is that it's just a really big major where you can kind of go in and find a niche that you like, and you can get a job there.

Jen Burris:

In talking about all these different areas, and research and study, what kind of technology is involved in that?

Kari Hall:

Oh, anything you like nowadays? Really? I mean, you can get, like smart socks that will track.

Jen Burris:

What do they track?

Kari Hall:

They do your steps. Yeah, you can get a smart water bottle that tells you how much water you're drinking per day. It's everywhere. The biggest ones, of course, are the wearables, the new smartwatches, Fitbits, all of that. And those are pretty handy. But those industries making that technology are doing very, very well. A lot of people have smartwatches that can tell them everything from how much sleep they've gotten to their blood pressure to heart rate to how many steps they've taken per day, and you can take phone calls on them to show so kind of wearable stuff is really popular right now.

But there's other technology out there too, that we use a kind of in the lab, I guess. The neuro tracker is the easy one for me to talk about. That kind of technology is more fixed in a lab where you can bring people in and do some research with it or if you want to use it in a clinical type of setting. You can also bring people on board and have them try it out. So the NeuroTracker, I can kind of explain that briefly. It's multiple object tracking, what happens is a person goes in there, and there's a big TV screen, and they put on three-dimensional glasses, so the blue and red glasses, and they stand there. And what happens is, there are eight balls, and then they'll see these eight balls in three-dimensional space. And they memorize which balls they're supposed to track, once they get done with the timer. It's like eight seconds, or 20 seconds, whatever the setting is, for the particular person, they do that over a series of about four hours, not in one sitting, but over time. So, over several weeks, they'll go through about four hours’ worth of training. And what the idea is, is that the perceptual-cognitive type of stuff is supposed to improve. When you think about physical activity, team sports, and getting a competitive edge, this is now kind of a cognitive thing to help train the brain, essentially, to improve their sports performance. You see a lot of professional sports, I think like the Atlanta Falcons use it. There are some places over in Europe that use it for professional rugby, soccer, in the sports world, and sports performance, we're always looking to gain a competitive edge, right? An Olympic sprinter needs to cut point 01 seconds off. And that's going to be the difference between a golden silver or not meddling at all. What can we do? Well, we're starting to figure out all of these different areas that maybe we could touch on that could help people gain a competitive edge.

Speaking of physical performance, we have a ton of tools, we're using already three-dimensional motion, we put people up in front of a video camera with these little discs on every part of their joint. And what that does is the camera will take in what that person's doing, maybe it's a layup, maybe it's coming out of the blocks in a sprint. And that we'll record them put it up into software and turn them into a skeleton. And we can watch what their joints are doing and see where maybe they need to make improvements in their technique.

Jen Burris:

I would have loved that in high school.

Kari Hall:

It's really cool. It's really cool. We don't I don't have that technology yet. But someday.

Gabe Mydland:

Maybe I could learn how to do a left-handed layup.

Kari Hall:

Yes, you could. Yeah. So we have, you know, kind of this new cognitive side that we've been looking at. And the studies are starting to be published with that. But we also have, you know, the physical activity stuff that we've been working on for a really long time. And we can fine-tune things to get those kinds of advantages. So when it comes to sports performance, things like that, there's a lot of really cool stuff out that we can use. But for the average user, for someone who just wants to watch their fitness, make sure that they're getting their 150 minutes of exercise in per week. The wearable seems to be the big, hot button right now.

Jen Burris:

Any thoughts you have so far Gabe?

Gabe Mydland:

Well, some of the things that you were talking about, I have a 99-year-old father, he and his wife live in a rest home in Brookings, and I've noticed, my father seems to be pretty active physically, he's able to get around, okay, and things like that. But some of the other residents, when they lose their mobility, it seems like that's almost the beginning. And I hate to put it this way, the beginning of the end, that when they lose that, that ability to move, it seems to affect every other dimension of their life. Is that just my observation? Or I see you kind of nodding in agreement,

Kari Hall:

independence is so important, right? And you could probably speak to this from the psychological perspective of what happens when we lose our driver's license. What happens when we can't drive anymore, psychologically, you lose your means to get around, to see your friends, socialize, things like that. But we want to keep people as independent as possible for as long as possible. We want to keep people in their homes for as long as possible. So here's why physical activities are important. Let's make sure you can get your groceries through the door. You know, can you hold two bags of groceries? Can you walk up the three steps to get into the house? Can you use the restroom? Can you sit to stand as a big one? Sitting to stand is something we don't even think about at our age, but in older adulthood, it becomes hard. So when you get to the point where you're in long-term care facilities, and what little you have remaining of your independence that might be physical, like walking is important. Right?

Gabe Mydland:

Sure.

Kari Hall:

 You can walk in, you can go to different places, you can go visit your friends, you can get up from the dinner table when you're sitting in a bed most of the day, or if you're your wheelchair user, that's a kind of a point where you realize how much you've lost.

Gabe Mydland:

Yeah, there are fewer options or alternatives from which you can choose. I'd never really thought of it before. But what you're saying is seems to be critical for overall health, not just physical health.

Kari Hall:

And I look at older adults, just I mean, that's kind of where I have my research based at right now is with that population. When you think about rural people like us, the other Part of that loss of independence is what kind of healthcare Do you have around? Even if you're not in a long-term care facility if you're still homebound, what happens when you fall? That's another thing that you know, is kind of emerging health side of things is telehealth. And sometimes those wearables are able to make phone calls, like 911. Or if you need to, all of a sudden, you know, maybe you're diabetic and you watch your blood pressure or your blood sugar blood. Yeah, or blood pressure. I mean, I

Jen Burris:

 I suppose they both factor in, right.

 

Kari Hall:

But I mean, that can be a helpful thing for older adults, too. Right? It can be a way to keep yourself safe. Back in the day, when we didn't have those technologies, people felt they you know, if they didn't have the little necklace button that you could push

Jen Burris:

 Life Alert.

Gabe Mydland:

I can't get up.

Kari Hall:

Yeah, so there's a lot of good benefits to some of that wearable technology, especially when you talk about older adults and losing independence, it's nice to be able to know that you have something right in front of you that you can, hey, I fell, I think I broke my hip, I'm going to call 911. That's pretty cool. And so, folks who are in rural areas, too, I guess I'm kind of going away from that. But my point there was when they're in those rural settings, and there isn't a lot of help around, how are you going to connect contact people? How are you going to connect with people? Well, if you, you know if you can afford it, which is one other thing, but if you can afford it, or if you have the means to be able to reach somebody and communicate with them. I think that's an important example of, you know when you live far away, and you know, you're not right across the street from Avera Health there Sanford Health, right. It's, it's different.

Gabe Mydland:

So, you've talked a lot about the technology that we have available to us now, which has been very helpful in assisting people in modifying maybe some of the things that they do, what's coming up that you're hearing about that you're excited about?

Kari Hall:

You know, honestly, it's kind of just all of this wearable stuff that I've been talking about. It's just that people are getting creative with it now. Like, we have the technology, and we can do it, what can we do you know what I mean? So, some of the stuff we didn't have in human performance before. You know, maybe in the last decade, we've had it, I'd have to go back and do my history lesson here. But there are wearable suits now that you can use that will track your bio mechanicals. So, you can put a whole suit on. Yeah. So go to Google, or go to YouTube, and type in ESPN Sports Science Institute. And then look up the Lion King. So, the Lion King went on to a musical theater. Yes, thing, right. So, what they did is they took their performers, and they put these biomechanical suits on them, they like scuba suits. They're like, pull black with like, you know, and then they got the tech inside of them. And these people go, and they dance, and they do their routines and all this stuff. And that suit pops it into a software program, and uploads it onto a computer. And you can see how fast they twirl how many seconds they are off the ground. There are so many metrics, velocity, and torque, it's just it's crazy what we can do. So, I think that's probably the exciting stuff, to me is the wearable stuff that I know I'm talking up a lot. The only thing people want to maybe be careful about is that sometimes we can become over-invested with wearable technology, where we're constantly checking our iPhone, or I watch Apple Watch. Yeah, yeah, or a Fitbit or whatever. So sometimes people get really, you know, reliant upon it, to the point where maybe it's an issue, but I don't think I've ever really seen it that way. But I just know that that's one thing that's gotten brought up in the past,

Jen Burris:

Maybe a little health anxiety from constantly checking their numbers.

Kari Hall:

Yes. You said that much quicker and better than I did.

Jen Burris:

What is the benefit of all of these things to everyday society?

Well, there's a lot of benefits. And I think we've talked about a little bit of that, especially with our older adults, we are notoriously not a very healthy country around the world. It's not great, right? If I go up to a group of people, you know, maybe they're a bunch of, you know, a walk into some sort of business. I can go up to every single personnel quiz them and say, how much exercise should we get a week for health benefits? How many of those people do you think actually know the answer to that? Not many, I would guess so enough. 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. What's moderate-intensity exercise? Second question, I'd probably ask them.

Gabe Mydland:

Would that be related to your heart rate, elevated heart rate, elevated heart rate 70%,

Kari Hall:

Elevated heart rate 60-70% about 60% of your maximal heart rate, right. The hard part is giving people that literacy, the health literacy that they need, so they understand why they would do something like that. Right. The other hard part is the motivation. There are a lot of folks out there I can't remember the exact percentage, but it's very high. There's a lot of folks out there who do not meet their needs of that 150 minutes per week, which can be cut into 30 minutes, five days a week, which is what people usually tell you to do. Right? Well, that's the reason we tell you that is because that's where the health benefits are. You do that much per week. You're going to get the health benefit out of it. That's different than the fitness and performance stuff.  Fitness and performance, you got a whole different schedule that you're on.

Gabe Mydland:

And a different set of goals.

Kari Hall:

Yes. Right. But if we're just talking about getting the public generally healthy health literacy is, is the issue. So, when you have wearable technology, and you know, your little app might open up and say, hey, today, let's try and get x amount of work done. Why is this important? That type of thing? I think those little wearables and things like that can help with that, you know what I mean? So, a person may wear something like that and be able to say, okay, well, at least I don't have to think about it because my phone is going to think about it or my watch is going to think about it, or whatever. I'm using technology-wise, our phones have health apps on them now that are pretty much built-in, right, you get your iPhone, there's health. So, I think it takes off some of the extra stuff people might have to learn or do. And it's just convenient. I think convenience is probably a pretty big help with what we do. So yeah, motivation-wise. Okay, well, I'm going to invest in this particular app, and they're not cheap, right? So, you'd hope that if you're making that investment, that would be something that would be of benefit to you. And then on top of that the technology and the information it gives you is going to help you kind of learn a little bit more about what do I need to know about why I'm doing this? So how do we get our country as a whole to be healthier, I always talk when I talk with my 180 students about this, like, here are all the problems we face as a society when it comes to health, we know that we have moved on from dying from things like smallpox, and now we're dying from things like cancer and heart disease. Okay, so Wearable technology is one easy way for you to say, oh, this week, I got this much done. Well, I know I need X amount here. And this is what my doctors told me. So now next week, I'm going to try again, it's just an easy way for people to kind of keep track of things, which I think is a barrier. And so that kind of takes that away, what we talked about with the older adults, I think there's benefits there. And you know, with younger generations, I really don't know if I can speak to that if there's a whole lot of benefit to little kids wearing, you know, and I don't know what age range or you know, if it's high school, or what, but I think there's probably some sort of benefit there. For me as a mom, it probably is because I could watch where they're at. Which is not really physical activity-related. But

Gabe Mydland:

Relieves your stress

Kari Hall:

It does relieve my stress. So that would be a benefit to me. But I really can't speak to the kiddos and what might benefit them with that. But it's just neat to see how we can do all of these things now with you know, something that's two inches by two inches, and you can slap it around your wrist and go. So the benefits Yeah, I think the benefits are there. The negative stuff, I kind of mentioned, you know, the anxiety of always checking, we go one extreme or the other. But I think there's far more beneficial to a lot of this stuff, than there isn't, and it gives people other options to be healthy. I mentioned the water bottle earlier where you know, you can drink this water, and then it kind of marks it for you with these little lights. And it's like if your goal is to drink more water during the day because you're not getting enough water, then sure if that's what's going to help you go for it. You know, some of my students just carry around a gallon jug,

Gabe Mydland:

They do, I see a lot of kids across campus.

Kari Hall:

and that's like, yeah, and that's fine, too. But you know, for some people, the technology is what kind of gets them going

Jen Burris:

gives them something pretty to look at while they're swigging water,

Kari Hall:

sweating or chugging water.

Jen Burris:

And when you're talking about all these wearables and the benefits, we as a society kind of have a very sedentary lifestyle. And our jobs play into that. And these wearables can kind of tell us to get up and move every so often, they'll shoot a reminder to you that says, hey, you've been sitting at your desk for the last hour, can you do a couple 100 steps for me? How do we get that into kind of our culture?

Kari Hall:

Well, hopefully, this is kind of one of the keys to that. It's popular in their huge sales on these things. So, I think that says something about our society. I always just go back to health literacy, though, you know, I think a lot of us go to college and we major in what we major in and actually science, we know everything about what you need to be doing. But if we go to the College of Business, do you know everything that we know, you don't. And so, I think it's on our people who are in this industry, to promote those things as best as they can. And you know, one person isn't going to fix the entire country. But when we get our students and we get them out the door, we remind them, hey, you're going to impact some people. You're working directly with people, and you are going to be the voice for them the voice of reason that says hey, here's why you're going to do strength training with your cardio. Here's why it's important to keep your flexibility so that you can move normally so that you Don't start having problems and issues. Here are the rates for folks who work out versus folks who don't when it comes to cancer, death, and cardiovascular death.

Gabe Mydland:

It is too bad that we're kind of a reactive society too, that something happens before we start taking the steps to take good care of ourselves rather than being active. I don't believe there is such a word as proactive. I think it's being active. Instead of waiting for that calamity. And then, okay, boy, I do need to take this a lot more seriously, because this can happen, and did happen to me or someone I love. But that's such a challenge, though, because so many we don't start off in the right ways. We have to make adjustments and we are more comfortable with things that we're familiar with and something new or something different.

Kari Hall:

Well, it’s scary to true fear is a…

Gabe Mydland:

Great motivator.

Kari Hall:

 Yes, it is. Yeah, fear is a motivator. That's the idea, though. And I think that goes back to your question is, alright, we know sales are up in this industry, you know, it'd be nice to make them readily available to people who aren't at a socio-economic status where they could afford such a thing. And maybe we'll get there. One of the other things we talked about is exercise as medicine. And that's an initiative that started not too long ago, I should say, where the American College of Sports Medicine has been working on, you know, this is why we should be including exercise as a medical treatment option. How cool would it be someday for us to have a doctor prescribe an insurance company cover time with a personal trainer? You know what I mean?

Gabe Mydland:

Right.

Kari Hall:

 We do that with cardiac events when someone's already had the event.

Gabe Mydland:

After the event, right? Yeah, we're really good.

Jen Burris:

But how much could we prevent if we prescribed that?

Kari Hall:

So now we're in the realm of health promotion and disease prevention. And that's a very interesting industry. There's a lot of smart people with a lot of really good ideas. But how do we get them out there? So right now, what's working? Right now? It's working our wearables on your phone. You know, it seems like people like that. Okay, so then what can that do for those folks? And what can we do to help them kind of adhere to exercise long term and know that benefits of it reducing cardiovascular events, cancers, and accidents, which when I'm talking accidents, I'm typically talking about falls, and falls will kill people, there is a high percentage of folks the first time they fracture their hip within that first year, their mortality rate goes up. And so those are kind of the three areas right now, where we're really trying to combat things that in obesity, but that leads back to cardiac and cancer. I think we use what we know is working right now. And we try to get people to buy in that way to do the exercise, exercise as medicine. That would be something cool and emerging. From your question earlier.

Gabe Mydland:

Yeah, kind of the wellness aspect?

Kari Hall:

Yeah. How can we make that work for folks?

Gabe Mydland:

I think I remember, I'm old enough that when you had just the simple pedometer that measured the number of steps you took, was pretty pricey. Now, it's kind of an impulse item, as you checked out, you can buy one for 1099. And maybe it'll take a while for, say, an Apple Watch, a Garmin device, or a Fitbit. But eventually, as it becomes more and more produced. There'll be closer to the affordable range for most of us.

Kari Hall:

Yeah, and you know, some of them right now aren't so bad. Yeah, some of them, they're the knockoff brands or whatever. But some of them are, you can get at a cheaper rate. But yeah, I see a Richie saying that when they first came out, they were wildly expensive. Now we are seeing some of those knockoff brands, Oh, yeah. Lesser in costs. So that would be nice. You know, always, one of the things we teach our students to is, you know, exercise and physical activities for all and if there's a barrier in the way that might be financial, that might be accessibility. How do we knock that barrier down? When you think about inner-city, children, who have parks that they could play in, you know, kids need an hour a day of activity, but those parks aren't safe for whatever reason, needles, predators, whatever. Well, that's a barrier, you know, so when we think about how we're going to fix some of these long-term issues that we see childhood, obesity, cancer, cardiac, all that, we got to think about, you know, what are the social determinants of health that we need to address as well? And, you know, technology will have its place in there somehow. I am not an expert in those areas, but I'm sure that we are using technology or we're going to develop something someday that helps with that.

Jen Burris:

Stepping away from the wearables. As Gabe mentioned, kind of the pedometer was an early adaptation. What are some other like, inexpensive things that people can do when thinking about their exercise plan, or trying to improve upon their health?

Kari Hall:

So, we all you know, the COVID. Here comes the COVID talk, but if we're going to look at any silver linings, home health, home exercise has been a huge thing lately, when we couldn't go to the gym safely, or when the gyms were closed, you got YouTube. There's a lot of at-home stuff that you can do. bodyweight exercises are so, so easy and so free, is just how do they do? Right? How do I do a bodyweight exercise? Again, that goes back to health literacy. Right? Well, if you can find a reliable person on YouTube, and you can kind of, you know, vet what you're going through because you know, you don't want to be working out with some, you know, someone that someone not experienced, who's just doing stuff. There's a method behind our madness and the exercise science world, that's why we take science classes. But home stuff is important. And I've seen a lot of home technology too. Like we all know, the peloton bike commercials, right? Those have gone viral and all that but, and I know again, that's an affordability thing. But there are mirrors now that you can get where you can see your own reflection, but then they do the workout with you.

Jen Burris:

Those fascinate me.

Kari Hall:

They’re cool.

Jen Burris:

it's just so crazy to be like, oh, there's a trainer that's helping you Well, yeah. Virtually, yes.

Kari Hall:

Yeah. But you know, good old YouTube is your friend. And there's a lot of different health apps out there, my friends will occasionally send me, hey, try this app out with me. And we can watch each other's progress. And it's free. Okay, cool. So, I've done that one for a while. My app is called center fit. And it does nutrition. It does blogs to talk about literacy, you know, so all of these different apps out there are free, get on your phone, flip it over and start your workout. So, I think that's probably the biggest thing and a benefit from all of us being stuck at home for so long.

Jen Burris:

Yeah, absolutely. It's been a fascinating listen and learning session for me. I don't know about Gabe? (laughter).

Gabe Mydland:

Oh, yeah.

Well, let's, let's talk about the exercise science program for just a second proximately. How many students do we have in the program?

Kari Hall:

Oh, between like 60 and 80? I think it kind of changes a lot, because every semester we're getting transfers, and people are coming and going a little bit.

Gabe Mydland:

So, when they take on a degree like exercise science, what you mentioned that some were going to certain types of careers, what kinds of things do our students do with that degree? Background?

Kari Hall:

Yes. So they can do so much. They come in, they declare their major. So, if they're an exercise science major, then what they do is they go into their first freshman year classes, they take a couple of the courses that I mentioned earlier, and then they get to their junior year. And that's really where the program takes off. They start with x Phys. And then they go on to all the specialized courses. So, in our program, we have a lot of electives that are available to students. And the reason we do that, partly, is because a lot of times they'll their students who want to go on to advanced fields like physical therapists, occupational therapists, athletic trainers, nursing, just strengthen conditioning, like where you go and work with college athletes, athletes, or professional athletes. Those are kind of the main ones that they go through. And so those elective credits are designed so that they can use kind of those free credits, if you will, where, you know, maybe they would have picked up a Spanish minor with those credits, they have to use those credits to get into those programs. Those programs have specific classes, and each of them was athletic training and PT is very similar. They want a full year of chemistry, they want a full year of biology, and they want a full year of physics. We don't have in our program, a full year of physics where you have to do two years or two semesters of physics. But if you're going to go on and you want to do PT school, we're going to put you in physics too, because you need it to get it. Right. So we tailor our program to a lot of different healthcare professions that they tend to go to later. We've had students who have looked into becoming medical doctors or physician assistants, well, that takes a lot of chemistry. So, then we make sure that they're getting those Chem courses and they're ready to go with that when they go to apply so they can be accepted. I mentioned earlier, sports psychology is a pretty cool one. We're really getting into the mind-stuff. It seems like it's really an important component of human movement is you know, the brain and the body.

Jen Burris:

Working together.

Kari Hall:

Yeah, yeah.

Gabe Mydland:

Yeah, the connection.

Kari Hall:

Or the lack thereof. For those of us who are ….

Gabe Mydland:

Why are you looking at me when you say that? (Laughter)

Kari Hall:  

Yeah, so you know, sports Psych is a cool one. All the orthopedic stuff, of course, is obvious. Other areas exercise science students find themselves in nursing is kind of one you wouldn't think of normally

Gabe Mydland:

It sounds like there are a lot of alternatives that they can choose from once they've decided they want to do something in the area of physical activity exercise.

Kari Hall:

Yeah. Yeah,

Gabe Mydland:

that's cool.

Kari Hall:

It's good too, um, you know, because we need those folks out there. There's Biomechanics is really cool. I know, it sounds scary. And it kind of, it's kind of intimidating at first, because it's physics of the body. So like, take Newton's three laws and apply it to the body. Just if just to give you kind of a quick snapshot, but those students, you know, if they want to go become biomechanics, they're going to do really cool stuff, like, look at helmets and talk about like, in the velocity of a baseball is way different than a football player in the box, who's constantly getting hit. So what kind of helmets do they need to help with those impacts? Research is another area, they can go into concussion research right now is really important. I think in the last maybe two years, I want to say, it might be sooner than that. But in the last few years, somebody or a group of researchers over somewhere in Europe found a biomarker for concussions, we didn't have that before. Wow. And so now they're kind of taken off with that study over there. So research is a really important area if people want to get behind that, instead of doing clinical type of work. We have a lot of different areas of research that people need. When it comes to different abilities, physical or intellectual. We need folks in the buying the research doing that to help them out with whatever the barriers are, so you can kind of take it and run with it and you find a niche that you like will get you there.

Gabe Mydland:

Wow, that's great. Yeah, that's great.

Jen Burris:

Recently, you had a graduate that went on to become a firefighter, right?

Kari Hall:

That's right. Yes. That's another one. She knew what she wanted. From day one. She came in, she did what she did, and she's out fighting wildfires. She was in the hills. I think when you guys took a picture of her. Oh, wow. Or she sent in a picture center. Yeah. And showed her out. And there's the blaze of fire behind her. And she's in her fire here.

Gabe Mydland:

And oh, wow, I hadn’t heard this.

Jen Burris:

You can find that story on DSU’s website. (Laughter)

Gabe Mydland:

I will look. (laughter)

Kari Hall:

Yeah. So yeah, firefighter, you want to go do that great first responder, you bet. And those are in those type of careers. You need that physical activity too. So, I think you know, she had it right. Firefighters don't mess around when it comes to training. Neither do a lot of police officers, folks who need to be out running around. So, it's a great major for that type of stuff.

Jen Burris:

Well, thank you so much for being a guest today, Kari.

Kari Hall:

You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

Jen Burris:

And thank you to Our Podcast Producer Xander Morrison. And thank you for listening to Cyberology. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider taking a moment of your time to rate and review.

Jen Burris:

Welcome back to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast about all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris.

Gabe Mydland:

Hi. And I'm Gabe Mydland.

Jen Burris:

And today's guest is Andrew Kramer, Instructor of computer and cyber sciences at the Beacom College. Today we'll be revisiting offensive security. And Andrew will specifically be talking about finding and exploiting software vulnerabilities. Andrew, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Andrew Kramer:

Hi, there. Yeah, it's, it's an honor to be here with you. My name is Andrew, I'm originally from the west coast from California, moved out to be a DSU student around 2013, and just fell in love with the school and the community. And so, I feel very lucky to have been hired here as a teacher after school. And you have been teaching here since 2017. Full time, so

Jen Burris:

awesome. So why don't you start by telling us a little bit about how finding and exploiting software vulnerabilities fit into offensive security?

Andrew Kramer:

Yeah, so offensive security is all about how you break into machines, compromised systems, sort of violate what we think are the fundamental rules of how computers are meant to work. And so, finding and exploiting vulnerabilities is a quintessential part of that. Most of the time, if you are gaining access to a system in a way that's unexpected, or you shouldn't technically be able to, there needs to be some vulnerability there that you can take advantage of, and exploit that in some way to gain access to that machine.

Jen Burris:

Wow. So how do you find them? vulnerabilities?

Andrew Kramer:

Many, many different ways. So, I would say, probably a good place to start would be to identify all the inputs to a program or to a system. Because if you're going to exploit a vulnerability, find a vulnerability, and take advantage of it, you need to be able to interact with the software in some way first. So, numerating, where and how you can provide input, and what types of input the program expects is going to be a good start. So, for instance, if this is a website, maybe we look at what pages are available on the website, maybe we look at, are there places you can log in places you can submit an order places that you can enumerate the users on the system, or maybe there are other ports open that you could connect to, to upload files or download files from the website. And anywhere that you can provide input to the system is an opportunity to provide some unexpected input that makes it do something interesting.

Gabe Mydland:

I'm curious about this. Do companies come to you and say, we’d like you to check our system? See how robust it is? Or do they wait until your students graduate and go into a job somewhere? And where does the business come from,

Andrew Kramer:

I think any or all the above. So, this could take many different forms. One form would be what we call traditional penetration testing are Red Team Services, where a company hires a person or a team of people to try to break in, try to find a way in and then report on their findings. So, another way that you might go about this is bug bounty, which is when a company publishes a general statement, saying anybody is welcome to submit vulnerabilities that they find in that company's software services. And most large companies are willing to be a part of this. So, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, all of them have made public statements that if you find a vulnerability, as long as you report it in, you know, a reasonable amount of time you let them know what's wrong, they will not only thank you for that, rather than prosecuting you, but they might pay some money for that as well. Another way that folks go about this is if you find a vulnerability in a piece of software that's widely used, sometimes those can be sold in maybe shadowy dark markets around the world, in some ways and places that are legal and others are not. I don't necessarily go about it in that way. But others might

Jen Burris:

so, people can find a way to take advantage of the information they find?

Andrew Kramer:

Yes, yeah, I think you know, if you find the vulnerability on a piece have software or in a company's network, there are many legal routes to report that to get it fixed, even to get a reward for it. And then there are, of course, markets where those can be sold for other purposes, unfortunately.

Jen Burris:

So, is there a lot of research involved in this is like looking into a specific company or their website, things like that?

Andrew Kramer:

Tons? Yeah, more so than ever. So, over the past two or three decades, there's been a lot of research into how to prevent software vulnerabilities, and how to sort of put some guardrails on software so that when they occur, they're harder to exploit, and they're less likely to be exploitable. And so, I would say, whereas, you know, in the early 90s, early 2000s, a software vulnerability wasn't worth any money, people would find them and just publish them online. These days, those are very, very valuable pieces of information, if you have the ability, or have knowledge of how to, for instance, hack Google Chrome, so that if you browse a website, download some software to your computer. These days, those types of vulnerabilities fetch literally millions of dollars sometimes.

Jen Burris:

Wow.

Gabe Mydland:

yeah. Wow. Yeah. So, there's got to be a concern that, you know, working with students and training them to become recognized as skilled people who can be doing this kind of offensive work. Is there any kind of screening process? Or I mean, can anybody declare this major get this information? How do you? I mean, is there anything you can do to make sure that students aren't just taking this to exploit and take advantage of the vulnerabilities of different kinds of sites and businesses and so forth?

Andrew: Kramer:

Yeah, so we, as faculty teaching these subjects, just try to keep a close eye on that. There are some legal limitations on export controls, there are things that you can only teach or say, in a class full of US citizens, I think that's a little bit silly, because, you can find the same information online anyway. And I don't feel like that makes a big difference. But, um, yeah, I would say anybody is welcome to come to school here, and anybody is welcome. In the classroom, I would be happy to teach these techniques to any student that sits down in front of me. So, when somebody sits down in the classroom, I'm going to assume that they have good intentions for the knowledge. And I'm happy to teach anyone these techniques and these skills. If I saw an indication that somebody was using it for evil or using it to hurt other people, I would probably confront them about it or, you know, handle that in other means, but I'm going to assume that they have good intent until I see that they don't.

Jen Burris:

And so, what goes into teaching students about software vulnerabilities and finding them, and exploiting them?

Andrew Kramer:

So ironically, it's just a lot of understanding how the machine is supposed to work. It's a lot of reading manuals, reading documentation, and just experimenting with the tools that are available. We see a lot of people, you know, start the like the Cyber Operations Program here with the expectation that on day one, they're going to sit down and learn how to hack. And to some extent, yes, but really hacking is just finding a new novel interesting way to interact with the machine to make it do something that everyone else didn't expect it to do or didn't know that it could do. And to do that, you need to really understand how the machine works. So, a lot of what you know, we might call hacking is just reading the manual, and figuring out new ways to interact with a system.

Jen Burris:

That is an excellent way of explaining it to people who may not know much about the cyber industry.

Andrew Kramer:

Yeah. So, I'll give you an interesting example of that. If you've been reading the news lately, you may have seen the log4J, vulnerability disgust. familiar with that. So, there was a major software flaw discovered in a piece of software called log4J. Okay. And it turns out, the quote-unquote, vulnerability here is just a feature that nobody realized you could use and that specific way, which led to, you know, software being compromised remotely all over the world and every large company in the United States. But really, it's just a feature that existed from years back that nobody considered that you could use in that special way. So read the documentation that will make you a hacker sign.

Gabe Mydland:

So do A lot of your students then who study this, they might even develop new software's, with all this background information about how systems can be hacked or gained access to things like that. So, I mean, I would imagine that your students have an even broader perspective than many of the technology majors that we offer here at DSU.

Andrew Kramer:

Yes, and I think that's an aspect of DSU that really sets us apart from other universities and other programs like ours, is that where those other programs may be teaching, you know, traditional software development, traditional network management, systems administration, and doing a very good job of it, I don't mean to belittle anyone else's program. But ours has such a focus on security, and the things that can go wrong and how they go wrong, that I think our students walk away with, you know, some of that knowledge, even if they're not directly involved in a cybersecurity field. So, our students that are going into software development roles are going to have a better idea of how to prevent vulnerabilities in the code, our students that are going into System Administration, or network management roles, are going to have a better idea of how the attackers are going to come at them, and what vulnerabilities they need to watch out for, or how to build the system in a resilient way. And I think that's something unique to DSU.

Jen Burris:

So, in talking about students, what kind of future do they have outside? Once they've graduated? DSU? Where did they get to go? With this knowledge?

Andrew Kramer:

Oh, my goodness, just about anywhere. So, every company in every industry uses technology in some way these days. And so, every company in every industry also has an interest in the need and protecting those systems. So, whether our students end up in defensive security roles, you know, protecting systems, ahead of time trying to get ahead of the attackers, whether they end up in software development roles, where they're trying to write software in a secure way, whether they end up in offensive roles, where they're looking for vulnerabilities. There's going to be a space for any niche that the student is interested, in going into. I don't know did that answer it.

Gabe Mydland:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about where some of our students have ended up and what they're doing now?

Andrew Kramer:

Yes, I can talk about most of them. In generalities, yeah, um, yeah, the National Labs really like our students. So, Sandia National Labs, Los Alamos National Labs, Pacific Northwest National Labs, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, we have lots of alumni that go to those places. And I probably can't talk too much about the specific work they're doing or the customers that they work for. But you can imagine that it is security-related, both offensive and defensive, and very exciting work. Um, we also have students that go work for banks, hospitals, or other universities protecting their networks. We have some students that freelance I know of students here that make many 10s of 1000s of dollars a year, just finding vulnerabilities and Yahoo, Facebook, Google, all the above. And so, there are lots of opportunities. Wow, that's great.

Jen Burris:

So why is this important to everyday people, this work that you guys do on offensive security,

Andrew Kramer:

It is important to everyday people because we are finding problems with the software that everybody is using. So even if, you know, you all aren't running a log4J instance, at your house, I'm guessing or that you know of you may be and you don't even realize it. The companies that are hosting your data and are providing the services that you use every day probably are. So, for instance, Apple was impacted by log for J. I know Netflix was impacted, and Microsoft was impacted. And those companies are housing data from all of us, all of you. And they also provide services that we rely on. And so, the ability to find those vulnerabilities hopefully before the attackers do before the bad guys do gives us a leg up and hopefully get those things patched to protect people before it's a problem.

Jen Burris:

And so, is that kind of what happened with log4J?

Andrew Kramer:

Yes. Okay. So, I would have to go read about this a little bit more to say a certainty. But I believe that log4J was found in the wild being abused in the wild. Meaning somebody found it and was using it for malicious purposes, on a small scale. And some defense teams, somebody watching network logs, watching what their servers doing, found that and published the information online, thankfully, that we, we all know that that existed, and it has since been patched. So sometimes, you know, finding these vulnerabilities is just a matter of watching the network and seeing what real attackers are doing. And you can sort of snag that out of the air and figure it out. Sometimes it's just poking around with the software on your own ahead of time and finding vulnerabilities that are not yet known or that we don't yet know that anyone knows. Right?

