PBSC receives NSF grant to expand cybersecurity training

Palm Beach State College will begin offering two cybersecurity college credit certificate programs at the Belle Glade and Loxahatchee Groves campuses this summer to provide access to training in rural communities and to help attract more women and underrepresented minorities into the growing field.

The initiative, dubbed Project CODE (Computer Outreach for Diverse Education), is being funded with a $592,630 grant from the National Science Foundation. Distance learning labs will be outfitted with high-tech equipment at each campus to allow faculty to teach courses remotely. The college credit certificate programs include 21 credit-hour Network Support Technician and 30 credit-hour Network Security that prepare students for entry-level technician jobs. The programs are open to anyone with at least a high school diploma or dual enrollment students who qualify.

“We want to maximize learning and opportunities for coordinating learning for the students,’’ said Dr. Gloria McAllister, principal investigator of the grant and a program director on the Belle Glade campus.

In addition to addressing industry needs for more skilled workers to keep computers and information systems secure, the College also hopes to help increase the number of women and minorities in the industry. Statewide, more than 71% of workers in information technology fields are males and more than 61% are white, according to 2019 data from Economic Modeling Specialists International. Part of the strategy will be to reach students at younger ages about the career potential through a drone coding summer camp for middle and high school students. The camp will be offered for three years beginning this summer at the Loxahatchee Groves campus, and registration fees will be low to make it affordable for families.

“This is a research grant. We’re looking to see if we can increase the enrollment of women and minorities on these campuses. We have the baseline data for the College and the campuses now,’’ McAllister said.

Students who finish the college credit certificate programs will have the option to apply those credits toward an Associate in Science degree in Networking Administrator and pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Information Management on the Security and Network Assurance track.

“They will get industry credentials and experience in these college credit certificate programs. They can go anywhere in the United States with these certificates. They don’t have to stay in South Florida,’’ McAllister said. “There are entry-level jobs they can get with these certificates, particularly in law enforcement. We’re still going to encourage them to continue their education.”

McAllister said with the addition of a full-time recruiter hired with the grant, filling the programs will not be a challenge. “We’re giving these opportunities to underserved populations. It’s something that’s new and exciting and has great potential for an interesting and lucrative career. They can make a lot of money in this field. We’re excited about it.”

The College has internal and external advisory boards for the programs and several industry partners for the grant awarded under NSF’s Advanced Technological Education program. They include IT Solutions of South Florida, Cybraics, NextEra Energy, Bank of Belle Glade and the School District of Palm Beach County, that will help with the review of the curriculum and pathways, as well as establishing the labs and, in some cases, offer internships.

For more information about cybersecurity programs, visit www.palmbeachstate.edu/career-pathways/pathway-stem.aspx.