Community college gets $5 million grant for cybersecurity training

Prince George's Community College and its partners will work to address the shortage of cybersecurity workers in the U.S.

Prince George's Community College in Maryland will use a US$5 million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to address a major concern in cybersecurity circles, that the U.S. isn't producing enough qualified security professionals.

The four-year NSF grant, announced in late September, continues a partnership between the agency and the community college. In 2005, the NSF gave the college a grant to set up a regional program called CyberWatch, which as grown to a consortium of 95 colleges and universities and about 50 companies and other organizations focused on educating future cybersecurity professionals.

CyberWatch has received about $5.5 million from the NSF before the newest grant.

"For the past seven years, we've focused on increasing the quantity and quality of the information security workforce," said Casey O'Brien, CyberWatch's director. "The focus is really on workforce impact."

The new grant will help the school broaden its partnerships and develop cybersecurity training programs that can be copied by other colleges, said Charlene Dukes, president of the college. The school will develop training programs that focus on skills that agencies such as the U.S. National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security are looking for, she said.

The community college pushed for the designation as a cybersecurity training center because of its proximity to federal agencies, defense contractors and military bases needing cybersecurity workers, Dukes said.

"When you think about what's going on in the Washington, D.C., area, it was almost a no-brainer to begin to look at what role the college could play in advancing the cybersecurity field," Dukes said. "To us, it was just a natural match."

Many cybersecurity experts have raised concerns in recent years about the number of qualified professionals available in the U.S. Dukes sees the market for security professionals growing as the U.S. government and private companies focus more heavily on the growing threats of cybercrime and cyberterrorism.

Some graduates of PGCC go directly into the cybersecurity workforce and others continue their education at four-year schools, Dukes said. Some students get jobs as systems or network administrators, others work in penetration testing or malware analysis jobs, O'Brien said.

Until recently, many companies and federal agencies had questioned the qualifications of two-year college graduates, but that attitude is changing as hiring managers see a lack of qualified candidates, O'Brien said.

"Industry and government are so desperate for qualified folks, they're starting to look to the community colleges, finally," he said. "There's a big push right now in industry and government to get people with hands-on skills, and that's the space the community colleges thrive in."

In addition to partnerships with other colleges, CyberWatch also works with several school districts to provide cybersecurity programs for students as young as elementary school. The program also offers after-school programs and summer camps to get students interested in technology careers.

Other partners of the PGCC and CyberWatch include Cisco Systems, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Lockheed Martin, the U.S. National Security Agency and Northrop Grumman.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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