Gabe Mydland:

So, is the I mean, the known level of nefarious activity? Have we seen over, let's say, the last decade? Is it about the same? Or is it increasing? Or what are the trends with this kind of activity?

Andrew Kramer:

Yeah, good question. So, there are a few different trends. Traditionally, like in maybe the 90s and early 2000s, I think that most of the malicious activity on the internet was, I don't want to say benign, because people were certainly abusing it for intelligence gathering and financial gain. But, but by and large, the people that were breaking into computers in the '90s were doing so sort of for the fun and excitement of it, I think, you saw a lot of people just writing a worm, because it was interesting, too. And for better or for worse, you know that that happened a lot. Also, security vulnerabilities were being just openly published, when somebody found a vulnerability affecting, you know, on Microsoft server or a Linux service, people would just publish those and openly talk about them. And I think what we've seen in the last couple of decades is a move towards exploiting software for financial gain. So, you see a lot of cybercriminal groups taking advantage of vulnerabilities for ransomware. To steal data to sell online. So, exploitation for financial gain has gotten big. Also, exploitation for intelligence gathering purposes, I think, has gotten significant. Russia, China, Iran, even the US, to some extent, is using that for intelligence gathering. And maybe rightfully so. I mean, it's a very effective, effective tool. The other thing, the other trend, that I've noticed is, vulnerabilities are no longer being talked about publicly as much because they are much more valuable. And I said earlier, some of the most valuable vulnerabilities fetched literally in the millions of dollars. And so, you know, 20 years ago, whereas that might have just been published online because somebody found it interesting. Today, some of the folks that are finding those vulnerabilities are staying quiet about them and selling them off to the highest bidder.

Gabe Mydland:

Can you talk more about the Ph.D. program?

Jen Burris:

Yeah, that you're doing.

Andrew Kramer:

Yeah, sure. Yeah. So, I just started a Ph.D. in Computer Science here at DSU. This is the first year it's being offered. So, this is focused less on security and more on, you know, algorithms and optimization and computer programming, some math, and kind of the theoretical and fundamental building blocks of how computers work. But back to what I said earlier about, really hacking is just a matter of reading the documentation and understanding the system by learning all those fundamental pieces of how the computer works, that also, I mean, leads to a greater understanding of how to find and exploit software vulnerabilities.

Jen Burris:

So, kind of strengthens the skills that you already have?

Andrew Kramer:

Certainly, Yeah, certainly.

Gabe Mydland:

And the first year in how are we looking? I mean, have we been able to attract some students?

Andrew Kramer:

I think the only two starting this year are myself and Shawn Zwach, who's also faculty here at DSU. Okay, so we're sort of piloting the program has students. Of course, we have very active Ph.D. programs and cyber operations, and cyber defense right now. But we're kind of leading the computer science Ph.D. here. Great. I want to restate that we're not leading the computer. We participating as students.

Gabe Mydland:

that's great. I mean, that's a process I mean, to get that all set up and running in the approval from the different levels of all the way through the Board of Regents and things like that. That's terrific.

Andrew Kramer:

Yeah, it's exciting to see DSU has really grown up a lot. And, you know, the past decade or two, it's impressive to watch

Jen Burris:

What drew you to DSU?

Andrew Kramer:

specifically, the Cyber Operations Program and the agreement that we have with NSA, or the designation that we have from NSA. In 2013, I had completed two years of just general education at a community college in California. And I knew that I wanted to do something related to computer security because it was already a hobby of mine. And I was just Googling around like which schools have good cybersecurity programs. And DSU was one of four at that time, that had the Center of Academic Excellence and cyber operations designation. And the three others either were too expensive or weren't accepting applicants until the next year, or, you know, only offered graduate programs and DSU said, come on down. And I had never been to South Dakota before I moved here, sight unseen. Got a house on Craigslist and worked out a great worked out.

Gabe Mydland:

Now what a story. Yeah. And you stayed.

Andrew Kramer:

I stayed. Yeah. So, my hometown in California is very small, with 700 people, we had to drive over a hill to see a stoplight or a Walmart. And so, this feels very much like home to me. Fewer trees, fewer mountains, more corn. But other than that, very similar to home.

Gabe Mydland:

what challenges do you see in the field that you're in will be facing in the years to come?

Okay, so I'm going to give you two answers here. And this may sound contradictory, but I'll do my best to explain. In one way, software vulnerabilities are becoming a lot more difficult to find and a lot more difficult to exploit. You know, we've spent 20 or 30 years understanding how they occur, how to prevent them from happening, and then how to like add guardrails to a piece of software so that when they occur, they're harder to exploit. And that is why, you know, a vulnerability in Google Chrome today fetches a million dollars, because they're hard to find an exploit in some pieces of software. So, in some ways, I think the challenges are keeping up with all the mitigations that are being added, keeping up with all the changes, and how software is being built. And, you know, finding vulnerabilities where they are rarer. That said, on the other hand, there is more software being written now than ever before, there are more devices being, you know, added to your home and your car and the environment than ever before. And quite often, the folks that are building those devices and writing that software, their primary goal is just to get it built and get it to market. And more so than ever. There's just lots and lots and lots of software available to look at. So, you know, maybe in the, in the 90s, there were three or four major operating systems, and the Internet was composed of however many 100,000 Or a few million servers all running a relatively homogenous, you know, set of software today, especially with the IoT boom, there are just computers everywhere. And so, there are more opportunities now than ever to find vulnerabilities, even if they're becoming harder to exploit in some cases. So, again, those two statements may sound somewhat contradictory, in some ways, they're harder to find and exploit, and in other ways, there are more opportunities than ever.

Gabe Mydland:

But to me, I think they are complementary in the sense that, you know, the field is advancing as the means to break into, for the lack of a better word, or to compromise a website are getting more sophisticated. So, in many ways, I think, I'm not so concerned about complementary or contradictory. So, it requires you you're in a really advantageous situation and that you're called upon to take what you've learned and what you know and use it in new and creative ways. Every day, and that's a nice, sweet spot. I mean, you're not doing the same, you're not making widgets, you're not doing the same thing every day and you're not doing something that's so beyond your capacity that it makes you anxious. In psychology, we call that your Axi stops and it's at that happy medium between being challenged, but not overwhelmed. And wow, I mean, you must lose Have time some days working on something because it's, it's so challenging to figure out well, how do I fix this? Or how do I prevent that from happening? Yeah, I'm kind of envious myself.

Andrew Kramer:

Yeah, spot-on, I think, um, you know, this, this field, in particular exploiting software vulnerabilities often requires a lot of creativity, which is not something that you think of when you think of programming and computer science, but it requires, you know, thinking about things in a new way, or discovering a new method of interacting with the computer or, or just, yeah, approaching a problem in a different way. And, as you said, everything is constantly changing the programming language that was that we use changes every 5-10 years, the software that's available to us changes every 5-10 years, or even quicker.

Gabe Mydland:

Well, I think that's one thing that's a constant is change. And being in the mental health field, that's what I would work with is people who want to do something different. And a lot of times, well, change isn't easy or fun for any of us, but it's going to happen. So those who are successful are those who anticipate the change and make the leap, and they might stumble and fall, but they get back up because there's another change coming rather than just grumbling about it, doing something about it. And that, for me is one of the reasons I really enjoyed Dakota State University because there's that, that general attitude that Yep, every day, there's a new piece of software or there's another way to use technology. I've invested a lot of time in figuring out what I'm doing right now, but I got to keep up, so I need to change, and sorry for the monologue. But I think what you're talking about really epitomizes the general attitude that people who work here kind of embraced. So yeah, it's exciting.

Andrew Kramer:

I would agree. This is a great place to work. Great place to go to school. A lot of wonderful people here doing a lot of exciting things.

Jen Burris:

Yeah. Okay. Well, thank you so much for being our guest Andrew, it was a pleasure having you here. Thank you. And thank you Xander, our Podcast Producer, and thank you, listeners. If you enjoyed the podcast, please like, and subscribe.

Jen Burris:

Welcome back to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast about all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris.

Gabe Mydland:

Hi, my name is Gabe Mydland.

Jen Burris:

And today we have a guest, Renee Spohn. She is the Director of Health Information Management Programs here at DSU. And she's about to talk about the digitization of health information. Renee, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Rene Spohn:

My name is Dr. Renee Spohn. I have been the Director of Health Information Management programs and coordinator for the Master of Science in Health Informatics and Information Management programs here at DSU. For about five years prior to that, I served as an HIM faculty member at DSU. And I've spent about 30 years out in the field of health information management working in various roles in acute care hospitals, long-term care, corporate office, for good Samaritan Society, and for hospitals in Alamosa, Colorado, and in Cheyenne, Wyoming. So, I've had a long career in health information management. I have served in various capacities at the Good Samaritan Society, as I said, where I worked as the director of clinical applications over electronic health records. I have worked as the director of quality services for the Good Samaritan Society and worked as a consultant in each I am so had a long history, and I am a DSU alum from 1984. From our health information management programs.

Jen Burris:

very cool.

Gabe Mydland:

Yeah.

Jen Burris:

So what is digital health?

Renae Spohn:

Digital health is essentially where healthcare delivery and technology meet. So healthcare is transforming how and where services are provided for patients and how the data is collected, how it’s analyzed how it's used for decision making, and the ultimate goal is personalization for patients and improved healthcare outcomes. So hopefully in the future, we'll be able to predict risks for patients and make adjustments to their care plan early in helping patients to use technology as a tool to advance and helping clinicians to actually use that tool for patient care to advance the personalization of health care and to improve outcomes.

Gabe Mydland:

So when we talk about the digitization of health information, what is that exactly?

Renae Spohn:

In the most simple terms, it's really automating the patient medical record. Broadly speaking, digital health information is documentation collected in a patient's health record in an electronic format during and after receiving care by healthcare providers. It's the process of ensuring that the data that's collected by clinicians and others, that it's complete, accurate, timely, valid, and secure. A health information manager is typically responsible for protecting patient information, making sure access to the patient record is limited to only those providing care to the patient. So those that really only have a need to know what's in that patient health record. Another responsibility is ensuring patient care is documented as timely, complete, and accurate as possible after a health care worker provides care services to the patient.

Jen Burris?

Would you actually say that security and cybersecurity come into the health technology sector a little bit?

Renae Spohn:

We have a say in health information management about who has access to what portions of the medical records so when new employees' profiles have access to the electronic health record are decided. Health Information Management Professionals have a say, in what level of access you get to each section of a patient's medical record based on what your need is and what your role is. The other place is health information management directors served in many capacities and one of those capacities as being a privacy officer usually. And with that, if there are any reported breaches of patient information, typically they are part of a team. They're leading a team along with the security officer in a hospital setting to investigate the breach and to do any reporting if there's any state or federal reporting that are required based on the size and type of the person

Gabe Mydland:

I'm kind of wondering, and this comes from just a very limited background of what I've heard on the news and things like that. But it's been a while now that we've had the HIPAA act, where that health information is, is more regulated than it had been before that. I'm wondering if you and your colleagues, I'm assuming that you had a lot to do with putting that legislation together, or at least advising the policymakers on what should be in there? Or are there things that make your job more challenging now with the HIPAA act than before? Is it largely been a good thing from your perspective? Or is it a bit of an overreach?

Renae Spohn:

I think, generally, the HIPAA Privacy and Security Act transactions acts we had, we had a strong role in advocacy on Capitol Hill through our national association. And with that, we're very much proponents of protecting the patient information. And we were very excited to see secondary business associate entities having to comply with the regulation. There were some shortfalls and those who had to comply with the regulation at the beginning, and that has improved over time with some of the changes and updates to the regulations. Currently, we're seeing that with the electronic health record, perhaps there are even more steps that will need to be done in the future, you know, as, for example, data analytics, more folks are wanting to access data to analyze data to help patient outcomes improve, be improved, and just other artificial intelligence initiatives in those types of things. I think we will see where the challenges between protecting a patient's privacy and security will become challenged and even greater as to how much information do we want to give to others? versus how much do we want to keep private to ourselves? So, and then always, the information that's out there and available, the challenge for security is to protect that the challenge for privacy is to proactively identify what some of those risks to patient privacy might be and to try to mitigate or put plans in place before the breach of privacy even happens.

Gabe Mydland:

Sure.

Jen Burris:

And moving onward, what are some of the advantages than have that digital health care information?

Renae Spohn:

One of the biggest advantages that clinicians would tell you about is they were challenged with paper records in the past in accessing and documenting their care timely were so one of the hugest advantages is for caregivers. And that is simply that multiple caregivers can access the electronic health record at one time and complete their documentation timely. Other advantages are the security of the patient information because essentially, a paper record was many times kept in a locked storage area. But if you had the key, or if you knew how to get there, you could get there easier than what you can get into an electronic health record. So, we consider security to be much higher. Another advantage that we would identify would be the team now is made up of IT folks where IT folks used to be considered support staff, but now really, they are part of the decision-making team in a healthcare entity. A couple of other advantages is the opportunities to visualize data to tell the patient's story in a digital format. You know, more and more the clinicians use tools like dashboards that they didn't have, and that helps them sort of understand the priorities of the care that they've got to deliver to the patients that are assigned to them. As we get better and better at using data. The hope is we'll be able to predict what diseases are likely for a specific population will be able to understand better the patient population that's being served within each healthcare entity. And those are just a few but there are a lot more advantages of electronic health records that will help in advancing the tools that can be developed for future use, and some current use but like for artificial intelligence, robotics, all those augmented intelligence tools that will be coming in the future. Again, some are in basic test modes, and some are incorporated already, but there's a lot more to come.

Gabe Mydland:

So, there's a lot of exciting developments with this digitization of health information. What about the downsides? What are the disadvantages in the directions we're headed?

Renae Spohn:

 Well, one of the downsides is that we've been hit with so much data that's being collected and had to become part of the electronic health record, that nobody really had tools developed already to easily filter out the pieces that should come to the top that are the highest priority. And so that's where the dashboards come in. But there's a lot of additional tools that need to be developed and utilized to help in filtering the stuff that's important versus the stuff that the data that's being collected simply for maybe just paying the bill, making sure they're supporting evidence of what the clinician did in the electronic health record. So, you know, there's a growing digital divide of healthcare where some of the populations don't have access to services, such as telehealth or internet, or even computers. And the more electronic health records grow and become utilized by clinicians, those that don't have that equal access will be further behind. And hopefully not, but probably their outcomes will suffer because of lagging behind the hope would be that computerization could be expanded out into those communities and those areas that aren't participating now in electronic health records to really close that digital divide. And that's not just in the United States, but it is in the United States, as well as several other countries. And one other disadvantage is probably that there's a lot of patient-generated data right now through like Fitbits, and things like that, that we haven't begun to incorporate into the electronic health record in any way. And a lot of physicians aren't utilizing that data yet. And we, you know, there's just so many pieces and parts that are moving, at this point, so much new stuff that needs to be developed and incorporated, and we've still got some stuff at Ground Zero, some standardization that needs to occur, as well. So, it's sort of like having all the basic pieces in place, and then moving to the next step isn't really what's happening. It's sort of the Matrix Model where the basics are still being put in place. Yet, we're growing in many ways and trying to absorb all the new technologies and the new things coming at the same time. So, there's just a lot of fragmentation. If you asked healthcare organizations about their project management team, and how important their project management team is, they would tell you in this whole process of implementing electronic health records and continuing to implement new and additional modules as they're being created, that they are just working very hard and very fast to continue to keep up with the growth. And I can say, probably 10 years ago, when I worked at Good Samaritan Society, we had probably 200 projects at any given time happening at the corporate office. You know, and so that's a lot of people involved a lot of moving pieces and parts, and a lot of things to manage to keep the projects on track. And, you know, within appropriate costs and such. So, we implement an electronic health record in long-term care settings. And we had implemented an electronic health record in the home health settings. We had sensor technology, going into assisted living sites, and so those projects are all very different and have all very different data being collected, some similar and but some very different, you know, monitoring someone at home, through technology is very different than having someone sitting in a nursing home or in a hospital and, you know, so there's just a gamut of healthcare entities in the number and types of healthcare entities continue to grow, as well, as well as telehealth services are growing and now being financed, at least for the time being financed along you know, with the importance that they will play in the future. You know, I think a disadvantage right now is there are so many pieces and so much fragmentation that pieces kind of need to start to fit together to really make the system as effective as it could be sure. And so, optimizing all the systems we already have, would be a great asset

Gabe Mydland

Some standardization across the different systems to make sure we're comparing apples to apples.

Renae Spohn:

Right, right. Right, you know, your basic demographics, probably, and maybe histories and physicals of patients, but much deeper than that. There's a lot of standardization that could happen across the settings. And I think, you know, as some of the healthcare organizations merge, and combine and get larger and expand on the number of and type of services that they offer, they're finding that there's no one EHR vendor product that meets all of their needs. And so, they take one that they like and meets all their requirements, and they encourage them to expand the number of modules to meet all of their needs. And so that has caused some of those vendors to come to the top of the list that we can respond the best to the customer's needs. And they are truly the leaders. But there are probably three I would name as top leaders in the United States with electronic health records that can span multiple types of settings.

Jen Burris:

And can I take it a step back? You mentioned wearables, like Fitbit, and Apple watches and stuff like that? Do you see that in the future being an important factor in digital health?

Renae Spohn:

I do. The future that I envision is that we will have tools to add onto our smartphones and Fitbit types of smartwatches or whatever devices will be expanded, the functionality will be expanded, the thought is that more care will be delivered at home, or anywhere the patient wants to be, or consumer wants to be, and that that information would be able to be what we call interoperable or transmitted transferred into a patient's electronic health record. You know and speaking about some of the challenges with all that one of the base challenges that we have in health information management is that every time you go see a different health care provider, you get assigned a different medical record number or health record number. And so that is one of the initiatives that we are fighting for on Capitol Hill to be advanced. There's been a hold on Capitol Hill for a few years, where nobody could work on developing a unique patient identifier. And so that causes a lot of problems. Because if I miss identify you and I can either miss part of your record, or I can cause a duplicate record that shouldn't occur, I can combine parts of your record together that aren't really you. And then you must when you figure out that you've got two patients combined into one accidentally because their demographics were similar, the age was similar all of those fields that you utilize to identify a patient. If you've mixed that medical record together and merged it together at the admissions desk, when you're being admitted, that is a lot of work. And you've got some tools, computer tools to help you separate those records. But that can lead to a fatal mistake in healthcare. So that for us from a health information management standpoint, we strongly support unique patient identifiers. So that if you were to go to one type of health care facility provider, they would identify you as this patient with this number. And then they could validate that through something you have or something, you know, or some, you know, some security mechanism. And if you went to provider number two, they would still identify you as that very same one. So, when you want your record to go from provider one to provider two, then they would easily know it's the same patient, the same patient records the same history that they're combining.

Gabe Mydland:

You were talking earlier about Fitbit devices. I have an Apple Watch, but just yesterday, I experience sleep apnea, and so I use a CPAP machine. And it had been a while since I needed to replace the machine. My sleep study was done over 15 years ago. And what's interesting was that the new CPAP machine I picked up yesterday I have an app on my phone that connects to the CPAP machine. And it reports to the home medical equipment office where I bought it. And they can determine if those settings that I was given 15 years ago are still appropriate or adjust them remotely, I don't have to bring the machine in to be adjusted on the settings, they can all do this through this digitization. I don't know, though, if that information is included in my health records that my physician will see. But I assume that at some point like you're talking about, we're going to get to that where we can have even more of a holistic approach of how we look at our patients if you will, our patients, I'm not a doctor, I just play one on TV. But when a physician is meeting with a patient, they not only have the information that gathered before the visit, blood pressure, blood sugar's whatever it might be blood screens, but all this other additional useful information about how they're doing elsewhere, outside of that clinical setting. So, it really is exciting.

Renae Spohn:

It is and you may be surprised that information may be transmitted to your doctor's clinic. ]

Gabe Mydland:

Really? Okay,

Renae Spohn:

you know, it just kind of depends on your clinic and where your vendor is at. But yeah, technically, it's possible.

Gabe Mydland:

Wow, that's just amazing. It really astounded me that I wouldn't have to make another appointment to visit the home medical people to make those adjustments that they can do remotely. But to think that would become part of my total record that my physician would look at and see if there are other adjustments and other things that he's working with me on. That's pretty neat.

Renae Spohn:

You know, one of the things that I think will change in time, is I think there's a need for a lifetime medical record. Because many times you think, Well, that happened to me when I was a kid, and I don't really remember the details of it, right. And it becomes pertinent as you age. And many of the states have retention rules about you know, at what point can you destroy a medical record or a health record? And some states have not kept their permanent rules. And some states have kept it 25 years, federal regulations, I forget if it's five years or seven years, but they have a limitation on you know, what the statute of limitations is for keeping that documentation around. And, and I think that's one of the challenging things that need to change. Because as we're doing more research on patients, if we had access to lifetime information, genetic information, all the types of information that really are accumulated over a patient's lifetime, we would be able to, I think, advance health care in a whole new way. And I think the opportunity will be there now with electronic health records, especially for the newborns of today versus us that have been around a couple of years.

Jen Burris:

Okay, and so how does the digitization of all this health information impact caregivers?

Renae Spohn:

the physicians have had mixed reactions to it, some of the physicians find themselves spending a lot more time documenting using computers versus some of their older technologies and older mechanisms that they use to document patient care. You know, there's a huge concern about the burnout of physicians. In some of the countries that I've studied, physicians’ responses to the EHRs are saying that when they didn't have to document as much for finance and support of the payment for patient claims, they seem to be much happier about the documentation that they had to do. So not that anybody likes documentation, because, if physicians could totally automate that and make that process much more seamless, and they didn't have to spend any time documenting, you know, it just was automatic tracking or whatever reporting the care that they provided to patients, they would be much happier. So, they see the documentation many times as kind of a waste of one of those wasted tasks that wasted time on tasks that they'd like to get rid of. Nurses have learned pretty well to document on computers as well. You know, I think they have learned more quickly than anybody to rely on dashboards when they're doing medication administration passes for a whole group of patients that they have to administer medications to. They're finding that using that dashboard helps them to know exactly who they need to deliver those meds to next and helps keep them within their required timeframes for delivery of meds. So, I think nurses overall, have a great love for electronic health records. Many nurses have moved into a field called nursing informatics and like to train others on using informatics and want to advance its use in nursing. So, I'd say overall, nurses have a positive outlook on it. What we found from our health information management programs here at DSU, is that we found that many of the health care degree programs have not yet incorporated health informatics into their programs deep enough and they're finding now that they need to spend more time teaching the students about technology and about how to really incorporate it and use it well for decision making. Because no longer are they just documenting what they did. Now they're having to use that information that they've documented to advance their decision-making and care that they're providing.

Gabe Mydland:

So how about with digital healthcare information? And the patient from their perspective? How does this affect them?

Renae Spohn:

Patients have the ability to see some key documentation through patient portals that they've probably never looked at before. So, they have a new opportunity to read some of the basic information, some labs, that type of thing, but one big advantage is that they're able to communicate with physicians through the patient portals, which is easier access for them to get to the physician, they're able to order medication refills through the patient portal rather than calling the pharmacy or calling the doctor's office.

Jen Burris:

How does digital health care information simplify Healthcare Administration?

Renae Spohn:

Within an organization it consolidates a Health Organization's records into an electronic format, some of the records may be scanned or some of them may be input directly into the electronic health record by clinicians. So more than one worker can access a patient's record at the time, so that eliminates waiting time on behalf of the clinicians. Also, having electronic security systems in place reduces access to a patient's documentation to those that truly have the need to access the information. There have been many health care providers along the way that have snooped in somebody else's record that they didn't really need to see it. And usually, that ends up in instant termination. So, people learn that lesson really quickly. But that was one of the first lessons in electronic health information, health record information,

Gabe Mydland:

what changes will impact managing this healthcare information in the future?

Renae Spohn:

I believe, the unique patient identifier probably will come about in time, I believe artificial intelligence will advance augmented intelligence tools, I think will be developed more robotics more, more things to supplement what caregivers are doing. My hope is more tools to help in areas of safety management would be identified and would be used in healthcare in general. I think we will find new ways to meet that physicians need to document health care and the clinician's needs of documenting health care. I suspect there's enough unhappiness with people typing into computers that we're going to see many, many new ways experimented with to figure out what's going to work to document patient care because I don't think what we have today is what we will have in 10 years or 20 years down the road. I think it will be a completely different system. Completely different process.

Gabe Mydland:

And change is always hard. I mean for everybody, what are the anticipated challenges to moving forward? I mean, are there obstacles that have been identified now that need to be overcome to move forward to continue with this progression?

Renae Spohn:

Well, I think one is cost. One is cost because all our new technology must be paid for, and it generally is not cheap. And so, the cost is a limiting factor how much costs prepared workers to use, use the tools and information, etc. correctly. Training is needed. So, the roles of the workforce sort of are, they're changing. And like what we've heard about the impact of technology, in any industry, healthcare is no different where a task you did today by hand manually, might tomorrow be automated and be handed off to a whole different area than where you're employed at. And so, some other person who's never worked with it doesn't have your experience might be doing the task. And so, the jobs are changing the workforce requirements and skillsets are changing and will continue to change. And so, I think a barrier to that is you don't know what to train on to be prepared for the next step so that you can get ahead of the game on that.

Jen Burris:

This is such a fascinating topic because I think it impacts absolutely everyone.

Renae Spohn:

It does, it does.

Gabe Mydland:

It's exciting, though, too, with the information being more readily accessible, especially in those cases that we're not familiar with. And suddenly, we have information available to us, and what might be a viable alternative course of treatment, it's an exciting time to be alive.

Renae Spohn:

It is and, you know, like I say, you can't even pour, see what 20 years will be like, because the speed of this changes, lightning speed is so fast. And like I said, all the pieces that need to come together, it’s really identifying what healthcare is kind of been going through for many, many years about how complex a healthcare system is, and how important it is to try to decrease the errors to get the errors, you know, similar to what the airline industry has, where they just have very, very few errors. Some of our processes in healthcare for many years have been very error-prone. And the hope is that automation will improve those processes. But the other side of it is you want to make sure that the automation doesn't create additional errors as well, you know, such as when artificial intelligence, the pieces of artificial intelligence, that don't have the best result. How do you stop that from growing with machine learning? How do you stop that piece from growing? And so, you know, there's a lot of unknowns that we have, I think, and it certainly is going to take a lot of human capacity to figure out what's good about the changes and what should we go forward with? And maybe what should we back away from a little bit.

Jen Burris:

Okay, any final thoughts?

Renae Spohn:

I just say thank you. I appreciate the opportunity. And anyone that has questions about health information management can certainly call me at Dakota State University.

Jen Burris:

Excellent. Well, thank you so much for being a guest today. And thanks to Xander Morrison, our Podcast Producer, and thank you for listening to Cyberology. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider taking a moment of your time to rate and review it.

Jen Burris:

Welcome back to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast about all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris.

Gabe Mydland:

My name is Gabe Mydland.

Jen Burris:

Today we'll be talking about cybersecurity focusing on offensive security and some of the tactics that are used. Our expert guest today is Tyler Flaagan, Assistant Professor of Computer and Cyber Sciences at Dakota State. Tyler, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Tyler Flaagan:

Sure. So, as you said, I'm a professor here at Dakota State. I also am the director of the Deep Red MadLabs™, where we perform all sorts of offensive security assessments for outside customers. Prior to full-time teaching at DSU. I was a Red Team Operator in the Department of Defense for a couple of years. Doing those sorts of assessments for various customers.

Jen Burris:

Very interesting. So, do you have some secrets stored then?

Tyler Flaagan:

Sure, you can say that.

Jen Burris:

Okay, so why don't we just start by talking a little bit about what offensive security is.

Tyler Flaagan:

So offensive security is a proactive type of security, in a sense to kind of start looking for problems before they actually become problems. Before a malicious actor, or before, sometimes people like us AAPT, or Nation-State, kind of come after you or target you. Or nowadays, we're seeing a lot with ransomware. Before something bad like that happens, we have these teams that come in and do these security assessments and look for the problems before they can be found by those other actors.

Jen Burris:

So, kind of preventative work?

Tyler Flaagan:

Yep, definitely preventative proactive, instead of trying to be reactive, in the case of security of an organization or company.

Jen Burris:

And why is that important to kind of think about it in advance of these potential activities?

Tyler Flaagan:

Just because it's so difficult to react to some of the activities that we're seeing today, especially again, talking about ransomware. If we all of a sudden have all of our data encrypted by these ransomware groups, it's very difficult to recover from that if a company doesn't have you know, backups, and their backups were you know, offline or not connected to the area that that got encrypted. But it's a lot more expensive to have to fix that problem than to pay for someone to come in and try to find those vulnerabilities in the first place.

Jen Burris:

Okay. That's looking at vulnerability assessments, is that kind of what you're doing then?

Tyler Flaagan:

So, all the different types of engagements that we can do are all geared towards that same goal of preventing those problems from happening. The way I like to look at it when it comes to vulnerability assessments, penetration testing, red teaming, really comes down to the security maturity of an organization. So, if it's an organization that's never done anything with security before, we're not going to go to the level of you know, a red team engagement, because they just won't be ready for it, we're gonna start them off with something like a vulnerability assessment or maybe a penetration test. And there's kind of those different tiers of testing to help the organizations along.

Jen Burris:

Okay, can you explain some of those tiers what they are and what you do?

Tyler Flaagan:

So in a vulnerability assessment would be kind of the beginning tier if the maturity model is pretty new. For an organization is just starting out or going to look forwards isn't taken some sort of automated scanner, it's going to be you know, something that goes by pretty quick. Its low cost, low effort, and looking for some of the low-hanging fruit are the easier things to find out a network and get those back to the administrators to get back to the organization so that they can go ahead and fix those problems first. And we step it up a little bit if they come back and say, Alright, we've done that now we want a penetration test, we're gonna come back and we assert down the same path, except, we're actually going to go ahead and verify that those vulnerabilities there so we're actually gonna start exploiting those vulnerabilities. If we can find them again or find new ones are one of the pros that penetration testing has that one ability assessments typically don't is the verification portion is actually verifying that what we see in the scans are actually there. And then we also see the penetration testing side. Once we do exploit something we may find more vulnerabilities later on with some of the newest information that we've gained with new accesses that we've got. And then those portions vulnerability assessments, penetration testing, we're typically trying to weed out vulnerabilities. Once we go to Red Teaming, we're actually kind of switching gears a little bit. And we're focusing on the organization's ability to detect, react, and mitigate the problems in the network, so we're really trying to be stealthy. At this point, hopefully, most of the vulnerabilities have been dealt with in the network, the organization has, has good patch management, good asset management, they have people watching the network, maybe not 24/7 365. But they do have analysts on the network watching for things that are happening. And we're just kind of testing them, to see if they can catch us in the network. So as you go up against more advanced adversaries, they have the skills, and then the policies and procedures in place to handle those things.

Jen Burris:

Sounds very involved.

Tyler Flaagan.

Yep, there are lots of layers there.

Gabe Mydland:

And I'm very interested in what you're talking about the testing of the vulnerability of different assuming businesses or agencies and things like this, the testers themselves, is it just you? A team? Or who does this testing?

Tyler Flaagan:

Typically, it's a team, at least in places I've been, I know, other companies, other penetration testing companies kind of do, they might do smaller teams of one or one or two people. But in my experience, it's always been a team of three or four people kind of working in different areas and talking back and forth. And that collaboration helps out when you're trying to solve problems, or if you run up against a wall, and sometimes we'll find something we'll think it's vulnerable, and we won't quite know how to, you know, fix or the problem or whatever's going on, we can ask somebody across the table from us, you know, that may have a little bit different experience or may have seen that problem before. So typically, it's a team of penetration testers or red teamers.

Gabe Mydland:

And to prepare for this, I'm assuming that you're keeping up to speed with various attacks, more recent attacks so that you can use those strategies.

Tyler Flaagan:

Yeah, so we're constantly watching the vulnerability landscape. Things like Twitter are awesome resources because that's where when, when there's a brand new vulnerability, it's going to be on Twitter, really, within the InfoSec community without the same day, it's going to be faster than that any news article. So following along with that, seeing what new vulnerabilities are coming out, and as they come out, we can kind of integrate them in, and typically, we will take them and test them in our own lab environments, and then go ahead and use them on a customer if we run across whatever vulnerability we're looking at.

Gabe Mydland:

Fascinating.

Jen Burris:

So how do you practice that then in everyday life?

Tyler Flaagan:

So, in practice, it's mostly just having a little, we'll call them lab setup. So virtualized environments where we have these standardized systems, maybe not standardized, but you know, I have a Windows system and I can put different pieces of software on and as we come across those pieces of software, in Target networks, and then we can try to use them. Or we can try to use exploits against the vulnerabilities in our own lab and look at those. Other than that, if we typically are doing enough penetration testing, where we're not really doing any practice in between them.

Jen Burris:

Okay. So why are these a necessary practice in cybersecurity?

Tyler Flaagan:

One of the big things is organizations don't, most organizations don't have folks that specialize in this type of adversarial security. So, if we take a system administrator, network administrator, or something along those lines, there are so many different pieces to the puzzle inside of the network. And if they know, if they missed the checkbox, or if it didn't quite set something upright, or if they just put in a weak password. Right, there's, that's what we're there to find and help them out and come back and educate them and say, this is a problem, or XYZ is a problem, here's how you go fix it. And then, you know, go through our list of that, you know, that same process over and over again, with all the vulnerabilities that we can find.

