Clark State Community College is doing its part to address the shortage of cybersecurity professionals. Through National Science Foundation (NSF) grants, the Ohio community college offers high school students cybersecurity internships to develop their interest in the field.
The Cybersecurity Summer Internship Program, which started in 2008, is also open to college students. The students form teams and are paired with a faculty extern, who is a Clark State faculty member or local high school teacher. Together, they research and find a solution to a partner company’s cybersecurity problem.
Employers that have partnered with Clark State range from the national Fortune 500 company AT&T to the local United Way. One year, students worked on VSAT Systems, a satellite uplink telecommunications system, to find ways to increase the security of the communications link.
Clark State offers an Associate of Applied Science in CyberSecurity/Information Assurance Technology, and the curriculum is helpful preparation for many industry certifications, such as CompTIA certifications (A+, Security+, Network+, etc.) and Cisco Certified Network Associate.
How the internship program works
Clark State recruits interns through its Intro to Cybersecurity course taught in several area high schools. (In Ohio, the College Credit Plus program allows community colleges to train high school teachers and certify them to teach a college-level course for credit.)
This summer, 11 students, out of the 26 who applied, will earn $10 per hour as interns, working 32 hours a week alongside six faculty externs. Each week, the teams will spend three days at the employer site and two days at the college, where they will work on job training and skills as well as coursework. The course this summer: ethical hacking.
Students will also participate in a “hackfest,” during which they will try to figure out how intruders access networks. The goal, of course, is to help them learn to prevent hacking, says Cathy Balas, co-principal investigator on the cybersecurity grant and a Clark State trustee emerita.
Growth in the field
“As a society, we’re in the information age; everything we’re doing is tech-driven,” says Dan Heighton, a professor for Clark State’s CyberSecurity/Information Assurance program and the principal investigator of the NSF grants. “That technology has an impact on our life; it gathers data about who we are and what we do, and we need to be able to protect that data.”
Hackers have breached government employees’ personnel records, accessed credit card data at restaurants and retailers and installed ransomware on hospital systems, keeping administrators from patient data until the ransom is paid.
As a result of such breaches, job prospects in the cybersecurity field have greatly improved in recent years. Cybersecurity job postings grew 91 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to Burning Glass Technologies, which conducts job market research.
Because of ongoing threats to data, cybersecurity education is likely to attract a broader spectrum of people outside of information technology, Balas says. “Years ago, you thought cybersecurity was something computer professions had to worry about,” she says. These days, however, “if you’re a banker, a child-care worker or an accountant, you need some knowledge of cybersecurity.”
Measures of success
Clark State officials say nearly all of the interns have secured jobs in the field, and the high school program has boosted enrollment at the college.
Balas notes that faculty members have benefited from the program as well. Through their exposure to partner companies’ cybersecurity challenges, faculty externs learn about new technologies and techniques and strengthen their skills. Faculty members, Balas says, are “not just receiving hands-on experience, but applying a theory and putting it to work on some real-world challenge.”
Through the internships, faculty members also get to observe students outside the classroom and assess their teamwork skills. These observations inspired at least one teacher to adjust his lesson plan. A student who did well in the tech class seemed to struggle to communicate during the internship. So for the next school year, the teacher required students to make presentations that explain technology topics to nontech people — a valuable skill for the nation’s future tech workforce.