From a data breach at MGM Resorts costing the company an estimated $100 million to a cyberattack at Clorox causing major disruptions to operations, cyberattacks are a growing threat and worries about vulnerabilities are palpable. Some 74% of CEOs are expressing concern about their organization’s “ability to avert or minimize damage to the business from a cyberattack,” according to an Accenture survey.
The public sector is also a major target. Cyberattacks against government agencies rose 40% between March and May of this year compared to the prior three months, finds Blackberry’s Global Threat Intelligence Report.
As employers race to fortify their organization’s cybersecurity, they’re depending on a workforce with a shortage of workers. Currently, there are more than 660,000 cybersecurity job openings, with just 69 trained workers available for every 100 of those jobs.
A Nationally-Recognized Cybersecurity Program in an Unexpected Location
To close that gap, colleges and universities are playing a crucial role in building cybersecurity talent pipelines.
That includes California State University-San Bernardino (CSUSB), a public university that serves more than 20,000 students annually and graduates about 4,000 students each year.
San Bernardino County is the largest county in the contiguous United States and is roughly the size of West Virginia. Its population is just around 2.2 million, with more than 53% of the residents Hispanic.
CSUSB – situated in the city of San Bernardino – offers more than 70 traditional B.A. and master’s degree programs, education credential and certificate programs, and a doctoral program.
Among the academic pathways is a nationally-recognized cybersecurity program within the Department of Information and Decision Sciences (IDS) at its Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration. The program offers six undergraduate degrees and seven master’s degrees with cyber components, along with some certificate programs, in which students learn how to anticipate and defend against cyberattacks.
Since the early 2000s, the academic program has been designated as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity for Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
According to the agencies, “CAE manages a collaborative cybersecurity educational program with community colleges, colleges, and universities that:
- Establishes standards for cybersecurity curriculum and academic excellence,
- Includes competency development among students and faculty,
- Values community outreach and leadership in professional development,
- Integrates cybersecurity practice within the institution across academic disciplines,
- Actively engages in solutions to challenges facing cybersecurity education.”
CSUSB’s prominence as a cybersecurity educator belies assumptions about prestigious cybersecurity training hubs only being found in Silicon Valley or in close proximity to the nation’s capital.
“We can’t be selective and think that everything is going to come from the Bay Area or the Beltway. We need to show that there is talent, and you just have to know how to reach the talent,” says Tony Coulson, Ph.D., a professor in the program and the execute director of the Cybersecurity Center (CSC) at CSUSB.
“Most schools offer one program and call it cyber. We’ve thought outside the box,” he adds.
For example, a certificate is offered in cybersecurity and criminal justice. “The way we work is we have to find talent where it is and that might be in criminal justice. Name a crime these days that doesn’t involve a cyber component?,” says Coulson.
A key piece of CSUSB’s approach, says Coulson, is listening to what employers need. And it works with a number of them, including the NSA, DHS and the National Science Foundation on the government side.
Private employers include Google, IBM, Northrop Grumman, Bank of America, and many others.
These partners help shape the curriculum and many of the employers have gone on to hire the school’s graduates.
Providing Access and Affordability
Building a diverse workforce and advancing social mobility is key to the university’s goals.
“This is part of our commitment to access and affordability – especially access in this case – and our commitment to educate a really diverse workforce,” says Tomás Gómez-Arias, Ph.D, dean of CSUSB’s Brown College. “We have a very large minority student population, which to a large extent reflects the area and the region where we live and the region we serve. Over two-thirds of our students are Latinx.”
Gómez-Arias says to attract cybersecurity talent from within the community, programs are designed to meet students where they are at.
“Very often in technical disciplines what we find is there is a very leaky pipeline. There are many points in the process, especially for underserved populations to drop out,” he explains.
To attract and retain students, the university adds entry points at various levels of education. “We work with middle school students. We work with high school students. We work with community college students. And at all those points, there are ramps to get into the discipline and into our programs,” Gómez-Arias explains.
The goal is to provide career opportunities in a field that’s expected to grow by 32% by 2032, with earnings potential for six figure salaries. The median pay for an information security analyst, for example, is $112,00 a year and usually requires a bachelor’s degree.
CSC provides cybersecurity students with unique learning environments that help accelerate their growth inside and outside of the classroom. To advance these goals, CSC partners with employers in hopes of creating more apprenticeship programs aligning with employer needs.
“Oftentimes universities are pegged with ‘We’re the ivory tower and we think we know all of it.’ But what we do here is listen. We listen to the students. We listen to the employers. We listen to people of authority and experts. And we ask where it is going,” Coulson explains.
“And as Wayne Gretzky famously said when he was asked why he was such a great hockey play – and I will paraphrase him – ‘Because I skate to where the puck is going, not to where the puck is.’”
Free Tuition and a Job After Graduation
For students, these university-employer partnerships also provide incentives. A key one through CSC is scholarship opportunities – Scholarships for Service – in which students receive two years of tuition and are required to work after graduation for up to two years at a government agency.
That’s something Anette Vladescu views as an advantage. The CSUSB alum received a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Systems and Technology with a focus on cybersecurity in 2021. She says knowing a job was waiting for her after she graduated wiped out worry.
“It was definitely nice to know that there was something there. That got my foot in the door a lot easier than if I had to job hunt myself and try to find it myself,” explains Vladescu. She is now a cybersecurity engineer at a government agency, describing her job as making sure systems are designed with cybersecurity in mind.
She credits the technical skills she learned at CSUSB for preparing her for her role. And she notes the important soft skills she learned by joining a club at school known as CISO, the Cyber Intelligence and Security Organization. Vladescu says her participation honed her presentation skills.
“Cybersecurity can be very abstract. It’s not something you can really see or touch that easily. So, it became necessary to be able to explain that to people who weren’t cyber-oriented and who weren’t technology-oriented. So, I definitely got a lot of practice out of that when I was at San Bernardino,” she explains.
Fellow Class of 2021 alum Jessica Villavicencio echoes the importance of learning opportunities outside of the classroom at clubs like CISO. She now works as an IT cybersecurity specialist focusing on policy at a government agency to which she won a scholarship. She sees firsthand the demand for people with her skills.
“In my own individual career path, there are doors opening every day – it feels like every day – and it’s crazy to think about because for me it’s too many options. But in cybersecurity in general, it’s never going to go away,” says Villavicencio.
She is back at CSUSB as a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree and notices a big difference in demographics since her days in the lab there.
“It would be like 100 people in this room and for there to only be about 15 women. It was definitely a little intimidating at times. I will say going back for my master’s and I’m looking at like a solid 40-60 split now, or even sometimes 50-50 split of who’s in the lab. I’m like, ‘wow, a lot has changed,’” stresses Villavicencio.