Jen Burris:

Sure. So, what kind of businesses and organizations benefit from this kind of work?

Tyler Flaagan:

Every size. So, right now as part of the Mad labs, we do very small businesses up to medium sized businesses, even a couple of organizations that are fairly large in the Midwest at least. And then from my previous experience doing Department of Defense, some of our customers inside the Department of Defense had over 100,000 computers total. So, you know, if you talk about some of the small shops that we do now that have just a couple of computers, 510, maybe all the way up to we were doing worldwide operations against 100,000 computer networks, so top to bottom, basically.

Gabe Mydland:

Wow. That's amazing. And it's happening right here at Dakota State University?

Tyler Flaagan:

Right?

Gabe Mydland:

That's incredible.

Jen Burris:

How do you manage such big systems, then when you get up there to that, like 100,000 mark.

Tyler Flaagan:

So as a defender, as an offensive person, as an offensive person, as an offensive person, when we were doing those types of operations, we were in that red team mode. So, we were trying to be stealthy move around throughout the network. And we were not trying to find at that point, we're not trying to find every single vulnerability, we're trying to achieve objectives while the blue team is trying to find us and the defenders are trying to find this in the network. So, our objectives were typically defined before we started. So it could be something as simple as gaining full access to the entire domain. Or we could have made things a little bit more complicated and saying, you know, we want this specific data out of this specific system. So we'd have to work our way around to figure out how to get there and pull out that data. Whether that that data is PII, PHI, customer information, those sorts of things. Nowadays, outside of government, typically it's going to be things that we look for in that type of scenario is going to be customer information, or IP, intellectual property of the engineering customers that we have.

Jen Burris:

Okay. And how did these offensive practices help protect companies and organizations?

Tyler Flaagan:

So, again, being proactive and finding these vulnerabilities, is going to help them by you know having the experience folks experienced penetration testers come in, find the vulnerabilities report on them. And then basically say, here's how you go and fix them. So hopefully, we can't really force them to fix anything, but hopefully, do and it is in their best interest to go and fix all those things, before somebody else finds that problem, and exploits it for whatever they're trying to do. Again, ransomware is now the big topic of the day. So, if something gets exploited by a rogue actor, it's probably going to end up with ransomware on it. That's kind of where we're at. So we're trying to we're really trying to stop that from happening.

Jen Burris:

So are there certain areas that like, you know, to look when you go into working with different people? Or does it vary?

Tyler Flaagan:

It definitely varies. There are, there are certain things after you've done, I don't know, even a handful of penetration tests that you start to see patterns of things. And when I see certain types of software, I will know where to go look at them. And I know how they kind of the underlying works. So, I can kind of go in and maybe abuse them in some different ways. But right off the bat, when we walk into an organization, we don't have a specific place that we want to go look, we start by scanning the network and figuring out what's there and kind of work our way from there start picking based on our results.

Gabe Mydland:

You've been doing this a while, how have things changed over time in testing, an organization's protection? What kind of differences are there today than there were, say, five years ago or two years ago?

Tyler Flaagan:

So let's say the vulnerabilities are definitely different. And that's one thing we commonly hear things like, oh, there's this, this next-gen AV or all these new security products coming out that are going to be the silver bullet. And they aren’t because there are always new vulnerabilities. And that's, that's one of the big changes that we see is just, there are constantly new vulnerabilities for software coming out. We take a product like Windows 10, or Windows itself has been around for two decades now. Longer than that, actually. And we're still seeing vulnerabilities come out for it year after year. So, the vulnerabilities change. The overall testing hasn't really changed. We still use similar methodologies. The methodology may have changed a little bit, but they stayed mostly the same in the last, I don't know 5-10 years. There haven't been any real big changes that So, again, really the big one is just that the vulnerabilities, the types of attacks and things like that change. One other thing we are starting to see or have been seeing is the addition of things in the cloud. So, a lot of organizations are starting to use things like Office 365, versus just using Office on their computer, or they're starting to use Azure for their virtual machines, their servers, right. So instead of having a server room in their business, they're pushing it all up into Microsoft's cloud, which there are different avenues of attack, again, just different vulnerabilities, and kind of different aspects to look at there. But from a testing perspective, a lot of it really hasn't changed, we still kind of follow that same methodology,

Gabe Mydland:

How did you get interested in all of this?

Tyler Flaagan:

I've been interested ever since I showed up at Dakota state a little over a decade ago now. And I got lucky enough to be picked for a scholarship or ended up at an internship where I basically just got picked to be on the red team. I didn't know I had an internship. I showed up the first day, I had no idea what I was going to do. And they said, you're on the red team, go work with them. And I was lucky enough to have my technical background and impressed the Director and Deputy Director of my team and kind of kept working my way up in that system. And I kept doing penetration tests and Red Team engagements and research and things like that. But it all stems from an interest in just technology and computers in general.

Gabe Mydland:

Okay, that's fascinating.

Jen Burris:

Can you talk a little bit about your work with deep red then in the MadLabs™?

Tyler Flaagan:

Yeah. So, in deep red. The idea behind the Mad labs™, for starters, is that we're able to employ students to get them hands-on work in their respective fields or in areas that they may be interested in. So right now, I have a handful of students that work for me inside of Deep Red, and we do penetration tests together, essentially, as a team. And it's large enough now that we have multiple teams handling multiple clients. But we take customers, anybody who comes in and asks, most of them are regional, again, small companies with just a couple computers all the way up to very large organizations in the region. So, we'll go and do different types of testing depending on what they are looking for. And some of them even say they know what the Dakota State is all about and they're trying to support us and help us keep doing what we're trying to do. We take those teams, and we do anything from vulnerability assessments to penetration tests to sometimes we'll do phishing engagement, right test testing the user just to see if they'll click on the things that we send across the wire right in an email or something like that.

Jen Burris:

Sounds like an excellent experience.

Tyler Flaagan:

Yeah. Yep. So, for those students who are interested in continuing on and doing penetration testing, they're getting the work experience before they even leave school.

Jen Burris:

Very cool. So going back to red teaming, what's it like, when you are working together in a group environment on these projects?

Tyler Flaagan:

So, working together like I kind of talked or kind of mentioned briefly before, it's really a nice thing to have other people there, because everyone has somewhat of a different background, they've seen different software, different applications. So, if I run into a wall and something I can, you know, again, ask across the table, Hey, have you seen something like this before? Or hey, like, we're stuck, who's got ideas, and then going off on a little bit to a different angle on that if we're running into an organization that's, you know, very, very large, and we have a limited time to work with them, we'll having a team and we all split up and start looking at different things and scanning different areas and picking on those results and moving around that way. So having a team definitely has benefits in a couple of different areas.

Jen Burris:

And why is this important for everyday people?

Tyler Flaagan:

So, for the everyday person, you have to think about it, as you know, is your data safe? Where it works whatever organization there maybe, right, so we've done testing for banks before, right? So, people keep their money in banks, right? That's, that's an easy one. And when we tell folks or where people are asking, saying, you know, should we get a penetration test, one of the things we say is, you know, what's your, what's your number one thing you're trying to protect? So, banks are an easy one because it's, you know, they get a large bag of money. If we look at other organizations, let's look at Dakota State University. Dakota State has different assets, as we typically like to call an OD threat modeling. And, you know, it may not be assets in a typical way. But we think of those is what about your employee data that that DSU holds? What about the student data? What about intellectual property that's going on with research? Right, all those things? And for every business, there's going to be something that makes them money, right. And in a way that's going to affect someone down the line?

Jen Burris:

Because there really isn't any person untouched by data these days. Right?

Tyler Flaagan:

Right. Yeah, everyone's connected. Everyone's got, you know, bank accounts or you work with certain companies, or you work for a company, right, and they have your information at some point. Your something of you're just sitting on a computer somewhere, whether that's a server, whether it's a laptop, sitting in someone's office, you know, depends on the business.

Jen Burris:

This is all really fascinating.

Gabe Mydland:

It is definitely. Glad you're on our side.

 

Jen Burris:

Yeah, no kidding. So, what are we missing? What haven't we talked about that people should know?

Tyler Flaagan:

One of the big things some of our I talked about earlier about security maturity, some of the organizations that would deal with that have a little bit lower security maturity, and they're trying to kind of break into it and get some more penetration testing done or get more vulnerability assessments is that security is not a one and done type of thing. It's very much an ongoing process. So, whether that's having a penetration test on yearly or, you know, doing phishing assessments, where we're testing and training the staff of an organization, to, you know, actually take a look at the emails that are getting in, that's just from our side, from a defensive perspective, the ongoing is, you know, always making sure everything's up to date. So, new vulnerabilities are announced, and they come out, making sure to get those pieces of software, those applications patched. So, they are secure. So that's, that's probably one of the biggest things is it's never a one and done thing.

Jen Burris:

So no complacency or no resting on your laurels,

Tyler Flaagan:

Right. Yep. Let's say you're an organization, you can't get your systems to a point where they're secure. And then you know, fire all your security people, because two weeks later, you know, you might not be secure, there might be a whole bunch of brand new vulnerabilities that come out a whole bunch of new problems. So like I said, it's just it's not a one-and-done. It's an ongoing process.

Jen Burris:

So you would say that's kind of a growing field, then in that, it's not going anywhere.

Tyler Flaagan:

Yeah, it's definitely a growing field. There are plenty of companies hiring for, for offensive folks, whether it's in you know, doing penetration testing, or r&d, right, we have on the larger teams they actually have researchers doing building tooling and things like that in the background for those teams. And yeah, it's definitely as more and more organizations realize that they need this help. It's definitely growing, growing our teams, as a will say, as an industry.

Jen Burris:

Gabe anything else?

Gabe Mydland:

No, I'm just trying to ingest all of this. This is a lot of information. But yeah, maybe one question. Companies that are interested in this kind of assessment, contact you directly?

Tyler Flaagan:

They can?

Gabe Mydland:

How do they find you? Is it largely word of mouth? Or is there a number of other entities out there that do the same kind of work that you do? Or how does the word get out that you're available to help them with this?

Tyler Flaagan:

There are a number of penetration testing companies are companies that do that as consulting out there. And so, if you're going to do a Google search, you'd come across a handful that does it. For Deep Red, specifically, most of our stuff has come through word of mouth. We don't have any I’d say really big advertising out there for our own work. But through word of mouth, we typically stay busy, at least throughout the school year, and then dial down during the summer when students are off doing their internships and things like that.

Gabe Mydland:

That’s great.

Jen Burris:

Okay, anything else you want to plug Tyler?

Tyler Flaagan:

I don't think so.

Jen Burris:

Okay, well, thank you so much for being a guest today. And thank you to Our Podcast Producer Xander Morrison. And thank you for listening to Cyberology.

Jen Burris:

Welcome back to cyberology Dakota State University's podcasts about all things cyber and technology. Gabe is out today. I'm Jen Burris. And this episode, Erik Pederson is here to talk about game design. Erik, why don't we get started with you telling us a little bit about yourself.

Erik Pederson:

I moved to South Dakota with my family about a year ago, I have been doing Game Design here at DSU. For a couple of semesters before that, I was game development program chair at a small college in Madison, Wisconsin during that time. And before that time, I was producer, associate producer, basic studio owner, Lackey, whatever else coffee get her type person in the video game industry got to work with a lot of different people. Before that. I taught instructional design and engineering and building construction courses at a different school. Before that, I was a project manager at a construction contractor. I've got two kids that are with me right now. And they are eight and 12. And I've got a couple of older kids that are at college and having a great time.

Jen Burris:

Why don't you start with a little bit about what game design is and what it entails?

Erik Pederson:

Game Design is a lot of things. In the one-sentence answer, I'd say that game design is the development of interactive software, especially the digital end. You could go game design is Magic cards or Pokémon cards. There's that type of industry. There's also the board game industry that we're all familiar with everything from Twister to Monopoly, there are tons of different games and tons of different formats, what we do at DSU. And what I've got some experience with is making digital designs. So, making it interactive digital content.

Jen Burris:

Can you tell me a little bit about what goes into making digital content?

Erik Pederson:

Well, to break it down you if have artists that make digital content. And it's just artists, you'll have pretty pictures that designers bring to the table, the fact that the product ends up being a good interactive product that’s fun to play. But without the people doing the code behind the scenes, you have nothing. So, it's a combination of design, coding, art, and a few elements of narrative and some other things thrown in there that make it work. So, it's a detailed, tough thing to do.

Jen Burris:

Can you talk a little bit more about the duality of Arts and Sciences in this field?

Erik Pederson:

I can. And the way I'm going to phrase it is how, you know go back to DSU. It's not a sales pitch for DSU program. But how DSU has got their setup of how we go about running the game development program. It's split 50, between The Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences. There's a combination where one of the faculty members is from Arts and Sciences, and I'm out of The Beacom and we work on this together to make it happen. So it's a little bit different than most of the programs. And most of the disciplines that are done here, which are if you are in audio, you spend the majority of your time in one building, if you are in Arts and Sciences, you spend the most of the time in one building. If you're a computer coder, you may split your time between a couple of buildings, the discipline of game design is a combination of all the other disciplines put together. So we're kind of unique creatures.

Jen Burris:

And what do you enjoy about the world of game design?

Erik Pederson:

I like to play games, all different kinds of games. And this is just playing right playing and making are completely different creatures. I've been exposed to games that an eight-year-old would play up to any type of adult-level games. But the 100% thing that I enjoy is the people that are part of the teams that make the games it's all about the people. I've met some crazy, fun, intelligent, creative people in all industries I've been involved with, but the game development industry takes that to a different level. And those are the people that you basically want to surround yourself with. Out of all the stuff in game design, what do I enjoy the most? It's just being around the people being in the trench failing at what you're doing, succeeding in what you're doing, and just being together.

Jen Burris:

So definitely not a solitary industry.

Erik Pederson:

Well, there are people that make games by themselves, if you've got a good financial base that you don't have to maintain a job. And you've got 15 years of your time that you want to invest into making one product could take a long time. Yeah, multiple skill sets are required to and to get good at all of the skill sets could take you 20 years to get good at all the skill sets.

Jen Burris:

what is the industry as a whole like?

Erik Pederson:

Like a speeding bullet train. It goes really fast. The Game Dev industry is very young compared to other industries like manufacturing, and production, and education, all those industries are old school industries. Because people have been building houses for a long time, the game industry is still trying to get its feet. And you can tell because of the fast and vast changes that it makes so quickly. How it evolves, not just technology-wise, but people-wise, the skill sets change. And they're changing all the time, it's a constant evolution, there's typically no silver bullet to solving any one issue. Okay, you can take the werewolf down with a lot of different bullets. But it's just the one that works. It's the solutions that worked the best. A lot of times, there's a publisher that you'll work with, which means that you're getting fronted money. So, you have to understand how the business aspect of being fronted money works, you have to understand how to constantly be problem-solving the game industry is constant problem solving every day, something else is going to go wonky or break and you're faced with refiguring out how everything works almost every day.

Jen Burris:

Prepares you for any kind of lifestyle

Erik Pederson:

It really does. A lot of developers I know have been in the business for five to 10 years. And after five to 10 years, they find something else to do, which they could do almost anything they want because of their skill sets, just to slow the pace of life down a little bit.

Jen Burris:

Along that line. What are some of the variety of the different skills people need in this industry?

Erik Pederson:

Making interactive software is hard. It's very time-consuming. But ultimately, it ends up being a business. Like other businesses, if you develop a product and work on a product, which could be a game or a simulation, or any of the above, you need to be able to turn a profit on that to pay the bills where you live for rent and put food on the table, be able to pay the people that you work with or work for it ends up being a very difficult growing business. I'd say the biggest surprise with it is that the industry itself never slows down. It always is on a fast track. It's always the bullet train versus the old steam train that runs on coal. Other industries run on coal, the game development industry runs on like new killer biofuel, everyone's always going at the same pace. And as an example, for that there was a team that I was involved with that we found out six months into a production cycle, that engine that we were using to actually run the game wasn't good enough. In the last two months of that project, we completely ripped that engine out and installed a new game engine, and recoded the entire six-month process in two months.

Jen Burris:

Wow.

Erik Pederson:

That happens on a relatively frequent basis. Nobody talks about it. But things like that are every day.

Jen Burris:

What are some of the steps in the process of developing a new game?

Erik Pederson:

I'll just break it down and maybe how our students are doing it right now. And that'll make it relatively simple. There's a consummating phase upfront, where either a publisher gives you a concept or you can try, and self-publish something yourself or a small team. And you take that concept, you go into a pre-production mode in the pre-production, you start developing your art, you start developing your mechanics that are going to run the product. Basically, you're developing your USPs, those are your unique selling points, the things that really stand out. If you think of box to game DVDs, where you look on the back of the box, it's usually got three or four things like great first-person action, you know, shoot all your enemies in the head, that kind of stuff or zombie apocalypse, those are usually bullet points in the back. Those are the unique selling points of your product. And you go from there and you start building the mechanics you go into a production mode, which could be anywhere from what we do here is roughly six months at DSU for a student project, the industry could take up to five years to develop that production piece. And then it'll go to post-production finalize, the special effects are added the audio is all refined and then you launch it could be anywhere from eight months to five years that you're working on one thing. If you're in an entry-level position in that game industry, you could be working on textures of rocks in the game for five years. And that's your first project.

Jen Burris:

Wow. So, that's like every day working on just the textures of the rocks?

Erik Pederson:

10-hour days, they might give you different colored rocks. Or if they find out that you're very competent in your production or your ability to make the color schemes work and the patterns work. They may give you some grass that you can color or some stones on the wall but typically your first job as a texture artist in the industry you weren't held responsible for much but you're held responsible for doing a lot of rock textures, Sky textures, usually, it's the lower end stuff that designers that have been there for longer periods of time get to eat the meat off the bone so to speak and here are the ones that are putting the bones together There you go. All you entry-level game designers, there's a reality check for you.

Jen Burris:

Definitely, an area where you have to kind of work your way up then?

Erik Pederson:

it's like any other business you have to start someplace. You can. There's a difference, I suppose in the industry between a triple-A development studio, which is an example would be Blizzard where they have roughly 2000 People that work on a product versus an indie studio, which is smaller, less funding, and they can develop some pretty good indie products, teams of two to four, to 20 to 40. That type of thing. Typically, the indie studios have a much smaller budget, but they're able to turn around products a lot faster.

Jen Burris:

Yeah. What do you think the difference is with the turnaround? Is it just the smaller teams so they can kind of work through it faster?

Erik Pederson:

they're just more agile, we teach our students here to be indie developers, to be faster, to have more responsibility to have more creative input, and be part of teams that are held accountable for a lot more stuff than just being just a piece of the product. you know, it's the difference between going to Dakota State University to the University of Michigan where there's, you know, 50,000 students versus 10,000 students, there's a big difference. And that's pretty much how the game industry runs just like that. Okay.

Jen Burris:

What would people be surprised to know about game design?

it's a big gamble. The way that I'm going to define that is, the bigger the studio, the bigger the monetary investment in the product. But there's no guarantee that that product is going to launch and make tons of money. Let's say that a company like a blizzard or EA or Raven Software, or Activision, or Nintendo, could put up to half a billion dollars into the development of a project. And if that game releases and doesn't take that back, that's a big gamble. That's a big hit. And it's happened, it happens a lot. $500 billion to the triple-A game industry is a game.

Jen Burris:

That's mind-blowing.

Erik Pederson:

It's big money. But it's a big gamble. You know, if you and I were to put our money together and set up a studio and make games with just a staff of four or five or eight people, that's a huge gamble for us. But monetarily, it's a $500,000 Gamble versus a $500 million gamble. So that's the difference between the Indie development and triple-A development. Realistically, if you look at the big market, in general, there's not a lot of new products. There's a lot of Call of Duty Next, there's a lot of Madden 22. I think it's 22, now. The game generally falls into a production line where they're producing another product in that line every 12 months.

Jen Burris:

That's just kind of minor changes type of thing?

Erik Pederson:

Sometimes there are major changes, but they have a well-defined process of development. They can reduce cost by having that well-defined process of development, but the flexibility of what could be really different, or can we add things in can we take things out, it becomes a lot harder to do that

Jen Burris:

Less flexibility, because you've set a standard?

Erik Pederson:

And the players expect a certain level of product. Whereas the independent industry, the indie games industry is far more flexible. There are far fewer barriers or constraints, other than not having $500 million. Of course, that's a that's kind of a barrier. But there are triple-A studios that will spend half a billion dollars on advertising alone. So, you're looking at giant triple-A games that come out that cost a billion dollars between production and marketing, that's a lot of money, they've got to justify the cost of $75 for a game, it is a business. We try and teach that to our students to, by the time they graduate, they'll understand the difference between releasing a product that's free to download, versus maybe a $4.99 game that they can post on Steam and actually turn a little bit of a profit and help pay their rent the last year that they're here, that kind of thing. Whether you're quote-unquote, playing with someone else's money, or your own money, it's a gamble.

Jen Burris:

Are there ways that students can use the skills that they've gained in the game design arena, in different areas outside of that?

Erik Pederson:

I will explain that as well as I can, without a whiteboard and a marker. Picture, the capital T, the width of the top of the T is the breadth of experience, we will expose them to hear okay, so everything from some audio components to how to put together some 2d art and how to put together 3d art and animation and how to code for games, how to use the industry game engine, and then to finish that off would be to put them on teams and teach them how or expose them to working together as a team to actually produce a product. A lot of times we find that's the hardest thing, but the vertical piece of the team is a part that we encourage all the students to select one of those pieces across the breadth of the tee and gain an in-depth knowledge of that skill set. Let's just say they want to be a texture artist. They want to graduate and do texture art for different indie studios. For a triple-A studio, whatever they want to do the last year or two that they are here, that's the one skill that they really focus on. When a student graduates, the breadth of the tee is wide enough so that they understand the game industry as a business. And they understand how each of the different pieces works together. But they also have that in-depth deep dive of the vertical part of the T, that will get them specific positions out in the games industry. And we teach them all that they all can do that, we encourage the students to pick what they want to get really good at, we will push them in that direction. So, the last year they're here, they're working on a team. And that's what they're doing. They're doing their special pieces of that overall component being the head designer, the one with the idea, or if they want to be a level layout person, or if they want to be an artist, or they want to be a coder, those jobs are more defined the last year that they're here. So, when they graduate, they can go directly into those fields.

Jen Burris:

And would you say that they can also then use those skills, such as a designer in different markets if they for some reason chose not to continue on with game design?

Erik Pederson:

Absolutely. Writing code means that you've learned coding languages, and how it works and how the logic works. That doesn't mean that it's just limited to game design. Because basically, everything is running on code, learning another language would be nothing more than just applying that logic, and spending a bit of time to learn another computer language. The same thing for the artist, if one of our game development graduates that has an art-specific background, wanted to go into graphic design, they understand all of the layouts, they understand the sizing, they understand the colors, they understand everything that they have to do table to step right into that field, it'd be a short step versus a long stop. And we do that on purpose, it opens the number of options that they have because getting into the game business is hard. And they may spend a year working as a graphic designer at a print shop someplace if they're an artist looking to get into the business. And that's what they have to do. And they're set up for that.

Jen Burris:

So, building experience in other areas, too. Are your students working on anything cool in the classroom right now?

Erik Pederson:

Oh, I'm glad you asked. I was kind of hoping you'd ask that. So six months ago, our students completed their first round of project classes that Peter and I have been here for to help be part of two of the three projects are actually downloadable games on Steam. One of them went live about two months ago, it's got roughly 10,000 downloads now, which is pretty cool. It's basically the goal is our students have published work before they graduate. And what's the title of that game, the name of that game is three o'clock horror. And it's a very fitting game to play because it is Halloween time now. And it's a free-to-download game. So, try it out, put some comments in the feedback. And they've been updating that game. I think they've gone through two updates already. And that one's being developed as potentially a mobile app as well. The other game is a game called Mi Scusi. And I'll just spell that its m i s c u s i in that game went live about a week ago. And it's got over 2500 downloads in a week. And there's probably another 5000 plays of the game that haven't actually been downloaded just been played 5000 or so times.

Jen Burris:

That's pretty impressive.

Erik Pederson:

Yeah, so two out of the three games, we've got almost 15,000 plays and downloads. And that's pretty cool stuff that puts DSU which is in Madison, South Dakota, in the middle of the country in the middle of cornfields and bison herds on par with a lot of the Eastern West Coast game development schools that specifically teach game development. So, it's been a pretty fun week or two lot of sleepless nights. And that just happens to be one of our team names right now too. So sleepless nights, sleepless nights.

Jen Burris:

I wonder where that will go?

Erik Pederson:

well, we'll have to see what happens with that. We've got four teams right now. Uh-huh. Their products are due for launch at the end of next semester, so they have another six months or so to continue working on them. That's where we're at.

Jen Burris:

Thank you, Erik, for being a guest today. Thanks to Our Podcast Producer Xander Morrison and thank you for listening to cyber ology. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider taking a moment of your time to rate and review it. Thank you.

Jen Burris:

Welcome back to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast about all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris from the marketing and communications department.

Gabe Mydland:

My name is Gabe Mydland from the College of Education.

Jen Burris:

In this episode, we'll be talking about esports. Our guest today is Andy Roland, head coach for the esports athletic program at DSU. Andy, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Andy Roland:

Sure. My name is Andrew Roland. I am the head esports coach here at Dakota State going on my third year here. One of those years was a COVID year so I don't know how much we can exactly count that one. We really exploded since we've been on campus. Our first year was great success struggled through our second just as everyone else did. And now our third year we're coming in really strong. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future has for us.

Jen Burris:

Okay, can you start by telling our audience in case they might not know what esports is?

Andy Roland:

Esports is an electronic competition. So, it's competitive in the same aspect that football, baseball, basketball, all sports, we do the same thing but instead of football, baseball, basketball, we have League of Legends, Valorant, Overwatch, and Rocket League, it's all electronic all online with PCs, controllers, things like that.

Gabe Mydland:

So, Andy, I'm really curious. How did you get interested in esports? How did this come about?

Andy Roland:

Sure. I've been a gamer pretty much my whole life just like you know, a lot of the guys at this university are. A lot of people are, this is what you do when you're a kid, you go online, and you can socialize with your friends in this way and game with them. It's always been a part of my life. I've always played like Call of Duty, played Halo pretty competitively back in the day. I grew up in Texas, and Texas is kind of a hub for eSports right now. It's like California, and in Texas, a lot of schools are developing the scene well. It is a little bit of a case of right place right time, I was a student at Texas Christian University, and they didn't have an esports team at the time. I saw it as a way for me to kind of build something there with my time as a student. So, I created that program. I played on the varsity team for a year, I was the League of Legends support, and we built a team. I built the organization I ran for two years while I was there, and I fell in love with it. The work of building something, of creating something, and having a purpose and meaning for those involved. You know, when I graduated, I had a job offered to work somewhere else, and I took it as a comfortable thing. I had it lined up while I was in college, I was going to go work for Dell in Round Rock, Texas, their headquarters location, which is right down the street from TCU where I graduated, so I did that. But I was holding on to my esports dream if you will of working in the esports scene, and then Dakota State had the position open for a head coach, and I applied for it. I got to meet Jeff, he brought me in on-campus and we met the whole athletics department and I fell in love with that the big kicker was Jeff. He was and still is a really strong advocate for esports.

Gabe Mydland:

You're talking about Jeff Dittman?

Andy Roland:

Yep, correct. Him and the president of the University, Dr. José-Marie Griffiths. So, the success of our program really is due to the foresight of those two, they saw that this is something that can become great, and they did it the right way they invested in it and they brought in a head coach. Not only that, but Jeff really wanted to give me the creative freedom to build this program. The best way I saw fit, I could have gone back to Dell and work my desk job at a corporate office, or I could come here and build something that I'm really proud of. And that makes a difference for the students. I still have the list on my phone of pros and cons that I made on the plane flying back after my interview and I look at it sometimes and the more I look at it the more I realized that I made the right decision because it's opened up so many new doors and I've met so many great people working with the students here on campus has just been fantastic. You know to see these guys develop real-world skills, leadership skills right here on our program. It's a very humbling thing.

Gabe Mydland:

You know, again, I'm going to ask maybe some obvious questions, but are there tryouts? Are there students that are recruited for esports? How does this work?

Andy Roland:

Yeah, we have returners that come in that are like my rock, my foundation, kind of like the RAs are on campus to bring in new students. These are my coordinators, and these guys helped me do a lot of the managing of this program. As far as tryouts go, we have a one-week sort of tryout session, we call it boot-camp, where we bring in all of our new students and returning students one week early. It's really an integration tool so that we can get the new guys sort of processed and see how our organization runs and they can see what our organization means on campus and how we function really just getting these guys involved with what we're doing, showing them you know, what we do on a daily basis, how practicing and games are going to work throughout the season. And we get all that done during boot camp, we get to know who your coordinator is and who your fellow teammates are going to be throughout the season. And that's one week before school starts. And then when school starts, we've got all this figured out so these guys can focus on class. I like to get them to play as many video games as they can during one week, that way they're sick of it and they can start focusing on classes when school starts, so that's sort of the integration process for new athletes coming in in the fall, in the spring it's a little bit less severe really, we have maybe a few guys trickle in but most of the guys are already settled here. That's the thing about our organization we're very fluid we've got guys who are coming in playing on JV rosters and then they're like I need to focus more on classes and step back and then we'll have guys coming in like hey, I missed a boot camp but I really want to get involved,  ‘yeah come on in, meet your coordinator meet the guys who are going to be on your team get to know these guys and find your fit.’ We are very fluid. We've got guys coming in and out.

But one of the hardest things to do right now in the country for an esports organization is to scout or recruit right? We are an athletic program and I need to scout League of Legends and Valorant players, I want good guys to come in here. And there's just no real foundation for that. There's no scouting combined or anything like that. It may be a little bit simpler because video games like League of Legends and Valorant have a rank system that I can go in and see exactly how good they are. But it's the recruiting process. That's difficult. There are a lot of good guys in California that play this game, but how do I reach out to them and get them to come to Dakota State. It's a little bit challenging because esports is still developing, but I can confidently say that I don't really need to recruit for this university. The university does the recruiting for me, you know, we've got cybersecurity and game design and all of these fantastic programs that just feed into what we're doing. These guys are coming to this university or, you know, they may be on the fence about a cyber security degree. And then when they see that we've got a fully-fledged esports program. They're like that's the kicker. A lot of our majors in academics do a lot of recruiting for me, it just makes sense that these guys that are on their computer all day gaming are going to fall in line with this tech mentality that we have here.

Jen Burris:

How many students are involved with esports?

Andy Roland:

We teeter around 100. Some days I'll go over depending on you know, the new guys that flutter in, like I said, we're pretty fluid, but we stay at around 100. I think I'm at like 97 right now. But I know that there are guys who are joining rosters this week. Those are about our numbers and those are across seven different titles and multiple rosters. I've got my varsity roster set across the board. And then we've got some JV rosters in play.

Jen Burris:

And what are those seven different titles?

Andy Roland:

Without having them right in front of me League of Legends and Valorant are our top two we've got. Rocket League, Overwatch, Smite, Rainbow Six, and fighting games. So, we've got various fighting games like Smash Ultimate, Smash Melee, Tekken, Guilty Gear, and I kind of lump all of those into a fighting game category. And we're always looking to kick up more, right so like Apex has been a huge game that's taking hold in the esports world right now, and Respawn, the company that owns, it is investing a lot into it. So, the video game is gaining a lot of momentum, we've got guys who are gonna come in and compete playing that game. There are games out there that I didn't mention that we still compete in. But these are our like a rock or foundation, we’ve been competing in these for three years. Now I'd love to add more to that list. Because you know, the mark of a good organization is diversity, right? We want to be able to include everyone to play all games.

Gabe Mydland:

Well, in speaking of diversity, you and I have had conversations before this, that there are young men and young women involved.

Andy Roland:

Getting women involved in esports has been difficult. We already have the barrier of tech things, and then athletics, and then video games. With that being said, our numbers are growing. You know, in our first year, I think we had one female in our program, I think we have like five or six now, which isn't a lot considering we've got 100 on our roster. But it's very important to me that we keep this all-inclusive atmosphere going here. There are a lot of things that I'd love to do to ramp up those numbers, like an all-female League of Legends team, or things along those lines. I'm all for it. I love it. And when I talk to the females that we do have in our program, they don't really feel like there's a difference. They just plug and play. They're part of the crew, they're on the team, and there's no real

Gabe Mydland:

The distinction between the sexes?

Andy Roland:

Exactly.

Gabe Mydland:

That's great. That's fantastic.

Jen Burris:

So how does esports compare to traditional sports?

Andy Roland:

I draw as many parallels as I can because it's easier to understand that way. I may go beyond my bounds a little bit and say that the closest to what we are would be like football. I'd love to get the amount of recognition and support that they do. But our athletes don't feel any different. They have more physical demand (football). Yeah, but the expectations are the same. Practicing, team mentality respect, you know, we're training these guys and they're developing team skills to be able to coordinate with each other and process things. Player disputes are always a big thing that we have to learn and overcome. And, and I welcome things like that. These are the things that I want these guys to go through just like on a football team. When things get tough, you guys got to come together to overcome. And I want these guys to do that, too. If there's someone that you're not working well on a team with, you got to be able to figure that out. Because that happens when you graduate college, you're put on a team, and you don't like the guy you're working with. Now we can get you a little bit more of that experience. And that's something that athletics addresses really well is the team mentality. We're all working together to accomplish a goal. And so that's something that rings true across the board, the responsibility aspect of it, being able to manage your schedule with practices and games and school and extracurriculars and things like that. It takes an intelligent person to juggle all that. And that's why being a part of athletics helps us out a lot more. It puts us all on the same playing field, it may be a little bit more difficult for some people to understand, right? Because it's not a traditional sport. But as far as practice and all that goes, there's no distinction between the two.

