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News: UMD ARLIS Internship Program Mentors Future IC Tech Leaders

The University of Maryland Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security (ARLIS) -- a Department of Defense designated University Affiliated Research Center in support of defense security enterprise and intelligence community (IC) -- held this summer the inaugural session of its AI Research for IC Challenges (AIRICC) Internship Program. AIRICC offered talented aspiring technologists the opportunity to tackle interesting real-world research challenges while building personal connections to government technologists working on these problems, with the long term goal of incentivizing future careers applying AI technologies in support of US national security.

The 10 week- program, which ran from June to August, was jointly sponsored by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Project topics were directly solicited from NGA and other IC entities and applied AI to problems as diverse as hurricane forecasting, traffic anomaly detection, object detection from low-resolution satellite images, and designing and testing hardware to enable faster processing of complex graph analytics challenges.

Initially designed as an in-person program with co-located project teams and opportunities to visit sites like the National Cryptologic Museum, the program was revectored to be fully virtual in response to constraints introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic. “While the online format added some unexpected complications, our interns worked hard, found a work rhythm with teammates, mentors, and colleagues, and really accomplished a lot,” said Erin Fitzgerald, ARLIS Chief of Staff and Deputy Director for Operations who spearheaded the program.

Eighteen competitively selected interns (fifteen undergraduates and graduate students came together (virtually) to work in teams of three. While most hailed from UMD, one intern came from neighboring Bowie State University, reflecting ARLIS and IC interest in bringing more talent from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to technology work for national security. Their disciplines included computer science, biology, mechanical engineering, computer engineering, and aerospace engineering.

The finale of the program culminated with team presentations to an audience of peers and technical leadership from both campus and the IC. Talks included exploratory research inspired by the neocortex in the brain, hurricane track prediction, the identification of traffic anomalies using sparse data, distinguishing sea vessels and icebergs using low resolution satellite imagery, and the analysis of AI applications used in engineering systems.

While AIRICC was its first organized internship effort, the program was well-aligned with the larger ARLIS mission. “As the only DoD university-affiliated research center dedicated to IC and defense security communities, we not only see our mission as delivering quality research to those communities but also leveraging our university status to build the current and future workforce,” Fitzgerald added. "Not only will AIRICC be expanded in future years, but ARLIS hopes to hold similar programs in
other IC relevant disciplines as well."