Prince George's Community College [PGCC] will be the recipient of a multi-million dollar cybersecurity grant that will likely benefit students far beyond the county's border.
That's because the $5 million grant will continue the work of the National CyberWatch Center, based at PGCC, which is seeking ways to train workers in the emerging cybersecurity field and raise awareness about the need for a qualified workforce.
Casey O'Brien, director of the center, said there's a "huge shortage" of qualified personnel in the cybersecurity field on a national level.
The $5 million funding from the National Science Foundation [NSF] will extend for the next four years the work of the center, which received its first NSF grant in 2005. PGCC is the lead institution for the center, a collaboration of 95 colleges and universities in 29 states and Washington, D.C. The mission of the center is to advance cybersecurity education by leading joint efforts to strengthen the national cybersecurity workforce.
O'Brien said the shortage of experienced workers in the region of Northern Virginia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. is particularly acute due to the security clearance required for many of the positions.
"That narrows the talent pool," said O'Brien.
While solid numbers are difficult to come by, O'Brien said he's heard the range of 30,000 to 60,000 qualified workers needed discussed.
With cybersecurity being such an emerging field, there's a multitude of areas that require study, development and promotion such as curriculum and instructors, job titles and descriptions, tracks to get young people into the pipeline that will lead to training and qualification.
O'Brien said that similar to the aviation industry not all jobs in cybersecurity require four-year degrees.
"Not everyone is a pilot," he said.
And O'Brien added that community colleges – with their emphasis on workforce development – are ideal vehicles to advance cybersecurity education.
"The award is a testament to the hard work and accomplishments of the CyberWatch team at Prince George's Community College," said Charlene M. Dukes, president of PGCC. "The grant extends the CyberWatch Center's scope and prominence and serves as validation of the great work already done."
O'Brien said cybersecurity involves safeguarding "information assets wherever they are stored" and the field touches on technology, policy, intellectual property, software, hardware and networking. With more and more devices such as tablets, mobile phones, home appliances and security systems being inter-connected it's going to be critical that knowledgeable people understand the associated risks and ways to protect privacy and intellectual property, he said.
The center is also looking for ways to integrate cybersecurity topics into the existing school curriculum such as in math, psychology and business classes. The center also wants to evaluate successful cybersecurity education and awareness programs already in existence throughout the country to determine if they can be replicated elsewhere.
O'Brien said one good example of this is a Los Angeles high school that has held cybersecurity competitions and is reaching underserved populations. He said that program could be a model for a pilot in another part of the country.
Asked if $5 million will adequately address this national initiative, O'Brien said, "while it's a sizeable chunk of money, it really goes fast."