Gabe Mydland:

And what kind of time commitment? You mentioned, practice like the other sports, how frequently do they practice? How much do they practice?

Andy Roland:

So, I have 10 machines in our competition center. It's hard to juggle 10 machines for 100 athletes.

Gabe Mydland:

I'll bet.

Andy Roland:

Yeah. And it's tough because these guys want to get in there, they want to put their time in. And that's where they play on game days. So, they want to practice that game day feel as much as possible. It's been challenging for me to make sure that everything is fair across the board, but we're making it work. With every challenge comes an opportunity for us to overcome with these guys. I love them to death because they can work amongst themselves. If Valorant has a game on Sunday night. And Rainbow Six has practiced at that time, they can work it out amongst themselves to come up with a great solution. Say, hey, we've got a game, we want to be in there. You guys can practice, just keep it down, we got a game or something. I've got great guys for coordinators. And the success of our program is really due to all of them. These guys communicate across the board with different sports, and they stay in coordination with each other to make sure that the 10 PCs that we have worked for all of us and that it's fair across the board. I come in and manage when I can. But I've laid the law and the foundation for these guys to say like if you're on Match Day, you're going to be in the room. These are the equipment and PCs that you guys need to be on. If you've got practice, get it in. We have practice starting at three o'clock every day and it runs to midnight. They're in three-hour sessions. Every game or every sport, if you will, has two practice sessions in the esports center a week and then one practice session online. It's about nine hours a week I suppose. And that's not including game days. Valorant is on Sunday nights, Monday nights are League of Legends. And then we go live on Twitch with that, too, so you can catch them there. It works because these guys can work together really well.

Gabe Mydland:

That's great.

Jen Burris:

With esports being kind of a new thing to colleges, what's it been like finding competition? I know you helped create some around here. So, can you speak a little bit about that?

Andy Roland:

Yeah, it's difficult because, if you think about it, football is established at every university. And not only that, but you've got like the NCAA, the NAIA, who come in and facilitate all these things. We don't have that. So, when I'm looking for competition, there are national tournaments like NA Star League, AVGL, Conference One. There's a bunch of different just like kick up companies that are like, hey, there's a need for this, we'll do it, you know, pay us. And because esports is so new, I don't like paying for competition, especially because this area's still developing. There are universities out there that are hungry to compete because esports right now is in its development phase. And it's kind of like the Wild West, I reached out to some Midwest schools, and said, hey, you know, we're all pretty local here. We're all developing our esports scenes. We all want this to be something great. We all believe in it. Let's work together on this. And let's create our own little conference. We'll communicate with each other about what our needs are for our university, what they want to see from us, and what we can bring back to them and show them that what we're doing is meaningful.

So, I started the collegiate Champions League or CCL. It's just a kick-up with a bunch of different universities from the Midwest. It started because I'm from Texas, I had a great network there. It started with half Texas schools, half Midwest schools, so we can kind of communicate with them. And there are a lot of really great programs in Texas too. So, joining Midwest schools with Texas schools and having them mingle and compete with each other was really great for those guys. But they’re good. We brought in UT and their Valorant team is one of the best in the nation right now. And they kind of destroyed all of us. But it was an honor to play with them and get to chat with them and learn all that but now this semester we brought in the CCL, everyone within a four-to-five-hour drive from Madison here. We've got the University of North Dakota as far north as we go. And then we've got the University of Nebraska down south that's about as far as we go down. I'm bringing all these guys together and say, hey, like we all want to build our programs together, we want to show our universities that we're doing great things, you know, let's all come together here and have great competition and make this as easy as possible.

Another big need for collegiate play in the esports world. As I said, I like to draw as many comparisons to traditional sports as possible. traditional sports now have season schedules, where we know every week, even weeks in advance who was playing, majority of the competition in collegiate eSports right now is tournament-based. You can enter into a nice Star League tournament with 100 to 200 other schools in the nation, they'll play one round of 82, where you are matched up against one team. And if you win, cool, you go on, if not, you're done, your season is done. And that's not fun. It's hard to follow. It's demoralizing for our guys. And that's just not the best format for us, I can see how it might be a good format for the company who's putting that together and giving away scholarship money for it and all that, but, but it doesn't work for building our scenes and for taking care of our players. So, with the collegiate Champions League that we put together, we've got a season schedule where we know who we're playing well in advance, make sure that everyone that we are coordinating and cooperating with the other universities is around the same skill level as us so that the matches are meaningful and exciting. There are certain aspects of collegiate play that I'm addressing by doing this by pulling everyone together. And by doing that it's making it easier for us to report what we're doing to the university.

Jen Burris:

And those competitions, you mentioned that you stream them on Twitch, can you talk a little bit about that, and how that differs a little bit from a normal athletic event.

Andy Roland:

Sure. Streaming has been an initiative that I've always wanted to put into play, if our mid laner’s mom wants to watch them compete just like our quarterback’s mom does, you know, we need to be able to do that. And it's fairly simple because it's all done online. Well, I say that because I don't exactly know how they do it. These guys are awesome that we've got it working on it, and they do an excellent broadcast show. But it started off as something that just the student organization wanted to do for our athletes. And it's something that I wanted to put in place for these guys because they deserve it. We started off as students, you know, coming up with and learning how to broadcast our matches on Twitch. And we've gotten to the point where our run of the show and our production has just been so great. And people look forward to this, that we've got IT now coming in and helping us with it. We've got Tyler Steele and some paid positions to help us broadcast our matches. And our production value is just going through the roof, every time we do it, it's getting better and better. So much so that the software that we're using vMix to put together the broadcasts and everything, we're doing it across the board now. So now the like the football stream will be done with vMix. We're upgrading our broadcast potential. And this all started just from us wanting to get our matches out there to the public, so you guys can watch. And it's turned into these beautiful broadcasting experiments that we're building on campus. All credit goes to the students for starting it and wanting to get it done and being hungry and learning about how to do this on their own, and really knocking it out of the park.

Now we've got our broadcast booth in a station with green screens and mics. And if you check us out on Twitch on Sunday, and Monday nights at eight o'clock, you'll see what our production looks like. And the casters for our matches, our broadcasters look kind of like hosts and talk during the match. They’re students because they know the game. And their mission during all of this is to translate what's happening in the match to you as an observer, who may not know what League of Legends or Valorant is. But they'll walk you through it and you buy into the hype because it gets fun last night's match. Last night we played the University of North Dakota in Valorant. It was our first game of the year. And it was so much fun, you could tell that all of these guys were just really hungry to get back out play. Our casters did an excellent job of keeping it fun and interesting. The match was really exciting. It's just a great place to really sort of watch what we're doing. And if you want to learn more, it's a good place to come and see what a match looks like. It would be the same if you had no idea what football was, you know, I can sit here and explain to you what football is. But when you watch it, you get a different feel for it. And you start to understand what the rules and penalties mean and things along those lines. It's the same thing.

Gabe Mydland:

Tell us more about where we can get information about an upcoming match or future matches.

Andy Roland:

Before we go live. We make a post on all of our social media channels. That's DSU Esports on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, I think we're going to put together a tech talk here soon for some clips for you guys to take a look at, but we post on all of our social media when we go live. It's on Twitch TV, our channel is Twitch.tv/trojansesports you just Go to our channel, and you'll hang out there until we go live. And then when we go live, you can follow the channel. And that way you'll get an alert every time we do go live, that we don't have to wait. That's where you'll find it's twitch tv.com. And then in the search bar, Dakota State Esports. You'll see our logo. And you can go and check out previous matches that we've played last night's match will be on there as the most recent broadcast, you can go in and see how we did against them. But yeah, every Sunday and Monday night we will be live on that site.

Gabe Mydland:

Awesome.

Jen Burris:

So, if you could have people take away one thing about eSports, what would you want that to be?

Andy Roland:

The amount of respect that I think is owed to the guys that are doing this to my athletes, and to the coordinators who make all this happen, we're running just like a football or baseball and it's early developmental days, it may not have had the amount of publicity like they do now. But it will come with time, the number of hours that these guys put in the training and dedicating themselves to their craft and into this organization and the purpose that we have on campus. They're working hard to do something great, and they deserve just as much recognition as any other sport gets on campus.

Jen Burris:

Any follow-up questions, Gabe?

Gabe Mydland:

What does the future look like? Where do you see this heading? You talked about developing a conference and sharing some common interests with other institutions that have these programs. But how far do you see this thing going?

Andy Roland:

I can see it getting as big as college football gets. The steppingstones are there, they've gone through this process. And football has developed itself into this national iconic sport, there's a market for esports out there, there's a professional scene for it, especially in the collegiate scene. I always like to say that esports really is a great tool to help you academically to give you a sense of purpose on campus, just like traditional athletics. The foundation is there we're just taking the steps to get there with the amount of diversity in games for esports. And the number of people who are willing and interested to get involved because this is a passion, they've had their whole lives playing video games. And not only that but there is a professional scene. These guys are developing real-world skills that they can use to go out and enter the esports market. Now there are esports professional athletes, yes, but just like in football, there are professional athletes, but there's a whole lot that goes around that too. There's physical therapy and broadcasting and there are so many components to that. And there are a lot of components to esports too. There are a lot of jobs popping up in the esports industry right now. So, getting involved at the collegiate level is almost a must to develop those skills and move into that area. It's an athletic sport, and I can see it following in line with all other traditional athletic sports.

Jen Burris:

Anything else you'd like to plug?

Andy Roland:

I plugged our Twitch stream and that's a big one. I would urge everyone to go out and take a look at our streams if you're curious there's a chat box there too. So, you can ask questions to the guys who are talking on stream about what things are and what things look like. It's a really fun way to get involved with esports watching and checking out what we do. The big thing that I want to do is just shout out to all the students in our organization none of this is possible without them, they helped me run and manage everything. I run all my decisions by them because this is their organization, we're doing this together. The success of our program is really marked by the guys in our program who are working hard. And I want to give them a big shout-out and to this university for having the foresight and seeing that this is definitely something that's growing and will be huge one day and we got in early and we're doing it right. I need other universities to follow suit. I need them to start hiring coaches and then we need our own NAIA or NCAA conference. That way I don't have to host our competitions, I can put it into larger hands, and it can be done the right way. That's going to come within the next couple of years. We're developing more every year and we're building, and esports is growing. It's an exciting time to get involved and understand what we're doing.

Jen Burris:

Excellent. Thank you so much for being a guest today. We enjoyed having you.

Gabe Mydland:

Yes, very much, very interesting.

Andy Roland:

Yeah. I appreciate it. This was a lot of fun. And my door's always open. If you guys have any questions, let me know.

Jen Burris:

And thank you to our podcast producer Xander Morrison. Thank you to the listeners of Cyberology. Please rate, subscribe and review. Thanks!

Jen Burris:

Welcome to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast about all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris from the marketing and communications department. And I'm excited to welcome back Gabe Mydland as our cohost.

Gabe Mydland:

Hey, Jen, thank you for having me back.

Jen Burris:

And this episode, we'll be talking about utilizing technology in the classroom. I'm excited to introduce our guest, Kevin Smith. He is an associate professor in the College of Education Coordinator of the Master of Science and Education Technology Program, and currently the interim director of the Center for Teaching and Learning. Kevin, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Kevin Smith:

Yeah, thanks, Jen and Gabe, for having me on the podcast. Just a little bit about me. I'm just starting my ninth year at DSU in the College of Ed, I've been at DSU longer than that, though, I was an undergrad student here. I graduated with a math education major and a computer minor when I finished at DSU, and my first teaching job was in Nebraska. I was a high school math teacher right out of college. And I've always been involved in technology. And so, thanks for inviting me to talk more about something that I'm really interested in.

Jen Burris:

We're glad to have you. Can you start out by just kind of telling us about some of the tools that you use in the classroom?

Kevin Smith:

Sure. I mean, I feel like I use lots of different technology tools. And it changes all the time. That's one of the things that we know is constant with technology is that it's always changing. I guess when I think about technology tools in the classroom, I kind of group them into a sort of different categories. I do a lot of things with multimedia. I love to have students create things with multimedia. So, we use tools like Canva, and WeVideo, and Book Creator to create videos and infographics, and posters to show we know I use a lot of tools for formative assessment. Or ways to get feedback from students to make sure that we know that they're learning what we want them to learn. We use things like quizzes and GoSoapBox, and Kahoot. And then collaboration tools. One of the great things about technology is the way it allows us to collaborate with people all over. So, a lot of different collaboration tools for video, we use Google Meet and Zoom and Skype and Microsoft Teams. And then the last kind of category that fits in with the technology, things I do is adaptive learning tools. These are things that teach us in a self-paced way. And so, I use those in a variety of ways in my classes to help students learn. So yeah, lots of different technology tools. Definitely.

Gabe Mydland:

Kevin, you mentioned one thing really quickly, and it might be helpful for our audience who aren't involved in education, formative assessment. Can you explain what that is? And why it's so important?

Kevin Smith:

Yeah, good question. Formative assessment is really, I like to think of it as gathering data while you're teaching. While we're teaching, we want to gather information about what the students know, and maybe what they don't know. We don't need technology to do formative assessments. We do formative assessments just by observing what our students are doing, by asking them questions. But technology allows us to make sure that everyone has a voice. Sometimes, if you just have a discussion, you might have students that aren't as eager to participate as others. So, if we use technology, it allows everyone to respond in some way to tell us if they know the answer to a question or to give us feedback. And then based on that, as an instructor, we can make decisions about do we need to reteach something? Do we need to move on? Do we need more clarification?

Gabe Mydland:

Can I just follow up quickly? How would you use technology to do a formative assessment while you're teaching a lesson? And how would that work?

Kevin Smith:

Good question. I'll give you a specific example. And I'll talk about a tool that I use. I use a tool called Nearpod, which is a tool that you can use to really deliver interactive lessons in the Nearpod tool, I might show the students a slide with some information on it some text, maybe the next slide I show them is a short video that explains a concept. And now I want to find out are the students with me, do they understand what I've just shared with them? So, I would pull up a slide in Nearpod. And Nearpod allows me to have this slide appear on everybody's screen in the classroom. And on that screen, there might be a question that they would respond to. And it wouldn't matter how many students I had in the class, I could have 10 or 50 or 100. They would respond to the question and in a matter of seconds, I would have data on how everybody did on that question, and based on that now, I can decide do I need to explain things further? Are we ready to move on?

Gabe Mydland:

So, it allows you to get feedback almost instantly as to where the students are at with the new idea that you're introducing to them?

Kevin Smith:

Yep.

Gabe Mydland:

Do students get to use that as well, as you're preparing them to go out and teach in the world?

Kevin Smith:

Yeah, good question. Almost all the technology tools that I use, I use them, really for two reasons I use them one to help in my instruction. So, I use tools like Nearpod, to make my lessons more interactive together with that formative assessment data that we just talked about. But I also use them in my classes because I want to introduce future teachers to all these tools that they have at their fingertips. Really, every technology tool that I'm using in my class, is a potential tool for them to turn around and use in their own K-12 classroom in the future.

Jen Burris:

Okay, and can you speak to some of the other benefits of introducing these technology-based apps and extras?

Kevin Smith:

Sure, my philosophy or kind of my approach to technology with students is, I really want to give them hands-on experience with tools, I don't want to just talk about them. But students need to actually not only see it but touch it and use it and do it. This helps build their confidence. That's kind of the first piece that I think about, like, how can I give them hands-on experiences. The next thing I think about with technology and preparing future teachers is I want to think about integration strategies. I want them to think ‘how could I use this in a meaningful way in the classroom?’ And then the third thing I think about is, I really want to have them think about their mindset when it comes to technology. And when I talk about mindset, I want them to have, you know, we would call it a growth mindset in which they are not afraid to learn new things, because like I said, really, the only thing that we know for sure about technology is that it's going to change. And so, I want students to leave DSU with the mindset that I can learn new things, I'm not afraid of it. But also with those other things, they have the confidence to tackle new things, and they have good strategies to use them in meaningful ways. And those are really the things I think about, I try to impart all of that information and kind of take that approach to technology with my students.

Gabe Mydland:

I was kind of wondering when you introduce a tool to students, some of them really take off running, can you share some of the most gratifying moments or of some of the things that students have done with technology that just kind of made you go, wow, I hadn't considered it that way. I mean, what are some of the success stories?

Kevin Smith:

That's a good question. I feel like I'm always happy when I hear about a former student, or you know, a current student that's in a field experience that tries a technology tool that we use in class, it tells me that they're confident enough to give it a try, while they're just learning to be a teacher. That always feels good. I feel like a more gratifying thing is when a former student talks about a new technology tool that they learned about and they're excited. And they turn around and share that with me, which really demonstrates to me that they have embraced that idea of having a growth mindset, learning new things, you know, adapting to change, so that's gratifying. One gratifying experience for me was I had a former student who was teaching in Bangkok. And that student wanted to connect with me and my students using Zoom. And it was a simple technology integration. It wasn't sophisticated. You know, we just got on a Zoom session, but how powerful to be able to have my students in Madison, South Dakota, talking to a teacher in Bangkok, you know, it was 10 am our time it was 10 pm her time, and getting to hear her talk about her experiences teaching middle school math, and really powerful use of technology, and it’s gratifying that a student is willing to take a risk and do that.

Jen Burris:

Very cool. You use so many different areas of technology. And can you speak a little bit about the virtual classroom that you use?

Kevin Smith:

Sure. At DSU, we have something called the VALE. It stands for Virtual Avatar Learning Experience. It's something that a colleague of mine brought to DSU in 2018. His name was Dan Klumper. He's the person that really brought this, what we call a mixed-reality teaching environment to DSU. Dan saw it at a conference that he was at. There were no other universities in the area that were using it. There were universities in other parts of the US that were using it but no one in our region and he thought it would be a really good experience for our students. So, he wrote a grant and brought this technology to DSU. And now we use it a couple of times each semester to give our students a chance to practice teaching. And so, what mixed reality is, is it's a combination of virtual reality with a human component. And that's why they call it a mixed reality. The way it works is our DSU students, our students that are learning to become teachers, they go into one of our classrooms, and they stand in front of what looks like a big-screen TV. And they teach lessons, they lead discussions with avatars, and the other five avatars on the screen, are middle school-aged avatars. And we have them work on things like classroom management, and strategies for leading discussions. We have faculty observe them while they're doing it. Then when they're done, we have debrief sessions to talk about what went well, and what didn't. It's a really unique experience. It's not something that students get at other universities in the area. We think it really is beneficial for our students because it gives them one more chance to get actual teaching experience with students and then get feedback from faculty on how they did one thing.

Gabe Mydland:

I'd like to add to that discussion about the VALE not being involved with it directly. But being in the same building. When the students are using virtual reality, the mixed reality, as you explained, they kind of gather in a group outside the room, and they're all going to go in one at a time. When they come out they share their experiences with others. And what I thought was really kind of neat was the students stay, even though they've had their time in the VALE room to find out how it went for others. They share experiences and they give each other tips about how to watch out for this thing because it might happen to you. But the VALE is a unique experience for each of the students. It's not just one simulation that's repeated over and over again. And so, the students are kind of learning vicariously, if you will, not having observed what another student went through in their experience, but they're sharing different ideas of how to handle different situations. And funny things that happened and frustrating things that happened. And there's a real sense of collaboration when the students have a chance to do it. I think it's just an incredible tool to help prepare students when they are sent out to the actual classroom. Because even though there's just five of them, I've seen these avatars behave, and they are just like, you've got the crowd-pleaser, you've got the student who's distracted, you've got the student who's distracting other students. It's a very good simulation of what it's like in a classroom. And that kind of technology is a nice way to be able to practice and learn from before you actually do the real thing. It's amazing. I think it's great.

Kevin Smith:

One of the things I'll add to that is I totally agree with Gabe, I think it's a great experience. Last semester, one of the powerful things about this is the fact that we can have faculty, watch all of our students teach to the same group of students. That's really powerful because when we talk about a student and behaviors, we can all kind of speak a common language because we all know that all the students experience that same student and that's hard to simulate. When you send students off to different classrooms, it's hard to zero in on behaviors and talk about them. So, in the spring, when we did it, we had a couple of students, a couple of the avatars that were fairly defiant, they did not want to do the activity that they were asked to do. And this happens at times. And the DSU students were kind of unsure of how to handle this, and they don't have a lot of experience with it. So, what I did after the VALE session, I observed them, gave them some feedback. And then I asked several of my colleagues in the College of Ed if you had a student that did this, that demonstrated this behavior in your classroom, how would you handle it? They all responded to me, I didn't let them share their responses. I wanted to see how each of them would handle the situation. And then I went back to the DSU students and said, here is what the faculty said about this. And the interesting thing was, what came out of that discussion was really the importance and the value of relationships. All the DSU faculty had really good ideas for how they could deal with that behavior at that moment. But in teaching, there isn't just one magic word that you can say that's going to correct it or one thing you can do. It really all came back to you have to have a really good relationship with the student and understand where they're coming from and that was just a consensus among faculty. And then sort of bring that back to students and have them experience that student and then hear from faculty I felt like it was a really great teachable moment for them.

Jen Burris:

Kind of a little bit of preparation for that year-long student teaching?

Kevin Smith:

Definitely, our students, they student teach, like you said, for a full year. We want to give them as many classroom field experiences as we can. And this just adds to that part of their learning experience at DSU.

Jen Burris:

And does it help to have maybe those avatar instigators to give them an experience of a child or a student that might not be the most responsible in class?

Kevin Smith:

I think so. I think you don't know what to expect with teaching, you don't know what kind of students you're going to have. And oftentimes, those students that you have that might be defiant, that might not be doing what you want, when you do it, oftentimes, there's an underlying reason for that. That's where it really comes back to the relationship piece. And so, for our students to get to experience a student that doesn't listen to them. And then to think about, how can I change that? How can I help them listen and learn so that this is a good experience for everybody? I feel like you can talk about those things. But the only way to really learn and to really make headway in that area and work to become a really good teacher is to get some really concrete experiences in the VALE. I think that it's a nice simulation closer to the real-life experience without actually dealing with actual students. So, I think it certainly boosts their confidence. And it makes them more self-assured that while they can’t anticipate everything that's going to happen in the classroom, they've had some experience in different situations and how best to handle them.

Jen Burris:

In addition to the technology in your classroom that you're using with DSU students, you also do a Chasing Einstein challenge and math mentorship with some elementary schools, if I'm correct?

Kevin Smith:

Yeah, I'll tell you a little bit about my Chasing Einstein activity first. So that's an activity that I do in one of my courses. It's K-8 math methods, Chasing Einstein is a gamification activity. If you're not familiar with gamification, it really means you're going to add game-based elements into a non-game context. In this situation, we're going to add game-based elements into the classroom, to motivate and engage students. And when I talk about game-based elements, it means things like leaderboards, and quests, and challenges, and badges. And so, I started to do this Chasing Einstein activity as a way to introduce my students to gamification. I wanted them to think about this as a tool they could use in their own classroom to motivate and engage students. I started it in 2017. It's a nine-week challenge. And we partner with area schools on this activity. My students are math mentors, for students in area classrooms, and every week, they create videos for these students in classrooms. We all do math challenges, both my DSU students and the classrooms, students that we partner with. I keep score, based on the challenges they do, I have a leaderboard, we give out some prizes. I think it's a really fun and unique way for my students to learn and see gamification in action. And it's a neat way for students in area classrooms to get to learn from college students. The ultimate goal for these classrooms that we partner with is to really show them that math can be fun. That really the most important thing in terms of being successful or being in the classroom in the math classroom, and being a productive student is to really have a positive attitude and put forth the effort. So, we really try to stress those two things, attitude, and effort. That's kind of our goal with the Chasing Einstein activity that makes all the difference, I think, having a positive attitude.

Gabe Mydland:

Yeah, and I think that the whole idea of paying attention to the effort, not how fast we can resolve a problem or solve a problem or how fast we can find an answer. But the approach that if I really put some effort into it, I can be successful is what I'd hope more teachers would pay attention to, rather than the student who is just more performance-based. They're doing what they need to do to get the grade, more mastery type of learning through effort, how it applies in different situations, or how it can be used to solve certain kinds of issues or problems. That's exciting. I like that a lot.

Kevin Smith:

Yeah, I would say there's a real push in math teaching to really do just that, to deemphasize speed and to really emphasize effort. And the fact that sometimes the best mathematicians are not the fastest, they’re people who can look for patterns and make use of structure and take their time and put forth the effort to solve problems. That's really what we want to try to instill in our students, as they think about math.

Gabe Mydland:

And I think that makes for a better educator, to be quite honest. I mean, generally speaking, I think you have two types of educators, you have one, that the subject matter is something that comes easily to them. It's more like a talent. And then you have someone who's just genuinely interested in the topic, who might not again be the fastest or the quickest to find an answer or have a response ready, but genuinely enjoys the topic. And I think the best teachers are those that fall into the second camp rather than the first camp because they know what it's like to kind of wrestle with the information and struggle with it a little bit, and have had success and they've tasted success, and are excited about others who, again, find it challenging find it somewhat of an obstacle to move through, that they can to experience and taste that success. Certainly, we want everybody to be proficient. But proficiency doesn't always mean speed, or how fast they get something done. It's how they go about solving the problem and their ability to get the problem done.

Jen Burris:

And to that point Gabe, I think the second camp of teachers that you were describing sounds a little bit more empathetic in connecting with their students….

Gabe Mydland:

I would guess so I mean, I think that they understand what it's like to be stumped. And maybe a little bit frustrated, but also a little bit determined to want to find the answer because they enjoy the challenge. And they're learning and they love learning. I think everybody enjoys being around people who enjoy what they're doing and find it not something that comes automatically, but something that comes with a little bit of effort and work.

Jen Burris:

Kevin, you've also been involved with some learning apps in the Apple Store. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to create those and how you went about doing it?

Kevin Smith:

Sure. I've always been interested in technology, and when the App Store first started the Apple App Store, I immediately was thinking, how could I get an app in the app store? How could I come up with an idea of what can I do to get an app in the app store and I remember one of the early apps that was really popular was angry birds. And you know, you would hear stories about millions of downloads. So, a friend of mine from graduate school and I put our heads together and started to brainstorm ideas for apps. We wanted to do something with education. And at the time, I had three young kids at home that were doing spelling tests. And so, my friend and I thought a spelling app would be a really good choice. At the time, he happened to be an assistant principal at an elementary school. So, he saw a need for helping students practice their spelling lists. That was really where the idea came from. We went through the process of trying to figure out how do we get this idea into the app store? You know, we started kind of through the whole software development process, we created wireframes, which were kind of sketches of what our app might look like. We spent a lot of time researching other spelling apps thinking about what we liked and what we didn't like. And then once we got to a point where we were happy with our wireframes. And we had kind of thought through what it might function like we started to think about the interface, and then programming. We were at a standstill with programming, we weren't quite sure how we were going to program something to get in the app store. So, we actually found a college student that was a computer programming major, and the college student built our first app. I did the design, and he did all the backend programming. We launched the first app that we have in the app store in 2012. It's been quite a while ago now. And it's called Spelling Star. It's a pretty simple app and allows parents or teachers to enter a spelling list. They record their voice, they read the spelling words, they can put the spelling words in a sentence, they record it, and then their child or the students in a classroom can open up that spelling list. It randomly gives them one of the words they can hear the audio, they have to type in the word correctly three times in order to master their spelling list for the week. So that was the first app. And now since that time, we have two more apps in the app store. One is called Math Mountains Add and Subtract and the other one is called Math Mountains Multiply and Divide. And those apps are very similar. But the idea behind those is we really wanted students to see the relationship, in fact, families.  want to talk about fact families. In addition, I'm talking about six plus two equals eight. But we also want students to recognize that eight minus six equals two, we want them to recognize the relationship between addition and subtraction. And we want them to visually see this. So, in the app, there's a triangle, and that kind of represents the mountain. Those are our three apps, but certainly a fun process. We don't have as many downloads as Angry Birds. We're not in the millions for downloads, but we have had more than 500,000 downloads for our app. Wow. So that's kind of exciting. From lots of countries, we actually have a lot of downloads of Spelling Star in Australia. But we've learned a lot about the whole process of coming up with an idea and then thinking about what are all the steps that go into actually getting this into the app store? And then not just when you get it in the app store? But how do you actually tell people about it? How do you let them know that it's there? I always think about the movie Field of Dreams If you build it, they will come. I think people think that oftentimes about websites or apps, all I have to do is build it and all these people are going to come but there are 1000s of apps out there. You really have to think about the marketing piece. If you're going to get any downloads. We've learned a lot about the marketing piece, of how are we going to get people to know about our app. So, it’s a fun hobby, but also a great learning experience coming up with these apps.

Gabe Mydland:

Wow, where were you when I was trying to learn master spelling?

Jen Burris:

Okay, well, any tech tips for current educators or future ones?

Kevin Smith:

I guess my tech tips would be kind of back to what I said, the three things that I really tried to instill in students for technology or try to really work on with our students is to give them hands-on experience to build their confidence. I want them not only to hear about tools but use them, I want them to think about integration strategies, you know, don't just use technology to use it. But really think about what kind of value it is adding to the learning experience. And then work to develop a growth mindset, work to develop a mindset that you're not afraid to try new things, to learn new things, because I feel like that's probably the most important thing when it comes to technology. Really, those are kind of the three things I'm always thinking about when I'm working with students, how can I do those three things, I feel like that sets them up for success with technology and puts them on the path to continue to learn about technology. One of the things I really try to work on with my students and I feel like some semesters I'm pretty successful and other semesters, I don't know, but that is I really try to encourage all of my students to build their personal learning network, their PLN. And you know, for me, my tool of choice for that is Twitter. I try to get my students to use Twitter, to connect with other educators. I feel like it's a great way to learn about new technology tools that are out there, see how technology tools are being integrated into classrooms, that's a piece of advice that I would leave anybody is to really work on building a PLN. Try to be connected so that you can you know, learn new things, and then just embrace change and don't be afraid to try new things, it may not go as planned, but it's fun to try new things.

Jen Burris:

Okay, well, thank you Kevin for being our guest today. I really appreciated you coming on the podcast, and it was quite interesting to hear what you had to say. Thank you to our podcast producer Xander Morrison and thank you for listening to Cyberology. Please rate, review, and subscribe.

Jen Burris:

Welcome back to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast for sharing and discussing all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris from the marketing and communications department at DSU and I'll be your host. Today we'll be talking about how evolving technology has impacted the study of English. I'm excited to introduce our cohost for this episode Brittni Shoup-Owens. Brittany is a content writer in our marketing and communications department where she writes copy for the website, media paperwork, like pamphlets, social media, and so much more. Brittni, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Brittni Shoup-Owens:

Hi everybody, my name is Brittni Shoup-Owens. And like Jen said, I'm the content writer for DSU. I am an alum of DSU as well. I graduated in 2017, with a Bachelor of Science in English for new media. And prior to that I was actually in English education for about three, three and a half years, but switched my major a semester away from graduating with that. And I've been here ever since I came to DSU. In 2013. I have a husband and a nine-month-old little boy. And so, he's the joy of our lives right now. But yeah, that's about it.

Jen Burris:

And our expert guest for today is Dr. Justin Blessinger. He is professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences. And Justin teaches courses like intro to lit and Media Studies. He's also an award-winning published author and director of the DSU AdapT Lab for Accessible Technology at Dakota State. Justin, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Justin Blessinger:

Well, thank you, Jen. Well, let's see, I came to DSU in 2003. And at the time, the job was called professor of computers and writing. And it was just one of those first, I think indicators that DSU was a little bit different. And I'd grown up around technology. Even though I grew up in northeastern Montana on a farm and ranch up there, my family was, I guess, early adopters of home computers and that sort of thing. And so, I was pretty comfortable with computers. And a lot of my friends were in computer science when I went through my undergraduate years too. And it was really a an attractive fit for me to be able to come to someplace that was happy about the alignment of those two different skill sets, I had a little bit of programming and a little bit of early HTML, and that sort of thing, just you know, enough to get myself into trouble. But it was such a good fit, then to come to someplace that didn't just act surprised about being able to do both of those things, but really celebrated that. My wife, Christina, and our two kids live here in Madison with me, and they're both in middle school in high school.

Jen Burris:

Okay, and do they have a love of English and/or technology?

