Microsoft and AT&T partner with community colleges on cyber

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When Microsoft recently announced plans to provide cybersecurity education training to faculty at 150 community colleges across the country, and scholarships and other financial support to 25,000 community college students studying cybersecurity, officials from the company said the decision was driven in part by the severe shortage of qualified cyber professionals. .

The move was timely – there are 464,200 jobs open in the United States requiring cybersecurity skills – and the company has been widely praised for its ambition. Because it was about Microsoft, the announcement also garnered a lot of attention. But similar efforts, although on a smaller scale, were already underway at other community colleges.

LaGuardia Community College in New York has partnered with Mastercard to provide on-the-job cybersecurity training. Northern Virginia Community College announced in August that it was launching a new information technology apprenticeship program created with AT&T that will provide on-the-job training and experience while strengthening the talent pool for federal clients across Canada. national security sector. MassBay Community College, near Boston, recently launched a Center for Cybersecurity Education, which will provide students with cybersecurity internships and projects in partnership with industry partners. Other programs are likely underway as the cybersecurity job market grows and employer needs increase with the emergence of new cyber threats almost daily.

Microsoft’s cybersecurity program is available for free to community colleges and all higher education institutions across the country.

Naria Santa Lucia, Microsoft’s general manager for digital inclusion and community engagement in the United States, said her team recommended investing in community colleges for a variety of reasons, including that community college student bodies are Unusually diverse, students are a mix of part-time and full-time students. -time, and community colleges are widely scattered across the country.

“They are everywhere,” she said. “There is a baker, a bank and a community college accessible to all” in most towns and villages.

There are 1,044 community colleges nationwide, located in every state and territory. Their reach is huge: In 2018-19, community colleges awarded 878,900 associate’s degrees, 619,711 certificates, and 20,700 bachelor’s degrees, according to Microsoft. Forty percent of community college students are black, African American, or Hispanic, which Santa Lucia said was an important consideration for Microsoft because of its interest in diversifying the cybersecurity workforce.

Santa Lucia noted that the cybersecurity workforce is currently 82% male and 80% white. She said the program could expand to four-year institutions, but Microsoft intentionally started with community colleges.

In addition to the free curriculum it will provide, Microsoft is offering community college teachers free certification exams and practice, curriculum integration assistance, and course preparation sessions.

The effort will be more extensive at 150 selected community colleges, with Microsoft and project partners helping to train and retain cybersecurity teachers. Microsoft is partnering with the National Cybersecurity Training & Education Center (NCyTE) at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Wash., To ensure more community colleges are designated as Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber ​​Defense (CAE-CD ), an effort that Microsoft says it will support cybersecurity training in nearly 15% of community colleges nationwide. Grants will also be awarded to 42 community colleges to accelerate their cybersecurity programs over the next two years.

Corrinne Sande is Director and Principal Investigator at the NCyTE Center at Whatcom. Microsoft reached out to her in the spring to help train professors to teach cybersecurity at other community colleges. It is also launching a cybersecurity boot camp as part of the effort to diversify the ranks of cybersecurity education at community colleges by recruiting graduate students to teach at community colleges.

Sande said Whatcom has seen a huge demand for cybersecurity training from students.

“Once we started offering cybersecurity,” said Sande, “our registrations grew an average of 17% per year. “

Janice Walker, director of cybersecurity grants special projects at Whatcom, said community colleges provide businesses with the opportunity to tap into a diverse workforce and are also better equipped to teach the skills needed for jobs in cybersecurity – which typically pay between $ 60,000 and over six figures – than most four-year schools.

“We teach technical skills and applied practical skills not available at four-year universities, so students know how to set up a network and secure a network,” Walker said. “These are key elements in securing data and information against a cyberattack on a refinery or utility such as occurred in Texas.”

Microsoft’s initiative also includes support for students whose financial needs may not be met through scholarships provided by the company. Microsoft has partnered with the nonprofit Last Mile Education Fund to ensure that students facing urgent expenses like a car breakdown or a lost job can still complete their education.

Ruthe Farmer, Founder and CEO of Last Mile, said many STEM students are close to graduating from college but face financial hardship that prevents them from graduating. She said that while 75 to 80 percent of affluent students graduate, only about 11 percent of the bottom income quartile do.

“It doesn’t make sense to allow someone who has reached a certain degree to fail something like not being able to pay the rent or the right tools,” Farmer said. “We are providing quick financial support to make sure these insignificant financial hurdles don’t block the way. “

Microsoft is providing $ 6 million to Last Mile to fund emergency grants and cybersecurity certificate fees for program participants. Students will also receive a free subscription to LinkedIn Premium and training on its use to help them bridge the networking gap and find jobs more easily, Farmer said. Likewise, Github donates educational development tools.

Students participating in the LaGuardia Community College program will work in paid jobs at Mastercard for two semesters and earn nine credits toward their 60-credit degree. Ten paid apprenticeship places will be offered to the best students of the first implementation of the program, which begins next summer. Apprentices will benefit from mentoring from cyber and product experts at Mastercard. The Mastercard program is offered as part of the school’s Network Administration and Information Security major, which hosts approximately 140 students.

“I expect we can attract a lot more students when we say that a company like Mastercard recognizes our talent is ready to work there,” said Dionne Miller, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at LaGuardia. “We hope to change the mindset of companies like Mastercard, to recognize that there is a large pool of community college talent that they could tap into to meet their needs and diversify their workforce. “

Northern Virginia Community College officials created their apprenticeship program with federal job opportunities in mind. Identifying and hiring qualified IT talent has been a challenge for federal agencies, especially national security agencies needing employees with high-level security clearances and specific IT skills. The new NOVA partnership spans a similar program run by AT&T at Howard County Community College in Maryland.

Jill Singer, vice president of defense and national security for AT&T Public Sector and FirstNet, said in an email that the apprenticeship program helps AT&T achieve two goals: training and developing talent with skills in cybersecurity and IT, then deploying those talents on behalf of the public. Industry clients facing increased demand for cybersecurity professionals.

Apprentices work as part-time AT&T employees while taking courses. The training course is designed to be completed in two years. Students who complete the program will graduate with 2,000 hours of on-the-job training in techniques, soft skills, laboratory work, and related skills, and will be supported to obtain relevant industry certifications in the hope that they will move on to full-time employment with AT&T and support its work for federal agencies.

“These are great jobs,” Microsoft chief Santa Lucia said of cybersecurity. “We want to develop the pipeline to make sure all the right people can search for these jobs if they’re interested.”

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