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The University of Maryland University College Online Magazine

March, 2004

Focus on Faculty: Mary Radnofsky
By Chip Cassano

Dr. Mary Radnofsky might not be what most think of as the "typical" cybercrime fighter. She doesn’t spend her days designing firewalls, or puzzling out ever-more-sophisticated data-encryption strategies. But she may soon be at the forefront of the battle, nonetheless.

Radnofsky, who teaches astronomy in UMUC’s School of Undergraduate Studies and serves as president and CEO of the nonprofit Socrates Institute, in Alexandria, Virginia, is the inspiration behind the CyberEthics Project, an innovative approach to educating students in grades K-12 about the costs and consequences of cybercrime.

"We’ve done a very good job of teaching most children how to use computers, the Internet, and other technologies," said Radnofsky, "but-as evidenced by the increase in cybercrime-we haven’t managed to instill a very good sense of the responsible, safe, and legal use of those technologies."

The CyberEthics Project-which Radnofsky expects to begin piloting by the end of 2004-teaches students about cybercrime, using online role-playing games combined with reality-style videos of actual juvenile cybercrime cases. The strategy is underpinned by a growing awareness that young people who are convicted of cybercrimes are seldom what anyone would consider hardened criminals.

"Although most data on juvenile crime is kept confidential, anecdotal evidence indicates that the majority of kids charged with cybercrimes have never been charged with any other crimes," said Radnofsky. "They wouldn’t knock down an old lady, steal her handbag, and run away. They know better than to do something like that. What they don’t understand is that going onto an Internet auction site, stealing someone’s identity, and buying a Lear jet-something that students did just a few weeks ago-is really the same thing."

The challenge, then, is to help young people realize that their activities in cyberspace can have consequences-for themselves as well as for others-and to do it by way of an educational program with a curriculum and a game that students will find engaging.

Here, Radnofsky’s own rather eclectic educational background is sure to be an asset. The daughter of a NASA engineer, she grew up playing chess with Russian engineers from the Apollo-Soyuz mission, and went on to earn degrees in English and French before completing her Ph.D. in education and human development. While living in West Africa, she served as secretary/librarian of cultural services at the French embassy and taught English to students of 36 different nationalities. She has taught Kindergarten through 12th grade, college, and adult learners in France, Liberia, Texas, Tennessee, New York, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., both online and face-to-face. She also served on the teams developing astronomy curricula for NASA grants related to the size of the solar system and to the unmanned MESSENGER mission to the planet Mercury.

For her, teaching young people how to keep out of "cybertrouble" will be a piece of cake.

For more information about Mary Radnofsky’s work with the CyberEthics Project and the Socrates Institute, visit

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