Justin Blessinger:

Yeah, they're equally comfortable in both worlds, I'd say. And a little bit of the mechanical side, too. You mentioned the work that I do in the AdapT Lab. And there's some hardware and modifying wheelchairs and little electric cars for children before they're able to use a wheelchair with the go baby go program, stuff like that. And so, one of the things that probably growing up on a ranch really instilled in me was just a familiarity with the tools around me to be able to keep something going after it's broken a couple of times, you're too far to return things to the store or even buy another easily when you're up there. We were 100 miles from a Walmart, I think so you when you're out in the big open area in Montana, you do have to figure out a way to get things done absent professionals or experts around. So, if you end up sort of learning on the job a lot. And I think that that has served me well at a place like DSU, where as I said, it's kind of celebrated not just tolerated or looked at with a mixture of amusement and concern, perhaps that any English professor might have some other skill sets. But here, it's a place where everyone has always been encouraging along those lines. And so, I've been able to do a lot of different things and develop some talents that I think I wouldn't otherwise have been able to

Jen Burris:

Okay, and so you mentioned your first course, was entitled computers –

Justin Blessinger:

Yeah, Professor of computers and writing. That was my first job title here. those first couple of years, I was teaching composition and a class called advanced writing at the time, which was what eventually became what we call media studies now, so even though it sounds like it was mostly about writing, writing, writing’s a tool. You know, when we look at the big technologies that have really changed the world, and the printing press is one that makes everybody shortlist and, of course, the internet. And both of those are publishing technologies. And we often talk about the code behind them the advent of HTML and how important that was, because really, then we start to see what we call the World Wide Web, it becomes recognizable. But the bulletin board systems were before that, which is again, a sort of metaphor for publishing that, well, two of the world's most significant technologies. And writing itself, of course, would be among the technologies that have to do with you know, communication and publishing. So, English has long had a relationship with what we might call high tech. When the book first showed up, separating the manuscripts scrolls and chopping them up and putting it into something that we would recognize now as a book. That was a huge change. Writing itself, literacy, the movement towards the book, becoming a culture and certainly in western civilization where we celebrate the book, it became a metaphor for all things. You see in Christian iconology, Mary starts to become a woman of the word. You know, her earliest depictions are she's holding baby Jesus, you know, she's the mother of Jesus. But then later on, you see Mary holding books, you know, carrying that metaphor of Jesus being the Word made flesh into something that the culture really celebrates, which is the written word and the kind of access and privilege that education affords us. So, in a sense, the icon of the book really starts to penetrate all culture or Western culture at that point.

Jen Burris:

So, in looking at the association with a high technology, how has that evolved? Then you start with printing presses and things like that? And how would you say that television and other forms of media have been a part of that?

Justin Blessinger;

Well, there's a sense in which our progress has been, I suppose, fits and starts. And I think that's really how all what we might call progress moves. It's never a smooth curve, right? There's always a sudden move when we encounter a new technology. And so, television works a bit like that, there was a lot of ink spent decrying the damage that television was doing to us intellectually. And I don't want to say that that was all without merit, we were moving as a culture away from the written word and moving towards the spoken word. And you don't go through something like that, as a culture without something being given up, you might celebrate what we gained along the way. But that's a major change. But there are two of course, the English for new media program is one that starts to say that a text is more than the printed word. So, we start to use the word text to describe things like music, like a computer game, you read the language of advertising, when you consider it all at once. So when you look at the Opus, or the collection of some massive amount of work, movies are texts in our world. Now everything can be read, and I suppose decoded in that sense. But as I said, it was kind of fits and starts. So early in the 20th century, college professors were bemoaning the state of writing. And so they asked English professors to help fix this, because what was happening is they were assigning usually papers at the time for students to write not English professors, everyone else was too. And they went to the English faculty and said, what can we do to remediate the quality of writing that we're seeing in our incoming freshmen especially. And that's when comp one was born, you know, so your composition class that just about everybody's taking a when they come to college comp, one comp two, it's kind of the bread and butter of an English Program in terms of the bulk of the classes that we teach, and was certainly the bulk of the classes that I taught when I first came here to DSU. But it was intended to sort of fix a problem that the rest of the faculty were expressing, and that was, they weren't seeing as high quality as they wanted in response to the essays they were assigning. And where are we now it's probably an extremely rare non English professor who's assigning essays as the output as the project as the great measure of what it is that you know, as a student, what sorts of sources you know how to use all the things, they still want that critical thinking they want demonstrated use of expert sources, but a lot of times these days, it takes the form of a video, or it might take the form of an interactive program, it might take the form of a song here at DSU. There's a lot of different outputs now. And so, you know, the writing side of the academic life, certainly for an undergraduate is really different, I think, than it was 100 years ago when composition was really born. And really different than 200 years ago, when it was assumed that you had that skill set, and that it was sort of beneath the university to remediate anything like that. Like, of course, you know how to do that. I mean, General Beadle is one of the founders of our university had to spend a year before being fully admitted to college. So, at 18, he did a year of remediation because his Greek was so bad. The assumption was that if you went to college, you had Latin, you had Greek maybe had some French, because if you're going to be a world traveler, that was sort of an expectation of the time, but a couple of different languages, and certainly Greek and Latin, not necessarily you could speak them fluently, but you could translate them. And since Beadle was from a rural place, he knew going to college was going to be an upward climb for him because he had some Latin, but he didn't have the Greek and so he had to spend a year and he did just fine. He knew that this was something needed to remediate. But that was before they even thought about remediating writing. That's how much of an expectation being a good writer was for the culture, that it didn't even occur to anybody that you would take a class in that as a college student. I mean, now we have the occasional class in reading, you know, I mean, that's, that's how much things have changed.

Jen Burris:

So that expectation that you should already have those skills.

Justin Blessinger:

right, that expectation was that not only could you write very well, but you also have Latin, Greek, probably French, you know, those kinds of things, maybe a little Russian, you know, those were just expectations for coming to college. I have a copy of an exam that was given to incoming freshmen here at DSU. Wasn't the issue at the time Eastern State Normal School, I think the letterhead says and it was a handwritten exam. And it was on Lake Chautauqua hotel letterhead. I would guess that the faculty member who was proctoring, this exam was staying out at the famous hotel out on Lake Madison, and made copies of the exam by hand, and then distributed them when they had freshmen coming to test into college to see if they were ready. And I think it would be a rare freshmen indeed, who could pass that in part, because the language of what we talk about when we talk about language has changed. We have different names for certain grammatical phenomenon these days. I still remember when a professor of Hebrew I took a class in Hebrew when I was an undergraduate, because it sounded interesting (laughter). He was Princeton trained, and I was just thrilled to be able to take anything that he was offering. And when he offered that I thought, well, that'd be really neat to know, this ancient, ancient language. And I remember a day when he kept talking about the preterite tense. And I was just dumbfounded. I had no idea what he was talking about. And I, I don't know if it was I was brave enough to ask finally. But someone finally asked, what is the predator and oh, my goodness, the disgust on his face? Because there were several English majors like me in the room. And he's like, how could you possibly not know what the preterite was? And I was deeply ashamed at that point. I'm like, wow, this is really elementary and I don't know what it is. And so, by way of explanation, he said, it's, it's what you use when you want to talk about the past? It's the tense and I said the past tense? Yes. Well, for goodness sake, why can't we just call it the past tense? Right? As grammar books have changed, some of the vocabulary that they use have changed. So, some of this exams, difficulty lies in that, but some of it just lies in the expectation that, of course, you have a pretty solid understanding of how grammar works. And part of that is, if you've studied any foreign languages, of course, you have a better understanding. That's what was happening when I took that Hebrew class. If you didn't understand English grammar, before taking foreign language, you have a much better understanding of English grammar after taking foreign language because you got to answer all these questions like how do they use the definite article or the indefinite article, and those are fancy words for the indefinite article is a, the letter A, and the definite article is the T H E, right? So, these aren't complicated words, we all know how to use them. When we have something specific in mind, we say the pencil, when we have something nonspecific, I don't care which pencil give me a pencil. It's called the indefinite articles. So, these are names for things that you don't have a need for the vocabulary until you study, especially a foreign language, but you study your own language, as such, that'll do it too. So, you know, that's one of those incoming expectations, they wouldn't have thought of offering really a class on that it was expected, you knew how to do that, if you were ready for college. So, it was a threshold kind of a skill. And that has changed. Now I suppose we're in a place where, really, it's more about the device and the use of the device. The technology that gets us to the publishing world, you know, of the of the internet, but the, the keyboard that goes along with it. If you didn't know how to use a keyboard, if you didn't know how to use on its basic level of computer, not, you know, Macintosh versus PC, or those kinds of things, but if you just if this was new to you, I think you would struggle a great deal to prosper in modern higher education. Because think of the remediation you would need to do just to learn to use a keyboard, and all of the little tricks that we know, without thinking when we're scrolling, when we're swiping when we're double clicking. There's a lot of things that you know, intuitively from having used these technologies for a very long time. And we don't remediate that we don't. And we, and everyone would sort of think, well, why would we? And that's how English grammar, or some of the foreign languages were just assumed that if you were ready for this level of study, that of course, you had those kinds of skills.

At that point, we started to see English professors become a little more specialists. And we were always sort of generalists before that, and by that, I mean, you started to see a certain group of professors who studied and trained to become compositionists. They were teaching composition, studying rhetoric, and, and studying, writing. And they became sort of specialists in that area. And meanwhile, all of modern education started to move towards I think, maybe a disparaging of the generalist saying that if you really wanted to be respected, you had to sort of become extremely esoteric, you had to become an extreme specialist in your field. You know, as we got the flood of new students that happened in the wake of World War Two, you know, we saw all these people on the GI Bill, for example, who were coming in some of my my most beloved professors, when I was an undergrad had gotten their degrees, thanks to that amazing opportunity. That was the GI Bill. You know, there were no student loans yet. The GI Bill was transformative, but that plus student loans then some years later, kind of terraform to the modern university where you had so many more people now seeking a college degree than you ever did before. And that change, I think, is what really drove people to become specialists, absolute specialists. And there's something lost when you do that, right? There's a lot to be said for becoming a specialist. But, you know, you often lose where your specialization fits in that in the big picture. I think that English is one of those fields that while we have our specialists, to be sure, there's still an area that we simply call a generalist. And it's just somebody who can teach American literature, British literature, can teach composition. And that's sort of how most of the faculty at DSU have been. It's a small enough university that all of us at some point or another are going to teach something that's maybe a little bit outside of what we focused most on in our dissertation process or something like that. So, while I don't teach American lit here, it shows up in my intro to lit class all the time, I teach one of the world literature classes, but not the other that's a little more modern world lit. In order for there to be any conversation between Ancient World Literature and modern, I need to know what the other faculty members doing, heck, maybe we should switch every once in a while. So those of us at DSU, end up treasuring our specializations, but we're not allowed to be true specialists all the time, because the reality of what's needed here is that generalist kinds of thing, and I think that's actually been a really good thing for the kinds of people who thrive at DSU, especially in our, in our English program, where we're part doing Gen Ed kinds of things like composition. And we're also trying to bring talented students into the English new media program and help them find a place in the world of modern publishing. It's not a publishing degree, per se, but because of the way new media works, and we're always looking at how media is changing. And that means thinking about how we get information to people. And, you know, obviously, that's a question of publishing, a lot of times even this podcast that we're making, right, we're, we're thinking both about the editing process, and how do we move this thing online? Where do we market it? All of these are questions for the modern English new media specialist.

Jen Burris:

Okay, Brittni, could you speak a little bit about your experience in English for New Media

Brittni Shoup-Owens:

So, I absolutely loved the English for new media program when I did switch. And through all my classes, the aspect that I loved the most was the analyzation of everything. It wasn't just, you know, hey, here's a story. What do you think of it, it was a literal, in depth analysis of the text itself. And it was like, well, what do you think he's actually meaning when he says this, or she says this. And so, I find that a really unique perspective of the English for new media program, and I'm just kind of curious, how do you teach your students in your classes to kind of have that perspective or to kind of be aware of that perspective while they're reading?

Justin Blessinger:

I love what you brought up there. And in part because it reminds us that the English new media degree at DSU, the way we do it is still a very lit heavy major. So, we didn't give that up. When we started talking about what is English look like for the 21st century, it's still an English degree. And we weren't willing to let go of what makes so many of us truly fall in love with this field, which is the written word and the actual text. In the original sentence, the words on the page, I don't think you'd be drawn to this field, if that wasn't already something that you'd developed. But we have certainly broadened our definition of, as I said before, text right of what we're thinking about when we do analysis, so we can analyze James Joyce, and take a look at Dubliners, for example, just did this this semester in my Irish lit class, read most of Dubliners. And each story you know, standing alone is wonderfully fun to analyze. And then of course, there's that question once you've finished the whole work, how do they interact with each other? And that's everything that an English major traditionally would do. But then we might take a look at some of the video interpretations that we might take. Look, if somebody ever dared try and make a computer game version of this. Just as an example. I sincerely doubt somebody, well, somebody has surely tried it. I don't know how successful that would be. But there's a lot of what we call transmedia worlds now, which are worlds that have been created, usually because of something that started in the world of original text of text on a page. But you think about something like the world of the Lord of the Rings, Middle Earth, right that has a computer game iteration, multiple computer during game iterations, movie iterations, probably there's a series out, or something like that, certainly some animated attempts at it, and all manner of different ways in which media works. They're all feeding from the essential world created. And so, when we talk about analysis, we just have more grist for the mill than we ever did. Our world of what we can analyze has gotten bigger. So, one of the skills that we're all Seeing employers are looking for one of the things that the modern University actually seems to struggle a bit with assessing for measuring how good students are at it. They're always talking about critical thinking. I mean, you know, everybody heard this way back to middle school and so on, you know, how do we assign things that really challenged critical thinking? And how do we measure successful critical thinking, and everyone in English has always sort of been baffled by the question, everything we do, is about critical thinking. That's what's fun about the study of English. The analysis, the looking for patterns, and looking to see where connections can be made between not just, you know, one text or another by Joyce, but then between those texts, and non-printed texts, songs, and pamphlets. I mean, all of those things, touch on that central habit, that's it's so human, we're always looking for the pattern, we're always looking for the signal in the noise, you know, humans wouldn't have lived very long as a species, if we weren't able to say, Boy, you know, is that growly sound that always comes before a tiger grabs somebody out of the cave here (laughter), you know, because we can notice those patterns. And obviously more sophisticated ones than that, because we can notice those patterns and then start to develop our own. That's the birth of communication, of language, eventually, of writing, it's all pattern making. And so, you know, English is part of, I guess, a pattern recognition, and critical thinking pattern that goes all the way back to the dawn of the human, as a member of a group, you know, from the very beginning of humans starting to behave cooperatively, wanting to share tools, and share protection and so on. The basic elements of what we might call a tribe today, that's how far back what we call the English major really, really would be, or at least the things that we study in English major, all of those communication skills and writing, and message sending and message receiving. Because, gosh, think about smoke signals, think about beating on a drum to communicate over long distances, these are all part of how we communicate. And it's necessary for us to be able to do that pattern recognition, encoding and decoding in order for us to, to have thrived as a as a species. So, you're never gonna see the English major go away utterly. You know, there'll be times when it's more popular and less popular. But it always has a form. And, while it might go through name changes, there might be more technical skills added to, you know, the modern English major than then many people expect to see. But it's not something that can ever disappear from the modern university.

Brittni Shoup-Owens:

So, with that, do you think there's physical copies of books, and then there's Kindle then all those kinds of things? So, I guess my question is, what do you think's gonna happen? Are? Are those physical copies of books going to continue to be out there? And, you know, publishing houses and all that? Or is it going to go away at some point entirely and go online?

Justin Blessinger:

There was a lot of concern about this, when we really started to see ebooks emerge, there was a lot of concern about well, what about the classic book? And most of that was overblown, you know, I listened to someone speak recently about how everything's going digital, including, of course books, and this person was speaking about textbooks. And I agree that the majority of textbooks are likely to go towards the digital, in part because search ability. A textbook isn't something you read cover to cover. a textbook is something you access selectively, you might have read a good chunk of it by the time the semester is over, but you probably didn't read it in order. And you paid very special attention to specific things. When it came time to study for that exam. You probably use the Ctrl F or the search tool and tried to find keywords and look for those keywords. That's, of course, just being expeditious, with your time. That's just being strategic about how you're going to study. So, we will continue to see certain types of information move towards the digital. I am so grateful that some people took the time to digitize some of the old sources that I access today. For example, I mentioned General Beadle earlier and the research that I've done on him. And it's so fantastic to be able to find his autobiography digitized. Because while I've read it, I often think to myself, Oh gosh, where was the section where he was talking about his first arrival in Dakota territory? No, it's at the beginning somewhere but I just couldn't find it. Well, you know, with a digital text makes it effortless to access that information really quickly. So yes, we will see especially certain types of books, maybe move entirely into the realm of the E book, and nobody's gonna be really grieved by that, right? It's a rare person for who holds their tattered copy of a textbook as a precious artifact, right? But your your copy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or your copy of T.S. Eliot's collected poetry, right, that's something that is well worn, and you've dogeared certain pages. And you just simply wouldn't trade that for the digital, even though sometimes it's nice to find the digital copy, use the digital copy, because you're looking for something. So, I don't see the panic that arrived early on, as having been justified. But I do think we're going to see, you know, continued change, we will see that probably there will always be a certain market for print, but it'll probably remain more for books that we enjoy reading, rather than have been assigned to read. And it'll be more for the classics especially. And let's not deny there are those who use books as decoration (laughter), you know, they read that book, they want others to see that book. They put it in a prominent place in their home. I mean, there's a certain status, that's always been associated with the book I mentioned before, you know, painting Mary with a book in her lap. And that's a prestige thing, too, even though they really did read the book, nobody's you know, faking this here, but it was, it was a valuable thing. However, I think the novel itself is changing. And here it at DSU, Professor Joseph Bottum recently published a really important work, The Decline of the Novel. And in it, he makes the argument that as you've seen the collapse of what he calls mainline Protestantism in the United States, so there were like five denominations that 50 years ago, something like 80% of all Protestants belong to one of these five, and now it's something like 22%, it is a really tiny percent of those, but some of them switched denominations to more evangelical or to Roman Catholic or something like that. But a lot of we just left the church entirely. And so, the mainline Protestant group in America has been really, really changed and decreased in terms of its influence. And Dr. Bottum makes the argument that the novel as we know, it had a lot to do with Protestantism, especially with Protestants. Protestantism is focused on the individual. And being an individual and being able to sort of think for yourself do for yourself, which, you know, doesn't work quite as well within hierarchical systems like the Roman Catholic Church. And so, he makes that argument that that it had a lot to do with Protestantism. And therefore, when you see Protestantism collapse, you're going to see the art that Protestants championed, also collapsing. There's another conversation for you to have you guys need to do a chat with Dr. Bottum, because he's certainly seen how that technology, the novel itself, has really changed. He's not saying that we don't write novels anymore. He's saying we don't use the novel as the way to communicate the biggest ideas of our culture anymore. We used to use it that way. And we don't anymore. It's a fascinating argument. And really a worthwhile read if you can get a copy.

Jen Burris:

Going back to the ebooks, did that change the publishing scope somewhat? Because there seems to be a lot more self-publishing going on?

Justin Blessinger:

Yep. I mean, Brittni may be able to speak to this better than I can. But, you know, we certainly offer classes that have an eye on both types of publication. So, our publishing for new media class in particular. It looks at publishing in the print world, and it looks at publishing in digital environments. And so, it as one of its projects, creates the New Tricks DSU literary magazine. And I've always really enjoyed getting that in both forms, I like to have the traditional paper form. But the digital form allows us to celebrate, you know, full color, or 3d images, or interactive images that have been created by our art students, and so on. We can feature things that you can't with the traditional book, so we want our students to have that skill set that can flex in either direction, right, they can work with the classic, because, you know, certainly, in promoting DSU, right, we're still using a lot of paper. We're still publishing a lot of documents and so on, but it isn't all we do. And to do it in only that way would extremely limit your audience. Right. And so that's the sort of ideal for our graduates is to be able to be very functional with whatever platform comes along. You know, this is going to continue to change and and we need to be Right there, alongside it and in many ways to help shape it, not just to follow it where it leads, but to detainment.

 

Jen Burris:

So, kind of a flexibility in platform use? Like journalists using Twitter for sources and to get the word out on breaking news, things like that?

Justin Blessinger:

Great examples. Yeah, absolutely. And you know, one of the other things that the English major would do, we have a class on text analysis and on data analysis, that has a text component. So, you mentioned Twitter, that's an absolute must for our students to be able to say to themselves, well, I'd like to take every post by this organization, or every Twitter post by this individual. And then I'd like to run some analytics on it and see what patterns emerge. what's so cool about text analysis, a lot of times, we have no idea what we're about to find, when you start running a text analysis program on a body or a corpus of work, you sometimes have a question in mind about what you're going to find or an expectation, but you rarely have an inkling of what you're really going to find. And so, there's all kinds of sort of surprises that come along when you start running an analysis of text. A recent graduate of ours, did an analysis of Romeo and Juliet. And, you know, that's one of those things I mentioned, professors becoming increasingly specialized. And, you know, one of the first areas that became over specialized was the Shakespeare arena, to the point where it was it felt impossible to say anything new about Shakespeare, 400 years of popularity, a lot has been said. And then once you had all these newly minted PhD is a lot more was said. But when text analysis came along, you were able to plug in everything that he'd ever written and be surprised by some of the patterns. One of our students plugged in Romeo and Juliet and took away all the stage directions, the sides, and you know, the specific direction of who's speaking so Romeo colon, Juliet, colon, right, all of that was stripped away, left with only the spoken words. And she found that Romeo spoke about Romeo more often than he did Juliet (laughter). I mean, this should shock no one who has ever been or been around a 16-year-old boy. But you know, that sort of narcissism is such a delight to find in Shakespeare who 400 years ago, has a teen boy who actually talks about himself a lot. And that alone was a revelation. And it's not something I've ever heard any scholar of Shakespeare observe, because you don't really notice it while you're reading it. But text analysis made it very apparent that Romeo likes to talk about Romeo. Juliet actually likes to talk about Juliet too, but not to the degree that Romeo likes the sound of his own name.

Brittni Shoup-Owens:

So, you're talking a little bit about text analysis. And earlier we mentioned kind of, you know, it takes form of many different shapes, like scripts, and even movies and all that stuff. I remember in your media studies class going in, I didn't really know what it was about. And you just kind of took it nice. It was an analysis of movies, basically. But compared to text as well. And I remember watching “Amelie” and you said something, I cannot remember why it's been a long time. You said something specifically about how it's an outside perspective, but they're going in through like a window. And it's like, it's supposed to signify the I can't remember exactly what it was.

Justin Blessinger:

No, there's a boxing metaphor that shows up. Oh, it's such a neat piece to look at. Because throughout the film, characters are being boxed. They're being boxed in with, with visuals, so that when we meet the parents at every beginning of the film, there's columns alongside and a sort of arch above each of them. There's this shot that gets repeated many times where the camera is sort of deep inside a hole in someone's looking in, through the chink in the floor, the tile at the bottom of a bathroom wall, a tile has come out and someone's looking in there. It's underneath the refrigerator when someone has had to jack up the refrigerator and is looking in and each time it places their face, you know, visually in a box. And it's so extensive that the art designers who put the DVD box collection together created a box that slides into another decorative box, and there's holes cut in the exterior of the box to show just on Amelie's face peeking out from her bedroom and then and not on the opposite. It's her face peeking out from while she's in the park. But the box itself is playing that same game, extending that same metaphor.

I do really enjoy media studies because it's a stealthy way of getting students to read some pretty deep texts. But then it gives them the skills to take those texts. We start with the apology Plato. And we try to apply that immediately to some of the texts that were the visual texts that we're looking at. We read Ursula K. Le Guin, the ones who walk away from all mullahs, in which she says that it's treasonous of the artists to refuse to refuse to admit the banality of evil, the terrible boredom of pain. She's criticizing the habit that we have of celebrating something as a little more intellectual when it's really dark. And it's the seedy underbelly of the things Oh, this must be intellectually interesting. And she says we've betrayed our ability to tell a happy story. And then we take a look at the film Amelie, in which it's a happy story. I mean, she faces problems, in many ways Amelie is her own problem, right? If you if you know the film, Amelie needs to self-actualize. And she keeps sort of hobbling herself and denying herself full access to the joy of life. But it's a joyous movie, and it's about getting access to full access to joy in your life. And so, I challenged my students with Ursula K Le Guin’s short story in which she's saying, we have a nasty habit of celebrating anything that's dark as somehow more intellectual than things that are light. If it's light and happy, well, that might be for kids, you know, and if it's dark, and brooding will the fan it's fodder for, you know, our serious intellectual questions, and so on. And I'm not saying nothing dark is interesting. Of course, there's some great pieces out there are ultimately pretty dark. You know, I used to use the Godfather in that class a lot. And then you know, it's a great example, it has a fair amount of darkness in the film. And it's extremely intellectually interesting. But there are some modern texts, films, and otherwise, they really do celebrate joy. I think Le Guin is right, we have a habit of discounting happiness as somehow trivial, or less worthy of our intellectual attention. But it is a very good class, in part because students are usually willing to go along on the more difficult reading, because each time they're rewarded out the other end with an application to something that might be a computer game, it might be a film. In that class, we use several films, so a lot of times, it's a film in that or a piece of a TV series. We now do Sherlock, the BBC Sherlock in that one, and Firefly and, and that sort of thing, too, because there's been a lot of critical material produced in the last 20 years on on those kinds of things, too. It's a great fun class. And a great example of the kind of thing that really feeds the English new media major at DSU.

Brittni Shoup-Owens:

I think one thing I took away specifically for that, from that classes, I can now not watch a movie without thinking about it, analyzing it and being like, okay, or like, Elliot, my husband, and I will be watching something on Netflix. And I'll be like, oh, did you realize they're doing this because of this. And then at the end of the episode, I'm right. And so, it's a great class, and I really, really enjoyed it,

Justin Blessinger:

And you can't turn it off. And that's not always a good thing. Right? Right, when you actually want to. But once you get good at pattern recognition, you're always analyzing, you know, it's sort of like, I do a lot of proofreading for the composition classes that I teach. And it's a curse and a blessing because of course, every sign you run across every menu that you pick up, you know, it's always teasing your ability to use apostrophes or something like that. Right? Yeah.

Jen Burris:

And why is it important to develop these pattern recognizing abilities?

Justin Blessinger:

While pattern recognition works in so many different ways, you know, I work on my own cars mostly. And that that comes from my time in Montana, and the remoteness of where we lived. But there was also just an element of personal worth. You weren't much of a man, if you couldn't fix your own car, you know, you might not be the best one for it. Maybe at some point, you're like, you know, what, I got enough money to pay some bills to do this job. It's a nasty job. I don't want to do it, but you need to know how it was just sort of an expectation. And you know, just by way of example, recently, our primary car started making a terrible sound, you know, it was clear something very serious was wrong with it. And the process by which you diagnose that kind of thing is pattern recognition, you know, you start to say, okay, it has this interval, and it has this sort of percussive sound to it. And it only emanates from this one area of the engine. And, you know, you break out what we lovingly call the Redneck stethoscope, which is really just a piece of hose that you put to your ear. And you can isolate exactly where, well down to a few inches in the engine, it's coming from and son of a gun, it was coming from under the timing cover, which means that it was a timing chain issue or one of the guides for it. And that meant open heart surgery on the engine, and I was like why can’t it ever be something easy? But that's pattern recognition, you know, trying to diagnose what's wrong with a computer program, you know, removing whole chunks of the, of the code at a time. And, and running those components to make sure they function properly. You know, you're narrowing the field, because you're able to recognize a pattern. There is really no such thing as a major that doesn't in some way, you know, really make probably significant use of pattern recognition. It just so happens that you know, with English, every word we speak, every word we write, is part of the pattern that we study. There is nothing that's really off limits, you know, we can study the rhetoric of computer programmers, we can study the use of language by historians, you know, it, everything is grist for the mill for the English major. For that reason, there's no possible way to be exhausted to or to reach the end of what we study, there's always new material. And there's always something fun and exhilarating, to be studied. So, I think that that's one of the things that when students recognize that, that it, it can feel overwhelming, of course, you know, and maybe even a little sad, there's no way to master at all, in any field, but especially in our field, where, you know, there's 1000s years of the printed word. And that's just the beginning. Because in the last, you know, 20 years alone, we've like tripled the amount of printed material, probably a great deal more than that, but we've exponentially increased in the amount of printed text to be read, the internet's full of it. So yeah, there's no end to the rabbit trails that you get on, there's always new material.

So, in my study of General Beadle, I just found out that University of Michigan has all the minutes from the Literary Society of which he was a member, and ultimately was president. While he was probably a member of the Underground Railroad, he has this sort of oblique reference to a student, he says, who was a writer for the Underground Railroad was recruited by abolitionists while he was an undergraduate, and ultimately, you know, brought on to deliver messages up and down the Underground Railroad. And he knows the location of everything in his story. He knows which houses they stopped at, he knows which abolitionists were involved in and what they were charged with, when they got caught by authorities. I mean, he knows so much, that he's clearly sort of winking at his own audience saying, okay, it was me, but I can't say that because it was illegal at the time, you know, to help a slave escape was illegal, sadly enough, even in the north. It was made illegal. So, you know, slavery wasn't allowed in the north, it was had been banned by them in the north, but he couldn't help slaves escaped, it was the most peculiar thing. But this Literary Society I've really started to think was a cover, at least during that time, it was a cover for abolitionist activities. Because he mentions having given a speech that was blaming the Mexican American war for having an increase in the number of slaves. And so it wasn't, you know, noble in that sense, certainly, they were the cause of it may have been, but the outcome was that they were, they were more slaves after the war. So that's what caused the abolitionists to start recruiting him as the speech that he gave for a Literary Society. And so, the fact that those archives exist, I'm now very eager to go out to Michigan and get access to their archives, and just spend some time nosing around in the minutes of a student secretary for a student organization from 1857 to 1861. I have no idea what it is, maybe it's going to be terribly disappointing, and hence, it's going to be very brief. But at the time, a lot of secretaries took copious notes. It's possible that Beadle’s speech is part of that record, you know, that somebody actually asked him for his copy of the speech and put it into the record. You know, the old clubs used to do meticulous record keeping. So, if we get lucky, maybe we find out a great deal more about us, you know, secret society, using an English club as its cover for helping slaves get across to Canada because they're so close. They're at University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, they're really, if you made it that far as a slave. You could just about taste your freedom at that point, ‘cause you were getting really close because just from there to Detroit, and then you're across the river and you're into Canada. So, it must have been well exciting for The people who are helping is one way of saying it, but it was greatly dangerous for them to. But there there's a great example, you know, Beadle was entered as a as an English major, that's when he went off to college. That's when he wanted to, to study first. And there he is helping with the Underground Railroad as part of really what he's doing. Why? Because the study of literature reminds us of our own humanity. Of course, you would be provoked to think more seriously about what freedom means. Does that mean that every English major made the right decision? No, certainly not. But it doesn't surprise me that he did. It doesn't surprise me that some time with great works. He was also raised in a Quaker church, so certainly that they were famous for their abolitionist activities. So that had to have had a major effect on him too. But it doesn't surprise me that an English major at that time would have been thinking seriously about the big questions of the day, what it means to be free.

Brittni Shoup-Owens:

You know, you mentioned how literature can resonate with you. And I remember many times, not just in college, but in high school reading a book or I was an avid reader. I'm too busy now to read. I try to make time but anyway, that's beside the point. And um, you know, you mentioned this, just random pieces can resonate with you. So, I'm kind of curious what pieces over the years have resonated with you personally.

Justin Blessinger:

Well, first of all, you need to give yourself permission to take a break, when you've got little ones at home, oh, my goodness, I used to play a lot more computer games. And then of course, along came children. And, you know, they tend to get into trouble if they're not being supervised so you can't put on headphones out. It's not okay.

 

Brittni Shoup-Owens:

 Mine just started crawling. So..

Justin Blessinger:

You have some things that are keeping you pretty busy, but I know you'll return to it when the time you know, permits you again, especially because you'll be and I'm sure you already are reading to your little one. But pretty soon you'll be reading more sophisticated texts together, right? Oh, goodness, you know, there's been so many that have spoken to me. But I think one of the first that I felt was really transformative was Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, which isn't read nearly as much today, but in its time was just hugely important. And Sherwood Anderson kind of became a sort of, I don't know, kingmaker sounds dismissive in some way. But he helped many other authors find success. And in particular, he was a great help to Ernest Hemingway, you know, so he was much younger Hemingway was much younger than Sherwood Anderson. But Anderson was writing about these stories that are taking place in Winesburg, Ohio, and it's the small town in Ohio. And the main character is a sort of newspaper man who's thinking about going off to college and to the big city, and so on. And he's really sort of encountering something that was really significant for America. At the turn of the last century, as so many people were moving away from the rural places and moving towards those urban centers. I remember I was an FFA in high school, a lot of people don't know that about me. But you know, the Future Farmers of America and I owe them so much. It was great, because I would have probably not traveled nearly as much if I hadn't been, so I got to see Kansas City because I was in FFA and so on. But in FFA, I remember some startling statistics about how demographically, the United States it changed something close to 90% of Americans were involved in agriculture in some way, at the turn of the last century in the 1900s. That were involved right selling grain counted, you know, running a mill counted, but in some way involved with the business of agriculture, and that by the turn to the next century, so by the year 2000, it was fewer than 8%, fewer than 7%. And it's far fewer even today still. So Anderson's story about this young man who's got some great intellectual gifts, who's seeing his own little town through the lens of somebody who reads and thinks. And he's telling the stories of the people of Winesburg, Ohio, and they're all he uses the word grotesque, which doesn't mean in his usage, the way we mean it today. But it does mean we're all transformed and sometimes harmed by the world around us. That we're all maybe scarred is a good word for it. And so, he uses that word again and again and again to describe how people are made grotesque by the pain in their life. And each story is so tender. There's a story of a teacher, and it's called hands. And the schoolteacher just loves his job. He loves the little ones. He loves encouraging them. He's a wonderful teacher and his hands they're sort of always flying about when he's talking. And he loves to ruffle the hair of this boy, while talking to them, he loves to pat this child on the back while encouraging them. And so, the hands are always used, and they're almost like birds flying. And then there's an accusation made against him because of his fondness for children and for teaching children and dad beats him up. And from then on, the hands are tied against his chest. And he's wounded forever, you know, and no doubt because of the accusation alone. And how successful as a teacher can you ever be once an accusation like that has been made, right. It's such a tender telling of the story, because you feel the ache, that this person's passion for teaching how good he really was, and how expressive he was. And all of that is quashed by this one bad, you know, day where there's an accusation made, there's no proof to it. But you know, he's, he's harmed, irreparably by it. And there's a moment in in, it's called an adventure, in which a woman runs out in the rain stark naked in the middle of this tiny little town, because it's just so beautiful, the rain and the dark and so on, and she can't stop herself. She just does it. And that, of course, somebody yells out the window and sees her and somebody makes fun of her, and she's crushed. She's like, what am I doing, and sees she shrunk again, and she, you know, goes back into the house and locks all the doors. And it's such as deeply ashamed of this expression. My goodness, King David, danced naked, according to one of the one of the stories in Samuel. And so, you know, being inspired to dance in the rain is a metaphor we use even today for how moved we are by beauty in our in our lives. And so, and yet to really do it, boy, that's not something we're all actually willing to do. And she does, and she pays dearly for it.

So, I remember just sort of reading this catalogue of grotesques as, as Sherwood Anderson calls it all of these people who are scarred by a combination like usually love, but love that's, it's gone awry in some way. I think it was really transformative for me here was somebody who seemed to understand thoughts that you've had, maybe only in your secret self, and here's somebody telling you your own truth back to you, which I think is what the greatest poetry and the greatest literature always does. It's not a truth that you can't fathom that you'd never considered. It's something that you somehow in your secret self always knew to be true. And there it is expressed to you in words that you didn't have for it.

Brittni Shoup-Owens:

I think that's one of the most beautiful things about writing is, you know, he can just train you can translate to other people, and you don't know how it's gonna affect them, or how they'll resonate with it. And I think that's why I'm so drawn to writing feel and reading because, you know, you can escape in a book. And then it might not be what about what you're going through, but something in that first chapter or wherever it might be, might hit you in a way that you're like, oh, maybe, maybe this is how it's, is for me right now. And I just got to accept that or something like that?

Jen Burris

So, I'm talking about the different use of the word grotesque, how has our language kind of changed? And even in the technology sector, where we've started using words in a different way, you know, you're going on your weekend at Netflix binge, or items like that, that are just kind…

Justin Blessinger:

Part of one part of every English major I've ever known, has been a sort of deep love for just words themselves. And in part, that's because I know I don't want to want to get too poetic here. But I love this time of year because of the lilacs. Right, we're just getting the leaves on them right now. So, we're not even that close yet. But once you see the leaves coming out, you know, it's imminent, those gorgeous fragrant blossoms that they only last a week, maybe a week and a half. But you go outside, and you haven't even seen the blossoms yet, but you know somebody in the neighborhoods lilacs are starting to open up the gates that powerful and and that fragrant and I think it's a little bit like that we recognize that words change. That, you know slang is of course a well-documented mechanism by which it happens, but technology has a lot to do with it as well, because words change. They change a little more slowly than the blooms each spring. But because they do that, we kind of hold them in a in a in a different precious place. Those of us who study English, right? We love words, just for being words, right? The fact that the Oxford English Dictionary exists is such a testament to that, you know, it's like 22 volumes, if you actually look at the printed form of it. Speaking of digitization, there's one that everybody is grateful for the digitization of. Because to have an actual copy of the OED was, yeah, that took up a significant amount of shelf space. But somebody wanted to write a dictionary that traced the word origins for every word that English uses and tracked how it changed over time. So, you could look up the word weird, and find out that well, a weird was actually a noun 1200 years ago, where there was a word that meant a force of the supernatural that would shape your life like fate, kind of. And so, this is why Shakespeare has the Weird sisters. Right? They're there. They're the three fates. He's evoking the t ancient Greek mythology of the fates. It's not because they're strange sisters, though they are. Right. It's because of that word, the were weird sisters. And that word, of course, is easily tracked for how that one has changed. And it's easy to understand why you might at first say, well, the weirds did it. The words changed the world. And you can say, well, that look at that tree. It's all deformed. Maybe the words did it. And from there, it's a short jump to say that's a weird tree. Right? And so, it becomes an adjective, then sometime later, still meaning something that is so odd that certainly Surely, it's supernatural. And then eventually, it becomes a sort of the progress of almost all words is to move from a more sacred usage, a more profound usage into the flippant and into the casual. Like, that's sort of the only way they move. We sort of always need new words to describe our experiences of the profound or of the supernatural, perhaps, because they always end up diminished. Think of the word awesome. 50 years ago, it was still reserved for something that inspired terror in you because it was so great, so amazing, but terrifyingly amazing. And, and now we use it to describe gelato, you know, (laughter) that, that gelato is awesome. And we do it so casually, right? But of course, then the word loses a lot of its force, when you can apply it, you know, to something as trivial as your visit to the shopping mall. And so I think that's one of the things that drives home, how precious each word really is. It's a living thing. And it is active for a short time. And of course, there are words that just simply disappear out of use, sometimes for really strange reasons. But the cultural habit of using a meme is a great example. We all now use it in a very specific way to describe content that especially sort of amuses or speaks to the historical moment in some way, you know, but it was really a word that was to describe patterns, you know, being able to recognize patterns in the culture. And so, you might say, well, this is this has become a pattern in our culture. It's, it's a meme. And it's derived from the word mimetic, you know, something that imitates something else. And indeed, in our English classes, we talk about how art is usually leaning heavily towards either a didactic purpose, a purpose to teach us and make us better, or a mimetic purpose, one that simply tries to hold up a mirror and say, this is this is how you guys are, but it's not necessarily trying to teach, it's just saying, I want you to see it. So, you know, that's, that's another example of word that it's almost delicate. They're almost fragile because we turn around and a word that we used just a few years ago, you know, has changed maybe even radically, I'm always putting my head my hands when my kids refer to me as a boomer (laughter). Like for goodness sake, that's the baby boom, right after World War Two, do you know when I was born, you know, but it doesn't matter, because now it simply means anybody older than the millennial, right? It just, it's a dismissive way to describe. So, Gen X gets lumped in with the boomers somehow, right? But it's a good example of another word that you know, describes the fragility of a word, a baby boomer, even 10 years ago, if you read the word Boomer, it meant specifically that generation and already, you know, it's being used to describe somebody who's kind of old and you know, not hip anymore.

Jen Burris:

And going beyond that, would you say that our, like, human desire for storytelling is something that will keep English evolving along with technology, and it will basically, it's something that won't ever go out of fashion, so to speak?

Justin Blessinger:

it right? Yeah, you've said it. You've said it very well. There's no possible way. I mean, it'll change how we do it, of course. But you know, storytelling as a habit, think about the very first forms of it, maybe even in our earliest human form, when we didn't have much for language, you still wanted to hear from Thag how he killed that mammoth. And so, he's going to act it out, he's going to jump around the fire and pick up his spear again, and, you know, put on a little drama for us

Brittni Shoup-Owens:

Or etch it on the cave wall.

Justin Blessinger:

Which ultimately leads to writing, you know, it's symbolic communication. But built into that storytelling is a whole host of things that you wanted transferred, you wanted the little ones to thrill, and wow, Uncle Thag killed a mammoth. And he did it with that tool, you know, and so you're transferring not only the skills necessary to do it again. But the cultural values that celebrate somebody who can do that, you know, somebody who's been able to raid a neighboring village and come back with a whole lot of grain. So, we don't die there on die, but we don't die. My tribe is going to make it by goodness, right? So, there's a lot more going on inside what we call storytelling. There's, there's a beating heart there of an entire culture and a value system. It's beyond that. And so how could it possibly ever go away? Unless human culture itself goes away?

Brittni Shoup-Owens:

That's a great answer.

Jen Burris:

Okay, well, we'll wrap things up here. Brittni, do you have any last questions or comments?

Brittni Shoup-Owens:

I really enjoyed this. This is my first time ever on a podcast. So, it was very, very fun. I'm looking forward to doing more.

Justin Blessinger:

It was a delight speaking with both of you, thank you so much.

Brittni Shoup-Owens:

 Thank you for visiting, being a part of this.

Justin Blessinger:

 Anytime happy to do it.

Jen Burris:

Yes. Thank you so much, Justin. And thank you, Brittni, for coming into cohost. Thanks to Spencer wrap, our sound designer and engineer. Thank you. And thank you to our executive producer and editor Jake Hoffer. Thank you for listening to Cyberology. Be sure to subscribe.

Jen Burris:
Welcome back to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast for sharing and discussing all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris, and I'll be your host. We welcome back again, Dr. Gabe Mydland as cohost for our final episode on artificial intelligence.

Gabe Mydland:
Thank you for having me.

Jen Burris:
And our special guest today, an expert on the societal and economic impacts of artificial intelligence is Dr. Jack Walters, Professor of Management and coordinator for the Masters of Business and Administration program in the College of Business.

Jack Walters:
Good afternoon.

Jen Burris:
Hi, jack, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Jack Walters:
Well, I've been at Dakota State for almost 16 years, and about four years ago started to get interested in not just the rapid growth of artificial intelligence, but the economic impact of it both positive and negative. And I've been collecting resources, articles videos about it since then, and it's just an endlessly fascinating topic.

Jen Burris:
You mentioned the positives and negatives. Why don't we start with the benefits?

Jack Walters:
Okay, the benefits, it's probably not right to use the word unlimited, but I want to position it near-unlimited. So just to give you a few examples, there are no already in use artificial intelligence systems that can outperform physicians in making diagnoses of patients.

Jen Burris:
Wow, that's fascinating.

Jack Walters:
So just think about what that would mean if we could just make a quantum leap in the quality of diagnoses? What would that mean for people's long-term health, that's just one example. The potential of it is just amazing just to revolutionize maybe everything. So that's the
positives,

Jen Burris:
Let’s look at some of the potential negative impacts.

Jack Walters:
When we've had huge leaps in technology in the past, they generally added to the economy, and they didn't take too much away. So that helped to boom, the economy of the United States of the world for over a century. When you look at the matching of artificial intelligence to robotics, it's almost inevitable, that it won't just add some new jobs and some new industries, but it's going to take employment away from a bunch of people. So, my perspective on it is I'm not against any of this technology. This is not one of those anti-technology arguments, but we need to be prepared for it. It's going to be dramatic.

Jen Burris:
Okay, where do you see the timeline on that? I know a lot of people predict like 2030

Jack Walters:
I would say definitely by 2030. But maybe that decade between 2030 and 2040 is going to be where we think we understand what the economy is like in 2030. And then we may have a completely different understanding of it in 2040.

Jen Burris:
Okay, how do you see that impacting jobs as it moves forward?

Jack Walters:
So people who work in the field of artificial intelligence would have a more complex view than I do. But my rule of thumb is, if what you do is repetitive, it can be done by artificial intelligence. So everybody says, Okay, well, that's factory jobs and certain other routinized jobs true, but it has a broader impact. For example, a knee surgeon who's doing a lot of arthroscopic knee surgeries, that work in a holistic sense becomes very repetitive. It's routine and many surgical establishments now to video record those surgeries. Well, if you take those videos, and you run them through existing artificial intelligence software and processes, you could begin to develop a machine-enabled arthroscopic surgeon. So, it's not just the person who's getting an hourly wage, it's all the people whose work is repetitive. And that's an awful lot of people.

Jen Burris:
Yes, it is. Gabe, do you have anything now that you want to ask?

Gabe Mydland:
Yeah, you know, I'm kind of curious. As a student of history. Also, we've gone through these changes in these transitions before. I'm wondering, in your reading, have you seen where we've learned from any of these shifts, and how to better prepare ourselves for making the transition from you're used to doing this as your job that now this is going to be done more efficiently, and you're going to have to move into something else. I think of the coal industry. For example,
we talked about bringing these jobs back when we know that we can provide the same kind of power from the sun from the wind, and we've got a whole rustbelt of folks whose families for generations were working in the mines. Is anybody planning for this kind of transition?

Jack Walters:
In my opinion Not enough. There's a concern in the fields that surround business and organizations that if you look across society, certain other major segments have had giant leaps forward – medicine, technology, even there are some improved governments, if you look at historically, the world is getting to be a better place, democracy wise and so forth. Organizations do not seem to be progressing at that rate of speed. And we see the same mistakes, read the paper, people do the same unethical things, they do the same illegal things, they make the same judgment mistakes. It's worrisome, because if we charge forward and use the same logic, so to give me an example, starting 30-40 years ago, businesses decided they would like to offshore their labor to lower-wage environments. And they did that. And it's had profound effects on the economies of places where their jobs went in their economies of the places where they left from. That could happen with artificial intelligence and robotics, where there is a cost advantage somewhere and the business, people say, hey, let's just go to that it's faster, shorter, more reliable, whatever their argument is, lower cost. And then that could just sweep like a plague across the employment patterns of the country. That's my big concern that we need to prepare exactly what Gabe was saying, we need to think what would it mean if people who drive long-haul trucks don't have jobs? Because there's a machine doing it?

Jen Burris:
Does that kind of play into the basic income talks about potentially paying people a flat level every month?

Jack Walters:
It's a very interesting question. One of the things I tried to do on this topic, I'm not an economist. And so I try not to get too far down the path of saying, well, maybe that's, you know, monthly Basic Income argument or other things like a Spain just went to a four-day workweek as a sort of standard model. All those things are out there. But I don't feel like it's my spot, to say, here's what we should do. I'm just here to say there's going to be employment effects. And somebody's going to have to figure out what to do about them.

Jen Burris:
Do you think that raises concerns for pretty much every industry?

Jac Walters:
Yes. So, I've collected all these things. And we tend to think that, well, there must be some industry or some profession that's not affected. But here's an example. There is already significant development of artificial intelligence in teaching. So, you know, all the folks like me and Gabe, who are teachers, we'd love to hear no, we'll never be replaced. What do you mean, this is a completely unique and creative job, there is already an artificial intelligence college professor. And then you also have to think it's not the end result we're looking at. It's a walk between here and there. One University did a fascinating experiment, they did an online course. And they replaced a TA with one of these expert systems that you just type your questions and it's a natural language system, and it figures out what to do. Students could not tell it from the human, this is the early days, you know, of this. So how sophisticated might that be in three years from now?

Jen Burris:
And do you see that impacting different areas in society, not just employment?

Jack Walters:
I do. To go down a completely different path. One of the things that are of great concern to ethicists and others is the development of robots that could take the place of soldiers or other military personnel.

Jen Burris:
That sounds terrifying.

Jack Walters:
The part that's terrifying about it is how easy it makes it to go to war. So, you know, if you're a president of the United States or the leader of any other country, and you're considering a military conflict, you're thinking I am going to be responsible for the deaths of XYZ number of people, but if it's just machines, and they can be bought or replaced or repaired, it's a different war decision. But of course, there's always collateral damage in war, right. So, it's not just the combatants that are killed and injured in a war. And that's the part that is very frightening to some people. That's really a concern.

Jen Burris:
Do we kind of already see that with drone strikes?

Jack Walters:
To some extent we do. And, and one of the things that for many obvious reasons the military doesn't talk about, but drones are probably now able to largely be flown by AI. Everything that's done in that kind of work is recorded. So you know, there's a bunch of drone pilots in Rapid City. So they record all those flights, and then you put it in a neural network or that kind of thing. And back into what worked, what didn't what was done and what's associated with what worked, that creates an artificial intelligence or a machine learning algorithm that can do the same kinds of things that human pilots do.

Jen Burris:
Wow, that only will probably further develop in the next 10 years.

Jack Walters:
Yeah, I think it's going at an exponential rate, but it's not just linear. Well, we did this in June. Last year, so this year in June, we'll do XYZ. It's much faster than that. It's just unlimited, as we've already said, in both positive things that it can do. I mean, just wonderful things it can do. And then it's also, to some extent, has very big downsides that we haven't thought through.

Jen Burris:
And do you think that the quickness of developments in AI can lead to some of those problems because it's just moving at a very accelerated pace, which might leave openings for these issues to crop up and get missed?

Jack Walters:
I do think that one of the things that are of concern, when I mentioned that decade, 2030, to 2040, there's a lot of big, big, big, big, big brains on the earth who have expressed concern about the development of the ability for machines to design machines. Up until now, people design machines, and then people design the software that machines run. But we are approaching a period of time in which some of that work could be done by machines. This is where the ethics questions really boil over. Because there might be a higher efficiency operation model or design that a machine would do. But it's not ethical. It's not the right thing to do for people.

Jen Burris:
Because they're not the sentient beings that we are.

Jack Walters:
Right, for example, it might have decided in this recent virus thing, we should not treat these people, they're too old, or they have too many preexisting conditions. And it's not doing that to be cruel. It's doing that out of some optimization function. But that's often not how ethical decisions are made. So that's a big concern.

Gabe Mydland:
So the plotline of just about any really good science fiction novel is coming true, where machines take over and humans become subservient. If I may, I, I'm curious about your perspective on this, because how do we as a society approach this? How do we make sure that the applications that are being designed are in the general interest not in a specific interest? And that we're still in command, if you will, of how this is used? And what it's used for? Is that an individual responsibility? Is it a government responsibility? Is it both? I was at a speech Condoleezza Rice gave at a forum in Sioux Falls. And one of the things that she talked about was this whole idea that we're becoming more and more efficient with machines. And it's becoming a better way of doing things. But she brought up the point that employers who displace employees with artificial intelligence-driven machines have a responsibility to their workforce, to help them transition into something new, whether it be training, or some guidance on what kind of transitions I can make, or is this something that we should do as a society as a whole?
I mean, I don't know where you come down on that.

Jack Walters:
Yeah, it's a fascinating set of questions. And I really think there's going to end up being lots of people doctorally trained in all those topics that you mentioned, you know, there's really going to have to be deep knowledge in the creation of educational programs about that. So, when you look at Dr. Rice, she was probably, I'm guessing, making the argument out of an ethical framework, that there is a sort of moral obligation that if you displace someone with a machine that you should help them. My personal view, based on my knowledge of business history, that won't be enough. If you want that it'll have to be done by regulation, I think that regulation will be highly controversial. So those are the kinds of issues that surround that. In the larger context. I think higher education has a huge role to play, maybe K-12 education has a role to play as well. When we have been developing a proposal for a program about artificial intelligence in organizations, one of the things that have come up and up and up, including a meeting I was in today is courses in ethics. And how do you train people? Because it's not going to be one of those where robots run everything, and we're just has-beens or bygones. We're still going to be running it. The question is, how will we run it? And what rules will we implement? For example, there will come a time within 10 years, as Jen was talking about when human workers and AI workers are working side by side. Well, that's a whole new realm of human resources and human resource law. What happens if there's a dispute between the human and the artificial intelligence? What happens when one or the other makes a mistake? How are things held accountable, just on and on and on? Those kinds of things are going to be happening soon. And so there has to be some kind of large-scale three-dimensional understanding of where we're headed and how much things are going to change.

Jen Burris:
Do you think it's possible with all the industries that this will affect basically everyone at some point that we can find new jobs or new areas to get everyone reemployed somehow?

Jack Walters:
I'm very sorry to say I don't believe we'll be able to replace all the jobs that are lost. There will without question be whole new categories of jobs, whole new ways of doing things. But when I look at how many jobs will be lost, I don't see how it's possible to recover them all. And then I'm very reluctant to hear people say, ‘Well, people need to get different training, and they need to be, you know, re-skilled,’ the scale of that task is just almost incomprehensible. We're really talking about gigantic numbers of changes.

Jen Burris:
Do you have any personal input or feelings that you would say to these people, as they're making these advancements and considering society as a whole?

Jack Walters:
The interesting thing is my particular focus is not on technology development. In other words, fine with me, if that continues apace. That's how it's been throughout history, new technology has always supplanted old technology. The audience I want to speak to our people that make policy at the government level, and people that lead organizations, I really think that's where we have to talk about this. And one of the things that could be considered this could rewrite international economic competition and cooperation because right now, there's a bunch of just to pick on an easy sort of pin, a bunch of iPhones are made in the east. Why is that? Well, the wages are lower there. Well, if you shifted to an economy, where they're mostly constructed by machines, then the machines can be here. And then people say, why that's not adding a job, the machines doing the job, but the transportation, the logistics, the supply chain, that all that stuff that goes with having a business entity is here. And so that could just change how we place labor, broadly defined in the world.

Jen Burris:
It’s a lot of stuff to take in.

Jack Walters:
it is it's really, really big, really big.

Jen Burris:
And you have any positive stories that you've seen in AI as potential impacts in different areas?

Jack Walters:
I have. So, here's one, and this one's probably tilted a little more over to the robotic side. But it's so much of a very hot topic right now, in the news. There is existing, a working prototype of a robotic traffic cop. When someone is seen violating and speeding, running a light, whatever the current model is driven by a human, but the car is outfitted with a robotic traffic cop. So, they’re pulled over, the car that carries the robotic cup puts a stop stick under the back of the car. So that's a thing of like a board with nails in it, and it can extend and go under the wheels of the car. So, if the car tries to speed away, it can't go fast, because it's going to have holes in the tires, the tire will be deflated. Then this little robotic police officer moves up from the back on some kind of a bar, stops at the front window, and has a camera, a microphone, a speaker, and a little printer in it. Then the robotic cop tells the person what they have done wrong, and has a conversation with them. And then if it issues a ticket, the ticket comes out of a little printer, and they take it. Look at what the news is we have two horrifying cases going on one where police improperly shoot civilians and the other where civilians shoot police, which is pretty much always improper. This is the kind of thing that we're talking about, it doesn't matter if somebody shoots the robot, they can get a new one, and the robot is not armed, it's not going to shoot anyone. So, you can sort of solve a kind of hot topic problem right now with that kind of device.

Jen Burris:
Eliminate some of those inherent risks…

Jack Walters:
There are just scores of those kinds of examples of positive improvement, better service, better quality, less danger, then there is you know, a whole other side of what will that do to employment and array of occupations.

Gabe Mydland:
So, I'm at risk of repeating myself, and I don't mean to but in your collection of all this information about all the things that deal with AI. Did you come across information about different groups who are prepared to sit down with policymakers and leaders of organizations to talk about ethics? Are there training available and business programs that are being developed to address this new world that we're approaching?

Jack Walters:
being developed? Yes. Existing? Not so much. We're definitely seeing now rapid across the country and probably across the world as well, ideas for training, understanding, seeing the limitations of the technology, seeing the benefits the technology, but right now, we're not to the point where there is, for example, a group of people who are expert in that who was serving as some kind of advisory board or, you know, NGO or something like that, as it regards these issues.

Gabe Mydland:
I wasn't aware of any, you know, I mean, like the President's Council of Economic Advisers, for example. They kind of take a look at what's going on and try to draw attention to certain things. And I didn't know if there was anything similar to that. Maybe not at that level, but maybe even in the private sector. I haven't heard of that.

Jack Walters:
Yeah. There are troubling cases. For example, Google is one of the leaders in the development of artificial intelligence. Well, they have had, for reasons that are not immediately clear, it is their private information. But certainly important parts of it are in the media, where they've dismissed a couple of people that were key in their ethics development effort for AI. Well, then that led last week to the resignation of one of the biggest names in all of AI in the world from Google. And so it's troubling. It's like, is this gonna be our history where there's this constant back and forth and contentiousness and stuff like that? Or will we lean the other way of like, we got to do this ethically, or we're going to be sorry, you know, that's the concern I have is, could we go in that direction?

Gabe Mydland:
Sure. Ideally, we'd probably like a balance where both sides are at the table. And obviously identifying the areas where they agree, and then identifying where they don't agree, but what they can work together on.

Jack Walters:
Yeah, I'm hopeful. And this is probably pretty quixotic. But I wish that we could make a finer distinction about the transparency of things. I totally understand that Google's in a competitive business, and one that's likely to become more so and so they want to be private. But there's a lot of these things that get put under the bushel of competitive and private information when really, we ought to understand maybe those people got dismissed for a reason that has nothing to do with what we think. But how would we know no one will say, and so it's troubling.

Jen Burris:
Do you see cyber ethics then, or AI ethics being a big part of new college programs like the degrees that are coming to DSU?

Jack Walters:
I really do. And I think that there's a group of my colleagues here at Dakota State who are involved in this very deeply in developing programs. And I think they all see the importance of the teaching of ethics of embedding ethics in almost everything we're doing. And it's got to happen that it can't go forward in this kind of agnostic context, that would not be the right way.

Jen Burris:
And do you think that that'll happen kind of across the board with these new degrees in the country and that that might maybe level some things out if all of these new up-and-coming workers in AI have some ethical training?

Jack Walters:
Yes, I think there's a possibility for it. What I would like to see is where the ethics of the development and management of AI have the same role that professional accountancy has. A CPA, for example, is honor-bound and legally bound to certain principles of ethics, even if that's not what their client wants. And that's where we need to be with this that, yes, there's going to be companies that develop stuff, and it's in their financial and economic interest to do something that cuts corners, we have to have people trained and licensed and ready to say nope we can't do that. That's not the way to go. That's going to be a concern.

Gabe Mydland:
It's a step in the right direction. But I don't think it's the only answer. I think we all have to be alert. And we all have to be involved. And we all have to step up when something's not right.

Jen Burris:
Gabe are you kind of saying that by studying ethical stuff, they could circumvent it?

Gabe Mydland:
Just saying no, I think it's important that we study this stuff. I think it's important we test people on this stuff, and that they have a certification that says they understand it, but I don't think that's where it ends. In my view of where we're at, not just with AI, but in society in general, is that we don't have enough people involved in the process. We have, for example, fewer than a majority of the people in South Dakota, who are registered to vote. And yet in the last election, we're all celebrating that we had a 70% turnout. Well, if 45% of the people who could vote are 70% of that, that's still a minority. And that's part of the problem is that people don't have a voice or they're not exercising their voice. Things like this that are going to disrupt families, lifestyles, communities, they think that would be enough of an incentive to be involved.

Jack Walters:
If you really want to put yourself in the tumble dryer and turn it on, consider this – the solution to some of those very serious societal issues? Ai. (laughter)

Gabe Mydland:
It's a conundrum, isn't it?

Jack Walters:
The thing is you look at this like we could do a thing. It would take a lot of work, but it could be done with artificial intelligence. Who has been complained about who's a practicing licensed psychologist, then collect all kinds of data and have it back solve against that? What about that person? Is there a pattern? Is there anything that would explain it as something that could then be used as at least a warning signal, if not a predictor, this is just write down the core of what AI is good at. And so you could solve some of those kinds of problems with it. But then you're also advancing its place in society when you do that. It's just really

Gabe Mydland;
It is a conundrum. I mean, it really is.

Jack Walters:
And then if you know, just to throw one more out there, this really worries me. There are plenty of groups in the world, most of them are not governmental. But some are, many of them are individual groups or terrorists or whatever. None of everything we've said about ethics means anything. It's in their interest to create something that has no ethical subroutines, or guards or ability to be stopped. And that's really scary. There are already tools out there that would make those existing prototypes extremely dangerous if they were not controlled.

Jen Burris:
Do you think that that would spread quickly, kind of in a criminal world, so to speak? Would they be sharing their nefarious advances with others?

Jack Walters:
I think they would. An example, this was not a terrorist thing, it was an artistic thing. It shows you what we're talking about. There's a robotics company called Boston Dynamics. They're one of the world's leaders in the development of robotics. So there was an art teacher who got one, somehow they make a dog, a mule, and a human. And they got the dog, the dogs really popular, and it's about the size of a medium to large-sized dog. So they got one, and they strapped a paintball gun on the back of the dog. And then they connected the dog to the internet. And they would let people log on and steer the dog around, and then fire the paintball gun at walls and make art. This was the whole point of it. But first of all, really ticked off the people from Boston Dynamics who already have military contracts. But also, it raises that specter of what if that was a real gun on the dog, and you just walk it down the street and fire the gun? It's just there are too many of those kinds of questions that have not even been addressed at all.

Gabe Mydland:
No, I was just gonna say I'm sleeping better tonight. I know that. (laughter).

Jack Walters:
Nothing to worry about at all.

Jen Burris:
Is there anything that you think the average person should be doing or focusing on as these advances are made?

Jack Walters:
Yes, I think we should be honest and forthcoming with people about the kinds of work that they're doing that is either easier or more difficult to be automated. And then that helps people to choose careers that help people to start on a path and so forth. The more variable your daily work is the much, further along, it'll be before anybody is trying to automate. There's a whole class of those kinds of jobs. But if what you do each day is repetitive, that's at least a concern that sooner or later it will be in someone's financial interest to try to automate that. And that's where the pinch will come in.

Jen Burris:
Do you think that can also apply to creative areas? I know they've had AI create songs before…

Jack Walters:
Yes, there's fun stuff out there about creative work by AI. But we're nowhere near the level of sophistication. Too many people, when you say artificial intelligence, they think of Mr. data, you know, or these kinds of fictional characters that may be midcentury before there's anything like that, but it's crazy of us to think, Oh, well, that's way out there. The stuff that will affect employment and jobs is very close by. So, we should be thinking in terms of what will we do? What other ways can those people have meaningful employment? And what structural changes might be needed in light of the large-scale changes that AI and robotics will bring?

Jen Burris:
Okay, anything else you can think of that we might have missed on this topic?

Jack Walters:
No, the only thing is, I'd look back and restate something that I sort of said in passing. I think if you listen to this, especially if you just listened kind of with part of your attention. You think, oh, look, that guy. He's just against all this stuff. On the contrary. Not only am I not against it, but I also don't think you can actually be against it. I know people who say I don't like it that Walmart has all those self-checkouts Well, too bad for you, those things work, they're never going away. And the idea that we should pull them all out of the stores so we can give the cashiers back their jobs. That's never going to happen. So that's just a tiny drop compared to all the other things that could be done in this way. So, what we need to do is lean into it, not fight it and got rejected, not deny it. But say here is something that's coming, and we should adjust.

Gabe Mydland:
And that's the hard part. It is, yeah, people find it very difficult to change. Hopefully, that won't be the part that gets AI because that's what I help people with.

Jack Walters:
well, and Gabe is a professional Ph.D. trained psychologist, that's the job I'm talking about is forever down the path, you know, because it's almost every case is unique. And there's a lot of sort of unstructured decision-making that goes on. But my goodness, look around at the jobs that people do in large numbers across the economy, they're not like that.

Gabe Mydland:
Well, and I even can see how it could be applied to my profession, quite frankly, you have a finite set of variables, and you just plug it in. And I'm replaceable. So yeah, I think it's a challenge for all of us. I do think it brings great things, but nothing comes without a cost.

Jack Walters:
Yes. And the benefits are going to be astounding. I think that in medicine that we talked about, but also in many service-type fields where people are given advice or are given support by various things in professions, lots of that's going to get much better. And that's great. That's wonderful. But like we said, the change in the employment structure, not only in the US but of practically everywhere is going to be profound.

Jen Burris:
So it's really about adaptability in society.

Jack Walters:
It is and that's a wonderful point, I'm glad you brought it up. The country that is most adaptable is going to be the leader in this and the ones that are least adaptable or most resistant, are going to be behind.

Jen Burris:
Well, I found this topic very interesting and would love to revisit it sometime with you. I'm sure you have a plethora of knowledge that we didn't cover here today.

Jack Walters:
It is such a great thing to be involved with the scholarly, wise, and intellectually wise because my goodness, next week, there'll be some new blockbuster thing that we didn't know about this week is just amazing. MIT released this is about three weeks ago, most of the learning models in machine learning and artificial intelligence are trained models. So you get a neural network. And that's, you know, that's a software thing. And you put data in and it associates outcomes with inputs. But you have to do that a human has to do that. MIT released three weeks ago, the first AI that can do it on the fly. It takes the data and starts making generalizations from the data on its own. That's the science fiction version of AI that we've had for almost a century. But that's where we're headed in reality.

Jen Burris:
Scary and exciting.

Jack Walters:
Very exciting, and somewhat scary too.

Jen Burris:
Well, I'd like to thank Gabe for cohosting again. And jack, thank you for being our guest. My pleasure. And our sound designer Spencer. And thank you all for listening to Cyberology. Be sure to subscribe.

Jen Burris:
Welcome back to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast for sharing and discussing all things cyber and technology. I'm Jen Burris, and I'll be your host. Today we welcome back Dr. Gabe Mydland as a cohost.

Gabe Mydland:
Thank you, Jen.

Jen Burris:
And this episode, we will continue our series on artificial intelligence. And so we have a special guest with us today. Darrin Dutcher. Gabe, would you like to do a little introduction for Darrin?

Gabe Mydland:
Darrin is one of the students in my honors section for EPSY 210 lifespan development. And in the class, I invited students, they could take a test, or if there was a topic that we were covering, that they were interested in, they could come to me with a proposal to do some sort of project. And Darrin reached out, and he said, you know, what I'd like to do is put together a research poster. And I said, Wow, that that sounds great. And we'll talk a little bit about how that involves artificial intelligence, along with what we're talking about in the class, and how Darrin put that together.

Jen Burris:
Awesome. Darren, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Darrin Dutcher:
Oh, sure. Born and raised in California, going to Dakota State University. I'm a cyber operations Network Security Administration major. And yeah, I look forward to this podcast.

Jen Burris:
Awesome. So can you start by telling us a little bit about what inspired your idea for this product,

Darrin Dutcher:
I've always kind of enjoyed psychology, philosophy, and I enjoyed going with concepts of like, can AI truly come to a sentient being? So, I always had a fascination with AI from the start, and talking about how children develop I thought would be great to kind of be like, oh, compare a kind of a child to AI and how they both develop because I feel like there's a lot of similarities with how they develop.

Gabe Mydland:
And of course, we're talking about in the cognitive sense, what Darren chose to do, if I may, Darren, how children begin to understand how to categorize things. This is even before they begin to speak, that they begin to recognize, for example, say, a family pet. It has four legs, it has a tail, it has whiskers, and their family pet happens to be a dog, but on a playdate with another child who has a pet that has four legs and a tail. He learns that this is not a dog, he's corrected, this is a cat. And he starts to understand and distinguish the differences, even though he can't articulate them. And in talking about this way that children learn to assimilate and accommodate. Darren came up with the idea of how that parallels with how we train if you will a computer. Am I saying that right?

Darrin Dutcher:
Yeah, I mean, how we kind of like train a computer AI program, in the simplest way is just giving a bunch of pictures having human self-identify it sit, you know, like the little recaptures there, like, are you a robot click on all the stop signs, and that that helps to process data. And say Okay, these are stop signs. And they basically relate them say, okay, there's an octagon, and all of these pictures, it's all red with lettering there. And it relates it by pixels instead of just by the word stop. Through that AI starts to kind of like process and say, these similarities helped to create a full picture helps to create a pattern.

Gabe Mydland:
And so assimilation is taking something and trying to categorize it with what we already know. And accommodation is when we recognize that it doesn't quite fit. So, we've got to change the way that we think about this new thing. As I understand it, I learned a lot about AI from Darren's project that very much like a human being learns to accommodate to meet the needs of a new situation, that that's how we train, if you will, a computer to distinguish and notice that there are differences. And now we have two things rather than just one thing. And it's a process that repeats itself over and over again. And of course, our knowledge then accumulates.

Jen Burris:
So expanding the AI's definition of something. You show a bunch of pictures of dogs, and then you throw a cat in there, and it says, it's the dog again, and then you recalibrate it kind of?

Darrin Dutcher:
you recalibrate it, you can kind of train it and show it some pictures of cats, because for the most part, what you do is you'll have a bunch of different pictures. And you'll have people select stuff. So, one of the experiences that I got to go to was this one place at the University of Maryland, College Park. And they were working with the classification of imaging. So, they had a setup with a camera, and whatever the camera was looking at, it would say, Oh, that's a monitor, that's a computer, that's light. And it would just put a box around that stuff. It's basically getting fed a lot of information. People put boxes around items like this is what light looks like, this is what a computer looks like, this is what this looks like. And through that, it's basically able to say, okay, all of these boxes have this similarity to it and tries to basically say, okay, that similarity is what this image is. So, it's sophisticated in a way, but it's not as sophisticated as humans at this current level.

Gabe Mydland:
Sure, there's a distinguishing of the different features. It's kind of a fascinating process when you think about it, but it takes time. And it takes a little bit of direction, sometimes from someone else, but very rapidly. Children, and we're talking about toddlers, starting at approximately nine months of age, the more and more exposure they have to new things, they're assimilating and accommodating quite rapidly. And with a computer program, it's much the same.

Jen Burris:
So, it's kind of like expanding categories?

Gabe Mydland:
Exactly.

Jen Burris:
How did you go about researching this project once you had the idea?

Darrin Dutcher:
I would say the first thing that I did was hop on to my trusty friend, Google. And I just looked at some scholarly papers. And looked at machine learning algorithms, because there's a bunch of different machine learning algorithms for image classification. And I chose one of like 20 different machine learning algorithms. I looked at each one individually, and chose one that seems very rudimentary so, it's somewhat easier to explain. Once I found the method, I just looked into that method. okay, let's see how a child takes an image and processes it. So, I looked up some scholarly articles of how a child processes images and read through them, then I went over and kept looking at, oh, these two are pretty similar, although it's not like oh, yeah, they both look at the same image and know exactly what it is. Or they get told what the image is, the child looks at this image and is told, oh, that's a dog. Well, then a computer has to get told what a dog is, too. But then it goes on a lower level, it looks at the pixels, it looks at the very small details of it. It requires a larger test size than humans because it requires multiple, this is a dog, that's a dog, this is a dog to basically create that category. It can create the category on the first go, but it wouldn't be too precise.

Jen Burris:
Were there changes to the children's levels as they got older compared to AI?

Darrin Dutcher:
It's around the same if you boil everything down, children get told what an object is, and then they keep learning or they go look in their book and see Oh, This is what a butterfly looks like, this is what a fish looks like, once you kind of learn what a fish is, then you maybe look at some other fish and you're like, this is a cod, this is a salmon. There all these different types of fish. And you see that there are subcategories to the category that you create, which can be the same thing with AI.

Jen Burris:
Okay, so is the timespan kind of similar in the learning experiences? Or does AI move a little bit slower because it takes more information?

Darrin Dutcher:
I would say that it actually moves faster. Because you can feed a bunch of numbers to an AI, you can feed a lot of information to an AI very quickly.

Gabe Mydland:
The real advantage, of course, with technology is, is the processing speed. And I'm really speaking out of school here. So Darrin, correct me on this, but my understanding is that a lot of the ways that we've designed a computer are really a representation of how we understand how our brains work, particularly in the area of memory. And you address this in your assignment to I mean, first of all, we have to attend to something, if we don't attend to it, it's lost. And then it moves into short-term memory where it can stay for about 20-30 seconds at the most. If, if we practice and rehearse that information. If not, it's lost again, it moves into something called long term memory, which, up until recently, most psychologists degree was infinite. But now there's been some studies that say, well, it's pretty large, but it's not infinite. Again, if the information is processed, if it's related to other things that we understand and know, well, there's a good chance that we can retrieve it later. The advantage of technology is those things are stored and can be retrieved depending on the user, if they remember, for example, a file name or something like that. But that processing speed that Darrin was referring to, being able to take in all kinds of information, and organize it and connect it to other things, is so far superior to what we can do as humans.

Jen Burris:
but does it lack the ability to make inferences that we humans can quickly do? Once we've learned things?

Gabe Mydland:
Right. And I think the parallel is that with humans, the more experiences we have, the more likely we're able to categorize and distinguish between different things. I think the same thing would be true with AI. The more it's exposed to and directed by humans, the more it's able to make those distinctions.

Darrin Dutcher:
Yeah, I know, some of my friends. Last year, they did a really cool project. And it was on adversarial AI networks. And that is basically having one AI fight against the other AI. And how they implemented it was they had one AI that creates medical record codes. And then they had the other AI identify which ones were fake and which ones were real. In the beginning, the one that is making the fake medical codes would send it to that and it would automatically get detected. But then as they kept doing larger and larger numbers, and I mean, hundreds of 1000s of test runs it started to get where this one AI couldn't tell like a fake medical record was and what a real medical record was.

Jen Burris:
When you're talking about pitting the two AI's against each other, does that help you kind of find flaws in things too? Maybe in a cyber-attack for example?

Darrin Dutcher:
I have been looking at implementing AI into cyber, which hasn’t to a large scale been done. There's a lot of companies that are like, Oh, yeah, we have AI in our cyber technology. It's not really AI for the most part. It's either like a framework or an API. To let's say, implement AI into this, it gets pretty complicated because each attack can be different. You can have something that it normally exploits be extremely secure and can exploit that. So, you have to look for a different way in you can probably tell the AI, hey, look at all these ways in and then do that. But to my knowledge, I don't think there is a fully automated AI program that can find the vulnerabilities, exploit them and then be like, Oh, yeah, these are your vulnerabilities that your company has.

Jen Burris:
And you mentioned framework and API's, can you explain for our listeners what that is,

Darrin Dutcher:
frameworks and APIs tend to be mistaken for AI, it's more coded and stuff. So it's not learning as it goes. It's just this is how it's programmed, this is what it will do.

Jen Burris:
So an API is more like completing a task over and over again, versus expanding upon that, as it learns?

Darrin Dutcher:
That's the TLDR (too long didn’t read) of that.

Jen Burris:
Gabe, what was this like, as his professor in learning about this new topic and comparing it to early childhood development?

Gabe Mydland:
Well, again, fascinating, you know, I use technology a lot. And I like using technology. I don't know how it works. And I love all the things that it can do for us in enhancing the quality of our life. I'm interested in psychology, but I recognize that there's a lot of things, other subjects, other topics, other disciplines, that have a lot of overlap with what I'm interested in. And what Darren was able to do was to really show the overlap with if you will, Ai, or even on a broader scale computer science in a really meaningful way, with how we understand how our brains work. And of course, psychology is the study of not only behavior but mental processing. And, of course, I understand that computers are our best representation, or maybe are a representation of how our brains work. But to see how it actually can do more than just what you were talking about earlier, doing a command that we've programmed it to do. But to go beyond that, and to think about the fact that. I guess I understood this, but this was really tangible to me that you can actually have a computer begin to make those distinctions to begin to make decisions based on what information you provide to it, on its own. It's amazing. It's kind of scary. But it's also, I think, going to lead to some really exciting developments, that due to the limitations that we have, as humans are going to enhance the quality of our lives.

Jen Burris:
As you put together your research poster how did you choose what to highlight?

Darrin Dutcher:
I looked for a lot of the similarities between AI and people and development. Basically, I'm wanting to make sure these are similarities instead of going for a more advanced AI that may not share as many similarities or may use a more advanced process. And I also want to find a simpler process. So I could put it in easier terms to understand because as I know, Gabe tries to adapt to computers.

Gabe Mydland:
I’m simple. I'm a very simple person. It's alright Darrin.

Darrin Dutcher:
I mean, you do better than my grandma. (laughter)

Gabe Mydland:
I got Grandma beat. But yeah, I think he wanted to make the project accessible to a broader audience than, say, his peers and colleagues. And I think he did a really nice job of providing an overview of the parallels between the two processes. It's just a really fine piece of work. And I'm really proud of what he put together.

Jen Burris:
Did you get any feedback from anyone else besides Gabe?

Darrin Dutcher:
I ran it through my roommates. I'm like, hey, do you mind looking at this real quick? Or do you have a second? And I just turned on my computer and let him look at it. Tell me if you can understand that if you have had nothing to do with this concept or that or is it easy to understand and follow? Even if you never worked with image processing before. Even if you've never worked with memory or AI or people or that I just hand it to him. He checks through it check spelling and that because Spelling's a different thing for me.

Gabe Mydland:
I'm really disappointed you didn't share it with your grandmother, but okay. (laughter)

Jen Burris:
Okay, Gabe, you have any questions left?

Gabe Mydland:
No, I just, I was really pleased that Darrin saw this as an opportunity. And again, this is something new that I'm doing in my classes, but it's really proved to be very fruitful and helping students to see beyond just the domain that they're interested in. And seeing how they can expand the things that they're passionate about, from looking at things from a different perspective, from a different discipline’s viewpoint

Jen Burris:
that's nice. I bet it's also beneficial for the students as well to kind of get outside of their comfort zone may be a little bit.

Gabe Mydland:
Yeah, I think, it encourages them to demonstrate their mastery of the content in a different way. And I think that students would like to show that they understand the information, but in a different format, like a poster. I've had students make videos, I've had them do a podcast, they've come up with these ideas. And I've kind of told them what I'd like the parameters to be and they just take off. I really do think, and I try to tell students this, it's your responsibility. It's your job, it's your task to find how what I have to offer is linked with what you're passionate about, they're adding to their expertise about something that they care about. And they're just so excited to see this, this connection that they didn't realize exists. And it does, everything overlaps, to think that they're different disciplines or silos is incorrect. It's really more of a Venn diagram.

Jen Burris:
I'd like to thank cave for cohosting. Again. Thank you for having me and Darren, for being our guests. Thank you for having me. And of course, our sound designer Spencer. And thank you for listening to cyberology. Be sure to subscribe.

Jen Burris:

Welcome to Cyberology Dakota State University's podcast for sharing and discussing all things cyber. I'm Jen Burris from the marketing and communications department at DSU, and I'll be your host. In this episode, we'll be talking about artificial intelligence with Austin O'Brien.

And today, I'm happy to introduce you to my co-host, Dr. Gabe Mydland.

Gabe Mydland:

Hi, Jen.

Jen Burris:

Hi, how are you today?

Gabe Mydland:

I'm doing great. And artificial intelligence seems to fit my personality very well.

Jen Burris:

So how so?

Gabe Mydland:

Mainly because I don't have real intelligence. How about that? No, the topic, I think mirrors our understanding of how the brain works. And of course, psychology. The courses I get to teach are about behavior, and of course, mental processing, and how the two influence each other. So, I suspect what we're going to learn here today, I'm going to learn here today too, is how our understanding of the way the brain works, informs how we use and create artificial intelligence. So, I'm really excited to be here. Thank you.

Jen Burris:

And we're happy to have you. Let me introduce our artificial intelligence expert, Dr. Austin, O'Brien. Austin is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science in the Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences. So why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Austin O’Brien:

So just like you say, as an assistant professor, this is my fifth year here. So, my background in computer science, my bachelor's and master's degrees come from there. But my Ph.D. was actually in computational science and statistics. So that's kind of a departure where it's really a way of looking at a lot of the machine learning algorithms that we know today. So, I didn't really, you know, know that at the time going into it, but it's kind of worked out really well. And so, I've been working at DSU, with these new courses that we got with artificial intelligence we've been working on, really trying to get folks interested in which has been really easy to do, students have been kind of jumping all over the courses that we've been starting to provide. So yeah, really excited with the way that AI is starting to take off, you know, here at Dakota State University, and also in other universities in South Dakota. It's just something that's really taken off, and I'm really excited to be a part of it.

Jen Burris:

Awesome. So how about you start off by telling me a little bit or telling us the listeners a little bit about what AI is?

Austin O’Brien:

Sure. Yeah. So artificial intelligence, you know, the whole idea, at least from a computer science perspective, is trying to get a computer to behave in a way that's intelligent like you would expect a person to, and you know, that that's kind of really the end goal. You know, we talk about, you know, different things in artificial intelligence that we have now. But I wouldn't say that we're anywhere really near the end goal of where we want, we'd like to go, you know, that the whole sci-fi idea of some self-entity that's able to walk around behave, think to react to its environment, you know, things along those lines. Right now, we're kind of at the stages, where we're doing mini partitions of that. And the whole goal someday is to kind of get this all working together. But that's kind of the idea. So right now, you know, the way that we're working with that, it's typically, there are these different facets of artificial intelligence, machine learning is one that's become very popular lately. And really, there's a, you know, the reason for that is really, because of computational power has really started taking off and data collection is a huge thing. You know, there's obviously a lot of controversy one way or another about, you know, data collection, and all of that.

So that's something that we have to think about going forward when we're, you know, working on artificial intelligence, you know, the ethics of AI is something that is really starting to take a step forward in our line of thinking when we're working on these algorithms and things like that. So yeah, you know, just, you know, there's the old school, rule-based artificial intelligence where, you know, if something occurs, then the bot should do that, you know, that sort of thing. The problem with that is that it's you can't predict everything that could ever happen. So, it's hard to create rules for these bots, or for the software agents to actually behave in, you know, a very natural environment, right. So you know, that's where we're going towards machine learning more recently, where we're able to actually feed the software agents, lots of information, and through this information, you know, they quote-unquote, learn how to behave better, and so they have all of the different situations that we can try and feed into it so that it can learn to, you know, behave intelligently like we would like it to do. So, that's kind of where we're at right now, obviously, the folks who have all the computational power, Google, Amazon, all those folks, you know, those are the ones that you're hearing about. And that's really why they're really taking off, they have tons of data, they have tons of computational power. So, for researchers, you know, we do the best we can with what we got. So that's why there's, you know, a little bit of concern, I think, in the field of AI right now, just because these large companies are kind of privatizing this sort of thing. And researchers are just by the nature of being able to conduct this research, it costs a lot of money, to collect data, to store data, the computational power needed to run the algorithms, some of them need graphical processing units, or GPUs, which are just really expensive hardware to run. So. So you know, as far as that goes, you know, research is doing our best to kind of keep up with that. And because we want open artificial intelligence, we want it to be for everybody to use to understand. And understand, I think, is one of the more important things about it, too. So that's what we'd like, but so, yeah

Jen Burris:

So the hard part is, is that you don't have Jeff Bezos's net worth of...

Austin O’Brien:

No, No, I do not. I don't think the state does, either. But, you know, at the same time, a lot of these companies, you know, and I don't want to paint them in a dark light, either, you know, a lot of them actually supply, processing power for folks to use, there's like a free level, Google has a service, I think it's called the collaborative or collaboration, collaborate something, something along those lines. And basically, you can use their computational power, if you upload your data, you know, or there are a lot of free databases that you can use for certain projects and things like that. So, Google has theirs, Amazon has their web services, and Microsoft has their version. So, I think there is kind of a push to get it for not just researchers, but anybody who has the interest to get into that sort of thing. There is kind of this free tier for folks to get into it. But to do the really, really kind of interesting stuff. I mean, you need big, big budgets. And so that's something that we're working towards, we'll do a few more fundraisers (laughter). But we'll get there.

Jen Burris:

Gabe, I can tell you have some questions percolating there.

Gabe Mydland:

Well, I am percolating a little bit (laughter). I'm more interested in this vast spectrum of abilities that AI can tackle. Where do you fall on the spectrum? Where's your interest? And what are you working on?

Austin O’Brien:

Sure. So my interest is really kind of, you know, because like you say, there's lots of these different facets of artificial intelligence, like, the one that's probably being applied the most right now is probably AI for business. And really, it's using a lot of these machine learning algorithms to do numeric predictions like trying to predict housing markets, or, should you decline or accept somebody's credit application, you know, something along those lines. As far as what I'm interested in, it kind of takes a little bit of a turn. And it's kind of more of what most people think about when they think of AI is actually more along the line of an autonomous agent, or some bot, as you might say, that's able to behave in some environment. So, to give you just an easy idea is, it's called reinforcement learning, which is what I'm interested in. And it's where a computer basically, as I say, learns to behave in its environment in an intelligent way. So, the example I like to use is there, you can train a computer to play an Atari game or something along those lines. So just by having screenshots, basically, what we'll do is we'll digitize that screenshot, well, it basically already is, but feed those numeric values into a deep learning model. And deep learning, some folks might be familiar with the term a neural network, a neural net, and artificial neural net. And basically, it's kind of mapped after the way that you know, some scientists think that you know, the brain might work, we feed it some data, and it goes to some neurons. And then it kind of processes that data a little bit with what we'll call some sort of activation function and then it gives some output. And so, then that data kind of percolates through the neural net and gives us finally some output. So, this example with the Atari game, basically, as it will read the screen, the pixels, basically, each pixel has a numeric value. So, you know, the color scheme, RGB, red, green, blue, right, so every screenshot has a value, you know, between zero and 255. And so, with that, it just kind of looks at you know, what is the pattern of pixels represent? And then it just basically the output is what is the move it wants to make? So, for the easiest one Pac Man, up, down, left, right. So, you feed this information, and the output is basically going to be one of those four options. And so, what happens is, is that if it was did something good, we try to reward it. So, what's an Atari game, the easiest way to do that is just the score, the basic score, if the score goes up, Agent did great. If not, we find a way to punish it, if it did something bad, like maybe if it's Pac-Man, getting hit by the ghost, right? That sort of thing. Or maybe we can say, if it doesn't get any points after a long period of time, that's bad. So, we try to punish it if it doesn't do that. And it's just this, in this reward and punishment, it's just a numeric value, if it does something good, give it a positive number does something bad, take away some numbers, that sort of thing. Over a long period of time, in the beginning, it'll start by just kind of randomly making moves. And it doesn't really know what's correct. But after a series of rewards and not just instantaneous rewards, but mathematically, we can try and get it to get the culmination of rewards over time this value, and then the tries to get the maximum value that it can. And so, it just kind of learns, given what the screen looks like the pattern of the pixels, it'll learn well, if I go up with, you know, when that looks like the ghost is below me, then I get a reward, I live longer, get more points, those sorts of things. And so, through that, this whole reinforcement learning is where a computer learns to do something, well, whether that plays a game, whether that's a robot that can learn to walk, or something along those lines.

Gabe Mydland:

So, I'm struggling here, because I just watched this on Netflix, or excuse me, Sundance now is one of the channels that I've subscribed to, okay. And they were referring to the Norwegian chess master Morrigan. I can't think of his name. But to achieve that title is the Grandmaster of chess competed against a gentleman from India, who used a computer program, I think that was using AI to think of all the different possibilities, given the moves. And one thing I was amazed about, I'm not an avid chess player, but they said after the first four moves in the chess game, there are something like over 4 billion different possible plays, they could go from those first four moves. And, of course, the advantage to having artificial intelligence with a processing speed in the computer, is it can go through all those variations. And what you're talking about is not only anticipating what the next best move is but after that move what how a sequence plays out.

Austin O’Brien:

Right? Yeah, absolutely. So you know, as far as artificial in chess goes, You know, I think back to deep blue. I can't remember the year that was running. But basically, that was just a supercomputer, because there's a game tree essentially, is how that worked is, this is the state of the board. If I make this move, then it would kind of say, Okay, well, this is what the board would look like. And then it would try to cycle through all possible moves. And like you say, just the permutations, it's a huge number. So just as a supercomputer, just trying to do as many as it can, before its time limit was up and it had to make a move was how that worked. At that time, I want to say was the 90s. I can't remember exactly when that was but, with reinforcement learning, it's, it's a little bit different. Because basically, we found that, you know, that's not really tenable, there are so many moves, that even now with supercomputers, that that's not really probably the best way to move forward. But with this reinforcement learning, what we're trying to do is find, you know, where it learns kind of the relationships between the pieces, and it kind of gives this probability, you know, what I'm talking about this reinforcement learning, it's not always just a straight-up like this up is always best or down is always best, or, you know, talking about chess, moving the knight to this position is, you know, the best thing you can do. But what it'll rather do is give a probability, like, if I move this chess piece here, I have an 80% chance of winning later on and, and so on, like that. And so it's not nearly as much computation once it's actually running training, the agent actually does take an incredible amount of time and power, but that's done before the game. And once this neural net is trained, then it actually will say, it'll look at the board, and then it'll actually compute fairly quickly out of the different options that it might do. What might be the best probability of winning not just in so it's not just for that move. What's the best move in this situation, but just like you said, looking forward, what's the end goal of winning that?

Jen Burris:

So basically, it's strategizing?

Austin O’Brien:

Exactly. And that's such a good way to put it. And that's why we try to set those values, not the immediate reward, but the long-term reward. It's actually funny, we were talking about student projects. And a few years ago, I had a student project want to use reinforcement learning to do tic tac toe, right, a very similar thing. Tic tac toe, technically a solved game. You know, if you look at any board with X's and O's, there is technically the best move, you know, something like that. But the student wanted to say, Well, I want to use reinforcement learning to see if we can do something to get it to learn. And the problem was, is that he was using immediate rewards and not this long-term goal. And what would happen is, it would always try and go for a win, it would never go for a block. And it was kind of cool, but it's kind of neat, you know,

Gabe Mydland:

Just all offense?

Austin O’Brien:

Exactly, and that's what it was, is this all offense, because it wasn't thinking it wasn't strategizing, it was just thinking, what is this immediate reward, the closest thing I can do to winning, but at the same time, not actually thinking about the other player or anything like that. So it's kind of really cool.

Gabe Mydland:

So I'm kind of curious, this reinforcement learning with AI, you know, obviously, with a game of game chess or an Atari game, as you mentioned, but what are the applications in business? In the world of commerce?

Unknown Speaker

Sure, the whole idea of reinforcement learning is, to take in what is the environment? So, like, for Pac Man the screen for chess, it's the board, let's just go into the world of the stock market. Sure. So, what are the stocks and not just the stocks, you know, they're moving, but also what is happening in the world, like, I'm trying to think long term, like. So again, this is kind of above and beyond what's really out there now, but it's kind of looking at the end goal. So, you know, the idea of looking at the stocks, looking at the numbers, you know, they're going up and down. And so that's a lot of what people are working with right now. But we know that the real world affects these stocks in a dramatic way. So adding more AI, so natural language processing is the idea of a computer being able to understand language, so maybe being able to, you know, basically read articles from different internet sources, perhaps, and kind of see where maybe different companies have had great success with new announcements, or something's gone wrong with scandals, or whatever various other things, but be able to use that and also look at those stocks and be able to decide well, buying and trading, what is going to yield the highest value after and you can specify maybe a long period of time, maybe a shorter period of time. But what it will try and do, essentially, is just basically, you know, you'll start training it by you know, at first it won't know what's right and what's wrong, it'll start making random trades. And if it does things wrong, well, then the algorithm, the way that that works, is it tunes it to do you know, this, you saw this environment, you made this move, and that was bad. So, try this, try something else, essentially. And it just would try to there you go try to trade maybe a different stock, maybe for a different amount different times. And then so as far as you know, commerce goes, being able to have that live data is something that would allow it to actually function very well. But I guess, you know, reinforcement learning, just kind of coming back to that, it's just being able to look at your environment. You got to be able to feed it that data, so it can make a decision. And it can only make good decisions if it has seen similar situations before. So that's how it learns. It's not always automatic, it has to train and learn after a long period of time.

Jen Burris:

So they have to learn from their wins and their losses.

Austin O’Brien:

Exactly. Yeah. It’s kind of neat because there's a lot of libraries, coding libraries that are available. And students will do that for fun. It's make-believe they're not actually making trades or anything. But that's what they'll do is they'll try to train reinforcement agents to do well on stock markets. And it's really interesting because you know, this AI, it's not just you don't just throw it out there and it just works or behaves in a certain way. There's actually a lot of tuning that's done by humans still. And so, like two different researchers trying to do the same thing might get two different reinforcement agents behaving in entirely different ways just because they how they train their agent, how they fit it data, how they treat the reward system, the value system, penalties, that sort of thing. So yeah, I think there's a lot going on.

Gabe Mydland:

I would assume that what data is made available for the processing to determine what's reinforce able what's punishable is key. I mean, so the human element is really critical. If you're reading only the Wall Street Journal, you're getting certainly a very good source of information, but you're not getting probably enough information right?

Jen Burris

And can that lead to bias in your AI?

Austin O’Brien:

Absolutely. And that's kind of the big thing, since we're talking about, you know, ethics and AI, that sort of thing. And bias can play a huge part in that. Now there's kind of there's the strict, you know, sense of bias, not like in human terms, but let's say facial recognition. One way that we talk about bias, not in the way you might be thinking, but let's say we the way that you would train an agent to recognize faces for, maybe a webcam, like it follows your face as you're moving around something. So, it has to recognize your face, or if you play around with Snapchat, all the different filters that they can do that sort of stuff. So, it has to recognize your face, essentially. So they have to train that agent with tons of faces, and whether they get that pictures from scraping the internet, you know, stealing from Facebook, or whatever, but they get all of these faces. So it learns what that looks like, well, if you only use faces, let's say just straight on looking straightforward faces right at the right the camera, then that's what it thinks a face is. As soon as anyone puts on sunglasses, it's going to get confused. And then there's also kind of the other bias that you might be thinking of if you're only, you know, training with Caucasian people, there's going to be trouble with folks of other races. And that's something that we really do have to think about when you're working with artificial intelligence - is the data that you have, does that create a bias? Because you really want to get encompassing of what it's going to be used for. And you don't want to want anything falling through the cracks that you don't think of. And data selection is a huge part of that. We have the phrase garbage in garbage out, if you don't have enough data, or it's not good going in your models not gonna work for you.

Gabe Mydland:

You’ve discussed the ethical side of AI. Are their structures are their governing bodies, or how does it work in the world of AI?

Austin O’Brien:

Right now, it is kind of a lot of self-policing there. If there is a central ethical agency, I'm honestly not aware of them. And so even if they are, then maybe they're not that effective. So, so not to be rude about it. But uh, one of the big ones that are pretty popular, there's an open AI is the company, you might be familiar with Elon Musk. And so he has his company. And so he started the whole company, the idea is that artificial intelligence could be open to everybody, so everybody could see how it's working. So we could see problems, whether that's, you know, bias or just unethical use of artificial intelligence. And one of the things that they came out with is this natural language processing agent. So being able to read text, natural language, which is normally very difficult for a computer just because of context, semantics, think of when people are being, you know, sarcastic, incredibly hard for a computer to understand that sort of thing. But they came out with a program here GPT-3 and it’s their third iteration of this natural language processing agent. They found that with just a little bit of a prompt, it was able to write entire news stories. So, you give a prompt, like this week in the news in the White House, and then you just feed that line into it. And they will write an entire news story, that would seem plausible, that sort of thing. And they became incredibly worried about obviously, you know, write fake news, artificial and artificial intelligence doing those sorts of things. So, what happened is Microsoft ended up purchasing it and said, people can use it, but the source code for it is not up for grabs anymore. Then when people use it, it's very limited. It's not kind of in the huge context like that, that what might have been made for in the first place. So you kind of have to license it out. And usually, it's these bigger companies that are doing it for you know, chatbots for their customer service things along those lines. So yeah, so ethics and AI are just such a huge thing. Deep fakes anymore, is something. Are you familiar with the idea of deep fakes?

Jen Burris:

Yeah, so I've heard a couple of recent news stories, the Tom Cruise videos were on TikTok, and then also a mother using their deep fake videos to threaten cheerleaders on her child's cheerleading squad. To try and like get them off the team, I think.

Austin O’Brien:

Yeah, so if you're not familiar, basically, what you can do is you can manipulate basically a video to you know, you can if you feed it, someone's face, you can have somebody else kind of doing the action, but you can put anybody's face on or vice versa, basically make a photorealistic video out of something that isn’t real, a deep fake. So that's just kind of a huge, huge ethical thing, a dilemma that we're looking at now because there are even just lots of websites where you can just upload a picture and it just looks like you're singing a song and I've seen a couple of them and it's crazy how realistic it is.

Gabe Mydland:

Well to continue with that. It was a couple of years ago after the 2016 election they were talking about Adobe had some software that not only did the visual but they were able to take President Obama who's you know, been recorded several 1000s of times, and type out a dialogue. And it not only visually looked like he was saying it, but it also sounded like he was saying it right. And being someone who is very active politically, I was like, Oh, my gosh, that's a lot different than a newspaper report or a journalist, you know, writing the story. This is what appears to be a person standing up and make taking this wild position, right? And who's to say he didn't?

Austin O’Brien:

There's a ton of research or a ton of grants, I'll say that people are saying, Can we detect deep fakes? The last paper I've seen was 96% effective at detecting a deep fake, and the way they did it was the reflection in their eyes, they could determine if the reflection was realistic to the environment that was around them, which is crazy. That's what I read.

Gabe Mydland:

Did it get to that level?

Austin O’Brien:

Yeah, the model that's able to determine if it's a deep fake, that's where it was able to pinpoint kind of, and that's just one method of doing it, the last one that I've read so far. But there's just a ton of money, kind of going into just being able to try to avoid that. Now, I think that we're all kind of being made aware of these types of situations, just like you say, and, you know, not just to kind of compound on kind of the scary stuff. But I remember, you know, just kind of being on the cybersecurity sort of thing in AI, I've been trying to kind of put those two together. One of them, you know, I know of is that you'll get a call, you know, one of the spam calls or something like that, and there's really nothing on the other line, they might say hello, and then there's really nothing. They're not even trying to sell anything. It's just kind of this weird nothingness? What they're trying to do is collect your voice, what does your timber, what does your tone sound like? And what they'll do is... they'll use that to call people in your phone with your voice, say, Grandma, I need a check for $1000 bucks for school. And it's crazy how they're able to do that sort of thing. So, when you're talking about ethics, we're there, we got to be able to get on top of this. So you know, there's the ethics side of making people aware of what's going on being able to teach students, you know, obviously where is the line, and then trying to get people to defend against that sort of thing. And you know, the research to be able to detect when things are going wrong. And along those lines. So, yeah, so AI and cybersecurity or even just security, in general, is just kind of the thing that's starting to come together very strongly just because of these sorts of things.

Gabe Mydland:

So we've kind of talked about the view of a dark side. You were talking about end games. And in it sounds like there's lots of promise with AI, what do you see is going to be something that AI contributes to our existence?

Austin O’Brien:

Sure. So really, the idea is trying to solve problems that we just would not have been able to come up with ourselves. And coming back to those reinforcement learning agents. The fun thing with those is that you find strategies that nobody else has ever really come up with. And so, if you think about that, you can apply that to any range of problems in any environment you can think of. So, there are a lot of environmental problems, the oceans are running hot, running out of fish, global warming, in general, picking up, you know, all this garbage that we're collecting, what can we do with it? So, there's artificial intelligence that can tell us how to create different chemical compounds. Here's an example. Like in chemistry, with recycling, maybe we're trying to break down Styrofoam cups or something like that, what can do that safely, efficiently, not give away nasty fumes, that sort of thing. Typically, in a lab, you'd have to work with these chemicals that can be expensive, time-consuming, and may be dangerous. With artificial intelligence, what we might be able to do is go down to that molecular level, they know how these combinations normally occur between different elements. And so maybe we can come up with a new compound to do that, without all of that expense of all this lab stuff. Something that comes up, you know, through the simulations, and then we'll try that in, in real life, and see if that can help us out. So maybe that's something we can do and, you know, take out pollutants in water, then, you know, agriculture is a big one that I would like to work with, too, with pesticides, you know, it's standard to just spray the whole field. And that can, you know, lead to drainage and cause issues there. Well, with artificial intelligence, we can get a bot maybe to do what we call strategic, micro, spraying something like that, where it can recognize a weed just zap it or do whatever it needs to do, and then go on and keep on moving. So we're not spraying mass chemicals, just little bits where we need to, or maybe just dig it up, Whatever you want it to do. So, there's a lot of different AI's working together with the reinforcement learning bot where it has to drive around, then you got image recognition, which is kind of its own thing where it can recognize that a plant is actually a weed and not your, your soybean plant and, and then dig it up and then, you know, return back before the battery dies, and there are lots of things that work together to make it work and so solving these huge problems that are coming up for us, you know, we got so many people on earth, you know, we only got so much food, how can we handle this? You know, it's this, these big problems, and maybe AI can help us out with whether it's in a pure application, or even maybe just coming up with new strategies, we haven't thought of.

Gabe Mydland:

Amazing. Exciting.

Jen Burris

That brings up a lot of ideas for an opportunity, and maybe a little hopefulness for some of the stuff going on.

Austin O’Brien:

Yeah. And that's the thing. Like, I know, we were talking about the bleakness of it. But you know, when I look forward, I don't think of it nearly as bleak as you know, we were talking about earlier. That's kind of with any tool that comes up in human history, there are people who are going to use it for nefarious reasons. But eventually, there's going to be either regulation, there are enough good folks, I think that are going to be willing to work to step in front of it and curb it where they have to. And so you know, when I think about AI, I don't have any of those apocalyptic worries, it's just, I don't really worry about it, I think we'll get way more good than bad.

Jen Burris:

So in the aspect of AI way down the road, you train it to try and solve this problem. And it is superseded intelligence. So it starts disregarding how that would impact humans or something is that something that is even plausible?

Austin O’Brien:

When we're talking about those bots, like you give it those values, you know, we're trying to reward it. So it reaches some end goal. Sometimes it doesn't necessarily know what the goal is, sometimes it just tries to keep getting value and value and value. But there's also you know, punishments. And so really, it comes down to because I was talking about that student who is doing tic tac toe, at the end of the day, there is still so much of a human element behind it at least right now, where I can't see a system such that any sort of hurt on a human whether physical, whether you know mental or anything along those lines, or just removing humans from the picture, I really don't see that happening explicitly. It would take somebody going out of their way to make it that way, to begin with. And that would just be odd. And it would take in to have something that could actually then affect people on a large scale, incredibly expensive, time-consuming. Like I say, all that computational power. So you're talking about governments and large companies are the ones that you'd have to worry about trying to do something like that. So that's why we have our great cybersecurity agents trying to stay on top of those sorts of things, making sure folks aren't doing gnarly things to hurt other people. And but as far as just kind of the average Joe, even if you have the intelligence and the know-how to build something like that, just the resources you would need to actually make it work. It's just not at this time feasible. So I'm not too worried.

Gabe Mydland:

So I'm thinking, let's say I'm a student, and I'm listening to this podcast, and I'm really excited about what I'm hearing about AI. And I'm thinking about coming to DSU to explore this. What does a student who's interested in in this field? What kinds of classes do they take? What's their program of study? Sure.

Austin O’Brien:

So you're working with computers, and there is a lot of programming going on. So I say computer science is kind of at your core, really doing programming algorithms, things like that. Especially with machine learning the backbone to a lot of it is statistics. So, I would say if you could learn as much statistics as you can, and then kind of run with that also just kind of math in general, neural nets, in order to work properly. You know, they use a lot of linear algebra, which is, you know, matrices and vectors being multiplied and added together. all that fun stuff.

Gabe Mydland:

I'll take your word for it. (Laughter).

Austin O’Brien:

And multivariate calculus, right. So to build those algorithms, you know, is kind of fairly math-intensive, I kind of equate it to like someone building a car versus being able to drive a car, we're kind of at the point where these software libraries I've kind of been calling them. Where these packages where you know, a programmer can still build these agents without having to know this intense math, the computer can kind of do that behind the scenes. For the most part, it's really good to understand. So if you have to tweak it can do that fairly quickly. But why we're doing these courses now at this undergraduate level is that's just kind of starting to become possible is where these students can really take off and build these agents without this incredible mountain of statistics and math behind them. So as far as that goes, you know as much math and stats as you can just really understand, getting back to your question there and then programming there. But after that, you know, we're working on building AI at Dakota State University as a full-fledged degree. And so, a part of that, though, is that we want people to actually apply it to all of these different problems. So really taking an expanse of different majors, applying it to music, applying it to psychology, applying it to agriculture, teaching. All of these different things are so viable, that we really want a diverse set of students who want to apply AI to other fields. And so we really want to see is kind of this AI for all this kind of the idea. So we want all sorts of students at all levels.

Jen Burris:

And you guys have an AI minor now, right?

Austin O’Brien:

Yeah, we started with a specialization. You know, we were just kind of just playing with the idea. We had students who were interested. So you have to do some courses. And then we'll have this specialization, said, well, let's take it another step further. So that's what we did. We built the minor those courses kind of really shot off. And so we've been working to see if a Bachelor of Science in artificial intelligence is tenable. So we've been working on building the curriculum. And as far as I understand, we anticipate offering that this next fall.

Gabe Mydland:

Wow, that's great.

Austin O’Brien:

Yeah, so a Bachelor's in AI, so we're really stoked for it. Yeah.

Jen Burris

And can you speak to any of the research that you might be working on in AI, or that's going on here at DSU?

Austin O’Brien:

Yeah, so just kind of going back to, you know, using AI, and then, you know, just because Dakota State is, you know, has a huge footprint in cybersecurity, I had a graduate student I worked with to build an agent that would do penetration testing. A penetration tester, they'll be hired by some company to basically try to find the faults in their security system, try and actually hack into it, and, that sort of thing. So trying to build an agent to automate that process, you know, going into, you know, computer terminals, automatically typing commands, findings, quote, unquote, sensitive files, that sort of thing. That's something that I've kind of been working on the last kind of few years or so with students. And then just kind of in my own time, eventually, I would like to really kind of get more into agriculture. You know, I really liked the idea of these bots working and, you know, self-driving tractors is already kind of a thing that's out there. My father-in-law has one of those, it's pretty fun. So working with other universities in the state, who are, who have kind of that agricultural, the resources to be able to do that research. It's good to be collaborative whenever you can. So that's really great, you know, to be in South Dakota, where it's the primary economic factor, as far as I understand. So those are kind of the things that I've just kind of been working on. And you know, as you say, just kind of that precision AG, but we've been hiring, you know, new faculty just over the last few years that are just super interested in AI besides me, some folks are doing research with looking at x rays, letting the computer look at x rays and determine what's the probability of cancer? Let's say like in the lungs or something like that. And we have others that are, you know, working on what's called edge AI. So, I was talking about, you know, how much computational power it takes to run these things? Well, edge AI is where actually the computation is done on maybe like a central server, and then it's beamed either via the internet, or a wireless network or something like that, to like a mobile device or device on a tractor.

Jen Burris:

So you don't need all that space.

Austin O’Brien:

Exactly. You don't need all that computational power, I can just kind of still run the intelligence side of it, without really burning the battery.

Jen Burris:

Those definitely sound like great things to be looking into, especially the ag in South Dakota.

Austin O’Brien:

So that's just what interests me. But like, the fun thing is about this is students come up with the best ideas. They'll walk up to me and just say, I want to do this. And I'm like, that's, that's cool. Let's go pursue it. So. whether it's just playing with games, or like I say, a lot of students are interested in the stock market these days. But with Sanford health, that sort of thing, we've developed a new relationship with them. So, there's just a lot that we can do there as well, with artificial intelligence in the medical community. So that's another exciting opportunity that's opening up for us. So now, a lot going on. We're stoked.

Gabe Mydland:

I'm excited about the idea that you talked about it, not just a background in mathematical computation and statistics and things like that, but you're looking and hoping for students across disciplines to jump in this and I hope that at some point, when we develop the curriculum even further, those kinds of classes might be an elective or two, that students can pursue not only their professional passions but add to that another dimension, where they're using and understanding how AI might be something that can assist them in their futures.

Austin O’Brien:

Right. Absolutely. So maybe like you say, if their bachelor's degree is in education, something along those lines, maybe they can do an AI minor and see how that can help them a little bit and at least like you say, understand what's going on. And, and then I don't want to talk too much about the major because it just hasn't been solidified yet. But really just, you know, the conversations we've been having is that we would prefer that these AI students actually pursue a minor outside of technology. Well, they can if they want to, but we really want students just from all over, because it really allows people to think of how to apply it to ideas that just haven't even thought of yet.

Jen Burris:

It kind of offers a diversity of thought in the AI industry, then?

Austin O’Brien:

Absolutely. And that'd be great. And that's where new ideas come up. And then you know, somebody uses AI for such and such problem in education and somebody else in some other program, whether it's, you know, maybe athletics or something along those lines, saying, Hey, I kind of see what they're doing there, I can kind of twist it a little bit to work in such a way with mine. So it just, it just opens up this idea of applying AI and all of these different ways that we just haven't thought of yet.

Jen Burris:

Sounds like an exciting area for new students to look into

Austin O’Brien:

Hope so yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, we're excited.

Gabe Mydland:

If I  was only 40 years younger.

Austin O’Brien:

Oh, you could do it now.

Gabe Mydland:

Well, I guess I could.

Jen Burris:

Yeah, there's no timeline.

Austin O’Brien:

Four years from now, you'll still be four years older. Might know AI.

Gabe Mydland:

That's true. I can't wait to tell the wife (laughter). Honey…

Jen Burris:

Have her help you with the math homework.

Gabe Mydland:

Oh, yeah, definitely. Definitely, because you really freak me out on the math.

Austin O’Brien:

It's not so bad.

Jen Burris:

Well, anything else that you want to add while you’re here?

Austin O’Brien

Let's see. So, I want to make sure I plug the program, but I think I did that pretty well. But every time I’ve ever heard an interview about AI, there's always that doom and gloom, you know, that comes up. And I guess I just want to say the folks don't worry too much about that. It's way more sci-fi than then you think. And then even with the deep fakes and things that are real. And then the other things like that there are folks who are working to rein it in. So, I was gonna say, don't panic, because a lot of people do. And I think I think the future with AI is actually really exciting. I think it's gonna be a lot of fun. And I think it's going to solve a lot of these problems that were a lot of us are worried about, you know, the whole grand scheme of things. And I think, eventually it's going to help us solve those problems. People working with AI to help bring that together for a better future than we might have had without it.

Jen Burris:

Excellent. Well, I want to thank Austin and Gabe, for being here and chatting.

Gabe Mydland:

This was fascinating. This was great.

Austin O’Brien:

I appreciate it.

Jen Burris:

It was a learning experience for us all I think and I want to thank Spencer, our sound designer.

Jen:

Welcome to Cyberology Dakota State University's new podcast where we'll be sharing and discussing all things cyber. I’m Jen Burris from the marketing and communications department at DSU and I'll be your host. Today we'll be talking about cybercrime, which generally speaking, is considered a criminal activity involving a computer network or network device.

I have a couple of experts here with me. I'm excited to welcome my illustrious cohost for the episode Dr. Ashley Podhradsky. Ashley is a woman of many accomplishments and almost as many titles at DSU. She is an Associate Dean in the Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences, where she is also an associate professor of digital forensics. She is the founding director of DigForCE, a digital forensics lab that is a regional resource for law enforcement agencies and businesses who have been victimized by cybercriminals. She is also the founder of CybHER a program with the mission of empowering, motivating, educating, and changing the perceptions of girls and women in cybersecurity. But that's not it. She's currently serving as Interim Vice President of Research and Economic Development here. Ashley, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

Well, that is a big list. As you're reading it, I am excited to be here today and to talk about the work that Dr. Arica Kulm is doing in the dig force lab at Dakota State University. Connecting with students is one of my favorite things about being a professor. You get to learn their strengths, their interests, and watch them excel in their career. I met Arica when she was coming to study for her master's degree and then I asked her would you consider a Ph.D.? And I was thrilled when she said yes, today Dr. Kulm is the first graduate of our Ph.D. in Cyber Defense program and is our lead digital forensic analyst in the DigForCE lab. Creating that lab is something that is a big passion of mine because our field of digital forensics and incident response helps people, organizations, and the government here in South Dakota and beyond address cybercrime.

 

Jen Burris:

Amazing. And with that, why don't we have Erica talk a little bit about herself.

 

Arica Kulm:

Yeah, so thank you, Ashley, for that generous introduction. Like Ashley said, I came to DSU to pursue a master's degree, kind of a career change for me. And I found myself wanting to get into a field that was interesting and impactful. And I think that's what I said, I was looking for a job, that would be something that was interesting, and made an impact on people. And when I was going through the master's program, people would often ask me, like, what are you going to do when you're done? And that always made me uncomfortable, because I really didn't know. And I knew I'd liked forensics, I knew it interesting, but in our areas, so often, that leads to law enforcement, which obviously, I don't have a background in law enforcement. So, I really was fortunate to be here, right at the perfect time when DigForCE was being launched. And honestly, when I started the master's program, had no intention of pursuing a Ph.D. But same thing, perfect timing, the cyber defense Ph.D. happened to be offered right at the same time that I was finishing the master's program. And I thought, sure, why not. I had finished basically all the core classes and had the research classes and a dissertation left. And I thought, well, a dissertation doesn't seem so hard, which in hindsight, was a little short-sighted. But I'm now finished and fortunate enough to be working in the lab. And I get to come to work every day and do a job that I love doing and do it with people that I really enjoy being with. So, I'm very fortunate.

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

We're at the intersection in our field there, technology, and IoT, our wearables our phone has become such an integrated part of our life. And at the same point, people then do things they shouldn't do with those devices and investigating what data resides on the device where the device was, what the people did with it. That's what this field is all about. And having a person who's inquisitive and intelligent and can take those puzzle pieces and put them together and tell us a story, is what this field is, and Erica excels in that space. And fortunately, with her leadership and work, we've been able to help quite a few agencies investigate cybercrime that's occurred throughout our state.

 

Jen Burris:

is that something that happens quite frequently?

 

Arica Kulm:

It’s very frequent. So, it depends on what you consider a cybercrime. Because what we do in the lab is more host-based device forensics versus, you know, a network intrusion or data breach or that type of thing. And we can certainly do that. But what we've done up to this point is more the host device forensics at this point.

 

Jen Burris:

Okay. And can you talk a little bit about what the process is like with the host forensics?

 

Arica Kulm:

Sure, so you know, as Ashley said, we work with different agencies here in the state and some federal agencies as well. So, when they have a criminal investigation, where they've seized a device, they'll submit it to us. And it always has to come along with the proper paperwork. So, either search warrant or signed consent form. And we read that form to see what we're authorized to look for because it's not always a blanket consent to look for everything that there is on the device. So, if it's a drug case, we're looking at chat information, images, communications, that type of thing. And we extract the data in a forensically sound way and go through and look for whatever we're looking for. And then a big part of what we do is write very detailed reports, we write how we got the device, step by step, everything we did with it, and to document that, and then what our findings are. And so, a couple of things that we really need to be conscious of are being very detail-oriented and having very good writing skills. One of the last reports I did was, I think 50 pages. So Yeah, it can be

 

Jen Burris:

Wow time-consuming,

 

Arica Kulm:

It can be long and time-consuming. But you know, Ashley mentioned it being like a puzzle. Also starting a new case is a little bit like reading a new book, you know, you're reading through the case report to see what it's all about. And then you're going through that evidence to see what evidence that you have there matches up with what you're finding in the case report. And kind of like a book you're reading, sometimes it's super interesting and really kind of sad when you get to the end. And sometimes about halfway through you’re just like ugh, I just want to be done with this. Even though you can't, you know, you can't just shut and be done, you have to finish and do a thorough job no matter what it is. But that's what I would kind of equate it to also is kind of like reading a book.

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

Okay, so the labs working on a lot of drug cases, as Arica mentioned, but another example would be embezzlement and people that are in business together, perhaps one starts selling inventory online, and is cutting the partner out of the profits. So taking a look at the different sites they visited the different transactions they have on their machine or system and the communication that they had people document a tremendous amount of things that they're doing and being able to pull those pieces together to share what happened is all part of this space.

 

Jen Burris:

Do you think some people even document things that they might not realize are telling on themselves? Do you find that?

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

Oh, absolutely.

 

Arica Kulm:

Absolutely. I find a lot of screenshots. People that, they may delete the text message, but they've screenshotted the text, and it's saved as an image on their phone.

 

Jen Burris:

I have a lot of screenshots on my phone. Yeah.

 

Ashley Podhradsky

You wouldn't want someone going through years of your screenshots no.

 

Arica Kulm:

Even as an innocent person, I don't want somebody going through my phone.

 

Jen Burris?

Yeah. Okay. So, what is a standard day for you? When you're working on a case? Is it all research and reporting?

 

Arica Kulm:

It varies. I would say we average probably three cases being submitted a week. So, it's coordinating with those law enforcement officials, if they're gonna drop it off, or if it gets sent to our office. So, it's, you know, in taking the device and the information, we photograph everything, when we get it, we make sure that we have all the proper documentation. If there are any questions, then we communicate back with them. If we have any questions on what they're seeking, or what they're looking for, once we photograph it, then we're doing the extraction. So, we're working with the device itself. And then once we're done with that, then we're processing it and then looking through that information. So, it's, you know, some days are routine, and you're kind of doing the same thing, but other days, not so much. It's, you know, coordinating with those officials as well.

 

Jen Burris:

So, would you say there's a lot of collaboration in your department in DigForCE? Or is it kind of solo?

 

Arica Kulm:

it's pretty solo a lot of the times Yeah if we're doing research, there's a collaboration in which we have a research student employee that works in our office who is a great help to us. And he does a lot of our research for us if we have something that we're not sure, you know, we get a new device, we got a GPS device in last week that we haven't done before. So it's having him, you know, look up, he doesn't do the work on the device itself, because that's evidence but you know, he can do the research online and try to figure out, you know, what would be the first step to deal with? How would we handle that?

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

Yeah. And that's really helpful having our student employees who don't touch anything with the actual case, but we can say, here's this new router, or here's this IoT wearable device. Tell us what other people have found, what have people published about it so that way we can take that in and use that to advance the work

 

Arica Kulm:

And we're fortunate we have a student right now who's reliable, great communication skills, and just a great student. So

 

Jen Burris:

 it's a nice learning experience?

 

Arica Kulm:

Yeah, it's, you know, it's not always that easy to find. So, I'm very thankful for that as well.

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

I like to bring up one of the specialties that we have in the lab. And I'm gonna tee this up for Arica because she's not gonna say how awesome she is in this space. But the dark web is such an emerging part of our work. Criminals are using it to obfuscate their location, there are transactions that are occurring on it of illicit goods. And there are very few forensic investigators that understand how to find host-based dark web artifacts on a machine, whether that's on Linux or phone or a Windows-based system. Dr. Kulm’s dissertation was focused on this, she spent a couple of years honing her skills and understanding what data resides and how you can analyze it and use it in your case. So, she's gotten to the point where, you know, she is that national leader in this space. And you know, people have been using the dark web for a long time, but more people are starting to understand that it's being used and they're recognizing that they don't have the knowledge to properly investigate it. So that means that a lot of people are perhaps walking on situations that they could have been prosecuted on. So, I'd like if Arica could talk to us about her work on host-based dark web artifacts, and perhaps any anecdotes of cases where she has used that.

 

Arica Kulm:

Yeah, so my dissertation was on finding those host-based artifacts and creating a framework that investigators could use to assist in finding those because they're not always obvious and easy to find. So, I used Justin Nordine’s OSINT framework, and it's a clickable framework. So, you can go in and it's a yes, no. If it's this, then is it that type of framework. So, you go in the first question is, are you dealing with Windows? are you dealing with Mac OS? Or do you have a tails drive, which is a bootable operating system to access the dark web? And then as you step through each one, it asks a series of questions to help walk you through what you're trying to find on that system. And then as you get through, it gives you the artifacts that you can look for, and not all artifacts that are listed on the framework will you necessarily find on a system and there may be artifacts that are on a system that may not be in the framework, it's you know, obviously with any framework, it's a work in progress, but it is a good guideline to help investigators find those artifacts. And a way that I use to validate it was to have our South Dakota DCI ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children) task force, some of the members from that go through and validate it and use it and actually use it in an actual case to find some of those. And one of the things we're finding, and we've had a couple of cases recently that the people that are using the dark web to go out and buy drugs are high school students. So even though I would say millennials and older may have heard of the dark web and think Ooh, you know, I don't know what that is that the kids know what it is.

 

Jen Burris:

I find it an interesting topic. But I know very little about the dark web itself.

 

Arica Kulm:

Right, it's this mysterious, we know it's there. And but maybe you don't want to talk about it.

 

Jen Burris:

What do you think that is?

 

Arica Kulm:

I would equate it to ICAC a little bit like, you know, it's there. But it's maybe a little distasteful, so you don't necessarily want to address it.

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

ICAC is internet crimes against children. It's a lot of the child pornography casework that's done.

 

Arica Kulm:

You know, it's there, you know, it's happening, but maybe not to the magnitude it is. And if we just don't talk about it, then it's not an issue, which we know that's not the case.

Ashley Podhradsky:

So when you go to Google, and you put a search term in, you're going to get page results that have been indexed based on those keywords, when you go to the dark web…So traditionally use a utility like Tor, the onion router to get on the dark web and pages aren't indexed, you have the dot onion link at the end. And so, they're alphanumeric, you're not going to know what it is. It's not cnn.com foxnews.com. It's 1AA7W8, you know,

 

Arica Kulm:

There are 16 characters or longer and not easily rememberable, you have to go look them up and cut and paste or type them in.

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

So, the point is to get where you're going, you have to know what's there. And people move their sites around so often so that way people don't find them. But there are some well-known marketplaces that have had a persistent connection. There are also some legitimate uses of the technology. So, the New York Times has a dot onion page, because people all across the world who might be in countries where that type of news is prohibited, can actually read it. And so, it was actually designed by our government for our citizens across the world to communicate anonymously. So, with that anonymous ability, people started realizing that, hey, I could do more than just send a message back to the States, I might be able to make a transaction and people can't necessarily trace. So when you log on here, in Madison South Dakota, it takes your web connection and it's going to pop it all the way around the world, for multiple routers – the onion – onions have layers, it's going to go from layer to layer, and then it's going to show that your exit node might be Russia, or it might be North Korea. So, it just depends. But the whole point is it's obfuscated your location through enough hops that we can't really tell where you're coming from.

 

Jen Burris:

And that makes it harder than to find the person committing whatever acts that they're doing, right?

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

Yes, absolutely.

 

Arica Kulm:

But it also encrypts that data along each step. So that not only is it obfuscated, it's encrypted, so you don't know what's inside that data until it gets to the very end. So, both of those things together lend themselves to criminal activity.

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

But it was created for data privacy, you know, we create a lot of things for good. And then people think, Hey, I could use that for the opposite reason. And so that's why we need people like Dr. Kulm who can do these types of investigations.

 

Jen Burris:

And what interested you in doing that dissertation on the dark web and getting further into that area?

 

Arica Kulm:

So, I've never heard of the dark web until Ashley, you'd asked me to do some research on it. I'm like, how can this be?

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

That was your first time?

 

Arica Kulm:

First time I had got into it. Yeah, I mean, I had probably heard of it.

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

I love that! Yeah, I was going on a long flight, so I asked her to put together a little read book with some new technologies in the space. Ah, I love that.

 

Arica Kulm:

So as I got into it, I'm like, how can it be that this is not traceable, this doesn't seem possible that you can leave no trace behind knowing what we know about forensics, that just doesn't seem possible. The traces are minimal, and like anything, depending on the sophistication of the criminal is what's left behind.

So, if they're sophisticated enough, there may not be much trace left, if you use something like tails,

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

Dr. Josh Stroschein and I  did a case down at the FBI in Omaha a few years ago about Deanonymizing Tor traffic. If there are misconfigurations, and settings within your browser, we can start to see the true IP. It's not masked like it was before. But those are always emerging situations because you don't know how a configuration setting will change the output unless you really dig for it. So, there are possibilities, but it's just it's not something that is absolute.

 

Jen Burris:

Okay. And when you find these traces, does it lead to more information about what's going on? Are you pretty solid, about being able to expand upon it once you find one in?

 

Arica Kulm:

You can, yeah, it can show you, you know, sites that were visited and what it can be images that were downloaded from those sites, and you'll find the dark web is full of can be full of malware. So, you may find traces of malware on that system. And you can find that they installed Tor, which like Ashley said, it's used for privacy. So, it doesn't in and of itself mean that they were doing something criminal, but that combined with some of the other things can often be an indicator of what they were doing. Yeah.

 

Jen Burris:

very cool. I think that that is something that a lot of people are interested in and don't know a lot about. So glad we covered that topic. Can you tell how the dark web might impact everyday people? Or if it does?

 

Arica Kulm:

I don't know that it really does if you don't go out and look for it. It'd be something for parents to be aware of, if you're a parent of a teenager packages starts showing up in the mail that you don't know what they are. Because that's that's how you if you're ordering something on the dark web, that's genuinely how they show up as US post office. So, you know, your student starts acting funny. And that would be something to be aware of.

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

Yeah, there's been a few different cases that we've done that have been started with a tip from the post office. Multiple packages being delivered, that goes to law enforcement. Law enforcement does their investigation, confiscates the devices, and turns them over to us to analyze. Brookings had a situation where someone was using stolen credit cards to purchase goods and have them shipped to their residence. So, you know, they might say, well, they just showed up. But once you look at the system, it says, well, they showed up because you bought them. You put those transactions on your systems. So, you know, there's tells and things like that as well.

 

Jen Burris:

And do you always know what you're looking for?

 

Arica Kulm:

Not always. Now, the last case that I had; it was not a drug case that it started out as –

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

domestic terrorism.

 

Arica Kulm:

Yeah, domestic terrorism. Thank you. That was a good word. And as I was looking for evidence of that, I started seeing some of these other indicators of dark web activity with weapons and drugs as it turned out, so it's not always what it seems.

 

Jen Burris:

I don't know how I would react if I were the one finding that information out. So how do you guys feel when you start to kind of solve the case so to speak?

 

Arica Kulm:

It just kinda depends on the nature of the case. You know, if we're in there, like I said, with a search warrant, where it's not always a blanket look for everything type of case. So, if we're in there looking for drugs, for example, and we find child pornography, that's something I have to stop right there. I can't investigate that for two reasons. Number one, we're not a law enforcement facility. So, we can't possess that any more legally than anyone else can. So, at that point, we stop and turn it over to the DCI investigators to do that. And the search warrant doesn't specifically say that's what we're looking for. So that's something that we can't do so and that would be a case where we have to just stop and then we don't always know what happens to that case. So that can be a little frustrating.

 

Jen Burris:

So, DCI would take over the case completely at that point?  

 

Arica Kulm and Ashley Podhradsky:

Correct. Correct.

 

Arica Kulm:

And that can be a little frustrating, not because we're turning it over to them because they're more than capable and we know it's in good hands then. But we don't always know what happens to it at that point.

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

The digital forensics lab at Dakota State University has dual leadership. We know that we need academic leadership for our DSU side, but we need law enforcement leadership through the DCI side divisional criminal investigation, so I work jointly with agent Toby Russell. He is a DCI agent and he's in our lab and works with Erica. He works with Erica more than I do on a daily basis. And he's has a wealth of information and knowledge. So, our funding through the Attorney General's Office supports the leadership between DSU and DCI in order to have this lab so that way the output and reports that we do are accepted in law enforcement. Arica goes and testifies in court in participates in expert witness testimony and does those things. So, through our funding through the attorney general's office and consumer protection in our partnership with the Division of Criminal Investigation, we're set up to succeed in this space and assist law enforcement in South Dakota in helping solve cybercrime. In addition to the digital forensic casework that Dr. Kulm leads with our partners in DCI, we also do investigations for consumer protection in the attorney general's office. So individuals, organizations, government entities in the State of South Dakota who has had a crime or cybercrime in that regard, so perhaps it is a scam where a business lost $50,000 on payroll diversion, perhaps it's a scam where someone was tricked into buying gift cards because the CEO asked them to and they need to figure out who that person was. So, we've helped in multimillion-dollar scams that have arisen here in South Dakota for, as I mentioned, individual people, businesses, private entities, and the state government.

 

Jen Burris:

Do you think that a lot of people don't hear about these things? Because when I think about South Dakota, I don't think about multimillion-dollar scams taking place.

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

Yeah, yeah, people aren't excited to advertise that they were scammed out of money because you might not have as much confidence in that business and their operations. And so, people think, well, we have our data breach notification law, we should know this stuff now. Well, not really, because there are certain parameters that have to be met. And a loss of a million dollars doesn't meet that threshold, because he didn't lose personally-identifying information. And so there are things that happen daily here in the state, unfortunately, but the biggest takeaway from all the cases that we looked at is, when you incorporate the human into it, you can usually stop it in its tracks. So it's very common for HR departments all across our state and country to get an email from someone or fax that says, I updated my checking account, please use this new routing and new account number to process my next payroll. Oftentimes, that form is found on their website so they can find out and it lists on their fax it here. You know, they might go up to LinkedIn and say, Hey, I know this executive works at this company. Here's the form that changes payroll, and here's where I fax it. And so, the number one thing people can do is just pick up the phone and say, Hey, Mrs. CEO, did you really change your payroll? And if it's no then don't process it. So, you know, schools are hit hard in that area, and municipalities are hit hard in that area. And it's all about trying to balance the scam with the quickness that we're set to operate. And when you throw in a virtual world of a pandemic, it further exacerbates that so whenever you hear something or get something in that context, just reach out and call the person don't email them back – “Hey, is this really you? Mrs. CEO?” Well, they’re gonna say yes, it might not be. And it likely isn't. So just as a tip always reach out.

 

Arica Kulm:

And I think CEOs can help themselves too, by informing their staff, I will never ask you to buy gift cards or that type of thing. And it's so easy it is to handle everything by email, and I get that, but the personal connection, just pick up the phone. And one of the things that Ashley you didn't mention that we also do for the attorney general's office is consumer education.

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

Yes, yes.

 

Arica Kulm:

You know, we do a lot of that out of our lab just to help consumers, you know, protect their private information, whether it's on social media, or just educating them about what they're putting out there. And just know what of your data that you are putting out there for people to then use to, you know, then further these scams.

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

You know, and that's the uniqueness that we bring to the table as an educational entity, is that our core is education. And yes, we can do the applied work, we can do the casework, we can help them solve what they need to solve. But on the reverse, we also are incorporating the human factor into it along with the education of, well, we're seeing so many of these Can't we just turn that around and help train people a little bit better? Can't we help educate our citizens in the state that you should not send someone you met on Facebook money? You know, those kinds of things. So, the romance scams that we see in our state, all of those types of scams that impact our citizens, just kind of breaks your heart. And so, as Dr. Kulm mentioned, we are incorporating those common lessons learned into outreach for AARP and things like that.

 

Arica Kulm:

And I think people see those on the news and think, Oh, my gosh, how could you ever fall for that, but it happens all the time. And I think people just get caught up in it. And sometimes they know themselves, and just can't either can't or won't get out of it, for whatever reason, and it's hard. And they're very good at it. They aren't making all this money scamming people because they're bad at it.

 

Jen Burris:

And do you think that scams are something that every citizen should be educating themselves about?

 

Arica Kulm and Ashley Podhradsky:

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

 

Arica Kulm:

Be aware of your own information that you're putting online. You know, we live in a world of social media, but you don't have to put everything out there.

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

You know, I have a seven-year-old daughter. And when I let her play on games like Roblox, it's always when I'm right there with her. So, she was in the kitchen, and I was making dinner, and someone sent her, and I tell her, you can play the games, but you can't chat with anyone. Well, a chat popped up, and they said, 'I know where you live.' And Chloe, my daughter, she's like, 'someone says they know where I live'. And I said, 'tell them mommy has a VPN. And that's not true.'

Everyone:

Laughter.

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

But you know, so I mean, it goes to that young of a group where, you know, parents might think, hey, well, this is a game, it's harmless. Well, it's not because you still have those games are not, when I grew up, it's not Nintendo words rudimentary standalone devices, it's heavily embedded communication systems. And they might look like a game. But your kid is can be chatting with someone that you have no idea who they are, you're inviting them into your world, and they can say anything. And so, you know, putting those safeguards on your kids to is important.

 

Jen Burris:

Something that some parents might not be aware of?

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

 Yeah, you can get proton VPN for free. All it does is it takes your connection and does obfuscate it. So, it takes those hops along so people can't see who you're where you're at. It takes the geolocation ability from the IP and protects you in an extra step.

 

Arica Kulm:

And even the paid versions, what $2 a month or something

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

I pay $10 for multiple devices.

 

Jen Burris:

So just another safety measure?

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

Absolutely.

 

Jen Burris:

Okay, well, anything else that you guys want to…

 

Ashley Podhradsky:

You know, when it comes to protecting ourselves in businesses and organizations, if you go to the consumer protections website, or call them at 1-800-300-1986, they can help anyone who has been scammed or has been part of a situation like this, and they can help get some hopeful resolution for you. But they have tips on their website that they change quite often, too. If you go out to the DigForCE website on the DSU site, we have different tips for social media platforms. So, if you want to lock down your Facebook or your LinkedIn or your Twitter, how do you do that? What steps do you take to make sure that your account is private and can't see your information that you don't want them to see

Jen Burris:

That's definitely a good resource. And I'm glad you shared that with us. Well, I don't want to keep you busy ladies all day. But I just want to thank you both for coming in Ashley for cohosting and Arica for being our guest. And Our sound designer Spencer Raap. Thank you for listening and make sure to subscribe to our podcast Cyberology.

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